Yesterday, when House Republicans voted in favor of replacing the Affordable Care Act with their own version that would raise insurance costs, exclude benefits for an astonishing array of “preexisting conditions,” and cut taxes for the rich while penalizing the poor and middle class, I witnessed the tremendous wave of anger and pain that so many in our country were feeling, those who depend on the flawed yet essential coverage that ACA provides us and those with loved ones who rely on these benefits. Sure, this system is far from perfect, but it allows so many who previously were uninsured or underinsured to finally have the safety net to access care and get medications they need to live without going into debt. Feelings of despair and outrage are a natural response to such self-serving, irresponsible, and cruel legislation. I want to share, though, that as we make space for the pain we feel, we can also experiment with some alternate responses, to help us cope and build resilience in the face of a long 4 years. For my readership outside of the US, i am sure these ideas can be applied to other situations in which injustice and power-hungry demagogues prevail in your own lives.
- Take action. Lovingkindness is the inspiration for my coaching practice, and is the deep compassion I want us to all have for ourselves and others. Lovingkindness means responding to our own needs and the needs of those around us. Some people’s response to seeing anger in others’ is judgment, and claims that this is a “negative” or “toxic” emotion to be avoided. Some who identify with new age spirituality want to hold onto bliss experiences and therefore stay out of politics and avoid difficult subjects like poverty and racism. I’ve seen others spread the notion that love will conquer all, as if we don’t have to actually do anything but radiate some emotion and all will be well. No spirituality is worth anything if it does not care about the suffering of others. Anger is an energy of protection, fierce compassion, and a commitment to justice. Honor its place and channel it into appropriate, loving action. While politics may be unsavory, they are a fact of how power is marshaled in our society to the benefit of some and to the detriment of a great many. We must be invested in the fate of those around us. We are responsible for standing up for what is right, making our voices heard, and holding our representatives accountable by making calls, donating to campaigns and causes for justice, and voting. Some of you might be called to run for office, and if so, that is great! But we don’t need to make this kind of commitment in order to be involved. Start here. Call your senators to oppose the AHCA. Or text “resist” to 50409 to easily contact your senators. Donate to organizations doing work for immigrants, refugees, racial equity, the environment. Find what resonates with you.
- Focus on the facts. It is painful to realize that so many members of Congress are okay with gutting healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens. This is heartbreaking. And we also can get grounded in the moment and remind ourselves that this was only the first step to passing the AHCA. No one is yet being harmed or hurt by this bill. This is not to deny the potential threat posed, but to help propel us into moving with resolve to working to make sure it does not get through the Senate, and to help us not suffer so much with the imagined torment and dying that could happen under AHCA. We do not need to jump to the future yet and create nightmare scenes in our head that cause us more panic and pain. Stay in the present, focus on what is happening in the moment. Nobody is dying or being denied coverage due to this bill, and if we get consumed with fear over what could happen in the future, we may not be as effective in taking steps to stop it in the now.
- Accept reality. This has 2 important pieces for me. The first, is understanding that given who these Republican leaders are and looking at the evidence of their values that came through in recent years of intransigence, racism, misogyny, and greed, it is not at all surprising that they passed this legislation yesterday. I can ease some of the suffering and preserve some of the wasted energy that comes out of saying, “I can’t believe they did this heartless thing,” and instead, with complete acceptance of reality say, “It makes a lot of sense, knowing what I know about these people, that they would behave in a manner consistent with a lack of heart and lack of mercy.” This does not change the facts or say they are okay or good, but helps me to not argue with the truth of what is happening. The second piece is similar. I ask: what part of me is refusing to accept that this is happening? In what ways am I resisting that this legislation and this awful administration is part of our reality? I am down with the #resistance, don’t get me wrong. Political action and justice organizing are essential, and, I think, more effective if they come from a place of radical acceptance. Check out this therapist’s advice on staying sane through these difficult times, using the principal of radical acceptance of reality. We aren’t saying things are acceptable as in good, but that we when we accept that things are the way they are, we can more effectively change them.
Offer yourself empathy, place your hands on the places in your body that are feeling constricted, tense, nauseous, or twisted up in pain and offer some soothing words and spacious breaths of allowance–it is understandable to feel distraught when those entrusted to protect people are intent to cause pain. But don’t get stuck there. Pick up the phone, focus on the facts, be honest about what is happening, and put that incredible compassion you have into action.