Last Saturday, as elections results were finally announced. I celebrated. Relaxed. Cried. Then I looked up and knew, “It ain’t over yet.”
I thought back to my time competing my horse at cross-country events. I’d gallop my horse across fields, charge through water, jump over ditches (or so I hoped), and face thick stone walls. It was sometimes scary, but do you know what the most dangerous part of an event was?
The trip home.
At the end of a show, whether I was happy or sad with our results, I’d relax and let down. Then, I’d pack up my gear, put the horse in the trailer, and drive a one-ton pick-up and 20-foot trailer back to the barn over heavily-trafficked, fast-moving highways.
Fortunately, at that time I could drink the toxic brew called Diet Coke, which I treated as my post-show drug. When I started nodding off in the late afternoon August heat, I’d swing truck and trailer into a gas station, and buy a sixteen-ounce bottle that would jolt me awake and leave me jangling (not recommended). I couldn’t afford to be groggy.
After a couple of hours of driving, I’d reach the barn and the final trial began: parking. I’d be so tired, but I couldn’t let down. After my first show, I forgot to unlatch the trailer from the truck and ended up trying to jack a 1200 pound horse trailer, still attached to the back of a 6000 pound truck, into the air. I learned how easy it is to make mistakes in those last minutes.
The negotiator’s mistake
I once took a leadership seminar with Julian Gresser, author of Piloting Through Chaos, a brilliant man who had negotiated extensively with the Japanese. He had seen too many US executives fail in their negotiations with their Japanese counterparts. The Americans declared success too soon, thinking they’d reached a deal. The Japanese kept going, understanding that the game was still in play, and eventually won the negotiation.
It’s not over until it’s really over. As we’re seeing with the US elections.
The news continues
On Saturday morning, I relaxed.
On Tuesday morning, my husband greeted me with, “I want you to read what’s been happening since Election Day.”
“Please,” I begged. “Not until after my tea and meditation.” I knew the news wasn’t good.
I wanted to stay informed without having to put back on the armor of anxiety I’d been carrying for so long.
I need to practice calm vigilance. With stressed vigilance, I work myself into a frenzy tracking on the crazy-bad stuff that’s still happening. With too much calm, I can check out and fail to notice the dangers (although I may periodically need breaks from the fray to keep my energy going).
Calm vigilance is about keeping the mind alert in a body that stays relaxed, especially when dealing with a disturbing or dangerous situation. Calm vigilance is the kind of presence many first responders have. Calm vigilance is the stuff of expert martial artists.
A practice to try
Here’s a practice I use in order to help my body not constrict when I hear tough news.
Step one: I imagine a delightful, relaxing situation. Maybe I’m on a tropical beach, sitting on a mountain top, or walking in the woods. I chose an image that helps me smile and relax. As I sit with the image, I put a hand on my heart and one on my belly to feel my body’s response.
Usually, I sense an easy relaxation and a gently moving diaphragm.
Step two: I imagine a tension-provoking situation. Nothing too stressful to start. (I have to work up to the Supreme Court.) I can practice with “doing my taxes” or “going to the dentist.” As I picture this tension-provoking image, I feel my belly tighten and my breath become shallow.
Step three: I alternate between the two states, noticing the differences they elicit in my body.
Step four: I try to keep a relaxed feeling when I think about the stressful one.
My goal is to stay alert to what’s happening without tightening–not easy for me.
Over the past year, many of us have been learning to chill in challenging times, developing our toolboxes with skills like breathing, laughing, being in nature, (and dog kisses!).
I don’t trust the world’s circumstances to change and be the source of my calm.
I want to keep finding the joy and staying relaxed, without letting down my guard so much that I ignore the shenanigans that are happening.
The drama is likely to kick up again. (It already has.)
Remember, you need to stay calm. Renewed. Relaxed.
We are en route, but it ain’t over yet.