Holding a Paradox

It’s a remarkable moment, or stretch of moments, the year 2020.  While this blog’s humble intention was and is to offer some brief highlights to promote my upcoming book release, well…  stuff keeps happening.  Stressful stuff.   Stuff worth commenting on in a way that hopefully helps in terms of understanding, coping, and consolation.

A couple of weeks ago, which really seems more like a year, I offered a way of conceptualizing the complex, increasing intensity of inner experience for many of us.  The basic theme was that our overall reaction “set” to an event includes not just the “base” reaction but also a judgment or “spin” about that reaction.  Example: angry, but ashamed of being angry.  Sad, and also anxious about the intensity of the grief.  My point: when the “spin” is deep fear – “this is too hard to hold” – the total inner suffering feels amplified, brittle, even ominous.

Mindfulness practices can help us identify and modify down that secondary reaction. Through our own observation, we get better at knowing our blind spots and vulnerabilities, and less surprised by them.  Repeated observation of similar experiences leads to less novelty.  And less novelty means less “OMG!”

That “spin” thing has its own complication: what if the spin itself is complicated? Mixed? Reactions can kick up more than one spin — even opposing, paradoxical ones.  A common example of the moment  is in holding some respect or affection for another person despite one’s intense distaste for her or his political views.  Treading carefully to avoid politics and partisan commentary in this blog, let me wade in with a few ideas, if not some surefire recipe for management.

First, a basic setting of expectations: this is a difficult situation, and success thresholds are better set at “we don’t see eye to eye, but at least we still care about each other.”  Hallmark-movie-style climaxes of bonding despite starkly different belief sets are aspirational.  (That I’m struggling to hold off on cultural snark about Hallmark movies helps drive that point home for me as I write this.)

Next, partisans on each side of the divide can try to rationalize motives for the other, generally around a thinly-veiled but less inflammatory judgement.  There’s the, “they are just uninformed” frame – a cognitive deficit (a “OS 3.0” problem… see the book for details!)  Then there’s the, “he/she must really need to hang on to that wrong-headed idea” trope – an emotional 2.0 deficit.  “Some people just can’t see beyond their biases – it’s just baked in” – a biological, 1.0 judgment.

Narratives like these are generally better than open conflict, at least at Thanksgiving.  (This assumes there will be a Thanksgiving in 2020;  assuming anything in this benighted year may be a fool’s errand.)  But finding a lane in which to sustain the positive bond through and despite the deep divisiveness is an act of grace, I think.

Last, let me suggest watching for the opportunity for a “meta” move:  stepping back to a shared examination, even mutual awareness, of the deep divide with one another.  “Wow, we each think the other is out of their freakin’ gourd when it comes to [name of candidate/position]! Isn’t that something? Yet still friends!” may be a highly ironic common ground of bonding, but it beats F-bombs and can’t-take-back proclamations of comparative superiority and folly.

That opportunity-watching is buoyed by improved self-awareness, cultivated by meditation and other mindful practices.  The impulsive, “are you kidding me, dude?” becomes a thought held in deliberation, rather than blurted out.  The deliberative, “what do I want to preserve here?” stays in mind as Uncle Louie rants about Dreamers at the cookout, or an overly woke friend finds your shirt pattern an unacceptable cultural appropriation.

Or an aspiring author somehow weaves mindfulness into most every tight spot of life in these interesting times.

Take care and keep staying safe, friends.  GCS

#practical #mindfulness #meditation #physician #nocrystalsandgranola #paradox