The day after America's Presidential election, I went to California for the wedding of my dear friends. I hadn't slept much the night before, and while Americans were awakening to the news of a Trump Presidency, I awakened to the excitement of my child yelling, "Mommy, is today the day we fly?!?" As I packed the last of our things, I received messages from friends and clients sharing their reactions and concerns. Waves of fear came and went with each message and I did my best to ground the energy.
Now it's three weeks later and I wonder, how are you doing? I saw many people these last few weeks feeling various levels of fear, regret, anger, and exhaustion. Fear was by far the overwhelming thread, and I get it. I used to be afraid of everything. When I first went away to college, I remember going on retreat to a spiritual center in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Despite its apparent safety, I was so afraid of the quiet and dark I forced myself to walk the halls at night to try and overcome my fear without success. Whenever I attempted meditation back then, I was flooded with images of being stabbed or killed in some terrible fashion. I experienced the world as a pretty terrifying place.
Therapy didn't help much either. While I gained tools to help me cope with my fear, the constant dread never went away. I was afraid of myself and my numerous flaws being discovered; I was scared of the collective "you" and the power you might wield against me; simply put, I was frightened of everything known and unknown. None of the techniques made a dent, until I had my first guided shamanic experience. She was a Native American woman with a wild spark in her eye, it was a darkly lit room, she handed me a cup of tea, which I drank. The next few hours are a blur of visions, but I remember her compassionate eyes afterwards as she whispered, "Oh sweetie, sweetie, sweetie...so much fear."
The days and weeks that followed, left me experiencing for the first time, my truest self: me in the absence of fear. It was a temporary bliss, as my undesirable companion did eventually return, however, I had a new context I hadn't had before. My work went from learning to cope with fear, to finding how to bring myself back to fearlessness over and over again. I worked with a variety of shamanic teachers until I found the Toltec work.
During my Toltec apprenticeship I learned how to connect myself to earth and sky, a process we refer to as "grounding." My mind didn't understand why that made a difference, but it did. Grounded, I was no longer a singular "me," but a "we" who had the support of the whole universe to find the core beliefs holding fear in place. As I uncovered and confronted layer after layer, there were many times when I relied on my Toltec community to see me better than I could see myself. Fear was a blind spot that kept me out of connection and miserable. With all that light shining on me, the fear transformed.
In graduate school I learned what fear's true purpose is: mobilization. When we encounter a stranger while walking alone at night, fear gets us moving towards safety. When someone spews hateful speech at us, fear pumps cortisol into our limbs so we can flee or fight. When a domestic partner raises their fist to strike again, fear sends us into freeze, the life-saving action of non-action. Fear is a powerful tool with a solid purpose, but it is not the most sophisticated one in the box. Our responses to immediate threats are rightfully reactive and rooted in the survival parts of our brain, but many of the fears we face today require our executive level functioning - our thinking, empathy and wisdom. So what can we do when fear comes?
Empowering Action, Grounding, Repeat
Fear is designed to get your attention, so let it. When scary thoughts arise, stop and ask yourself, "Is there an immediate action I can take right now that would help me feel better?" And by right now, I mean immediately. Do I need to reach out for support from my community? Do I need to call my legislators? Walk outside and breath in fresh air? Organize a meeting? Make some art? Truly looking if there is something I can do in this now moment shifts me from feeling victimized by my stressful thoughts into active power. It's not enough to think of the action, we must do it.
Once the action is taken or if one cannot be identified and fear is still present, then it is time to do a grounding practice. This could be as simple as noticing the way the ground, seat or car holds your feet and body, providing you with unconditional support. We are actually always grounded, but bringing it into conscious awareness gets us into relationship with that support. This makes us present, where we can notice the truth of our safety right now.
A more formal grounding might look like this: Choose a place to sit and imagine your energy pushing down through the base of your body and growing roots into the earth. Find a place to plug in - this might be the earth's core, an underground pool of water, a crystalline structure. Pull earth energy up your roots and into your body as you imagine expanding upwards towards the sun. Let yourself plug into the sun and allow the sun's radiant light to flow into your body. From this place you are connected to unlimited energy and support.
Prolonged fear is a most destabilizing force. Taking empowering actions and grounding yourself will leave you with energy available to give to the communities and causes that inspire you. Be mindful, if not vigilant, of the conversations you engage and the social media and news outlets you take in. Pay attention to how you can strike a balance of being awake and aware without feeding fear.
There are a good number of you who have until now been numb/unaware. For you, this is a most uncomfortable time. Awakening is deliberately difficult and much like birth it has a rhythm of pushing and pausing. Allow the process; know you were built for it. Connect yourself with grounded community; they are your best ally. Now is not the time to isolate. Let yourself get woken up.
Being at a wedding during a time when America is painfully forced to look at its own shadow was a gift. At the reception, friends of the couple stood up and shared the Jewish tradition of never cancelling a wedding, no matter what tragedy might have occurred. I like the commitment in that because to love in these times is a radical act. If we practice these tools together, I think we will find the world is a much safer place than we ever knew it could be. We need each other now more than ever. Action, grounding, repeat.
Rainbow Marifrog, MA, LMFT is a holistic psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner living in Madison, WI.
Rainbow A. Marifrog