Lessons In Coping

2013-12-24 21.17.24I had a wonderful day. It is starting to feel like fall here—which means a subtle crispness to the air, perfect light, the time to eat grounding roots, gourds and apples in all their glory. I spent the day hiking with my husband, a bit of a drive away, but worth it. It was a beautiful place, a near empty trail, and now my body feels tired in that “I walked and climbed for hours today” way. Lovely. On the way home we had the radio on, which was brimming with thoughtful inspirational stories on the way out to the hike, and on the way back it was—“the news”. I heard more about Syria, ObamaCare, Mass Shootings in DC, A story about the destructive pattern of media —the onslaught of up to the minute misinformation, a story on the injustice to Muslim Americans at the U.S. boarder, racism regarding the new Miss America…I feel like I could go on and on. And I started to deflate. The joy of the day got clouded over by all of this “information” and I was left with a pit of sadness in my stomach and a feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness that sat heavy on my chest.

Then I was reminded that a few weeks back a dear amazing person posed the following question on Facebook:

“Friends, a sincere question: in the midst of such overwhelming/scary news (an impending invasion of syria, the latest toxicology reports out of fukushima, the growing disparity between haves and have nots, recent killings of trans people, the rise of fascism in russia and beyond…etc etc etc) HOW DO YOU COPE? I’m serious, what do you do with your fear, or rage, or feelings of incompetency? Do you tune out? Take the long view? Act up? Keep it simple? I would love to hear your thoughts…”

And I recalled my response—which I was proud to post amongst the hundreds of brilliant, kind souls that had shared their wisdom on this topic.  Here was my response:

Sometimes I think about what a unique position we are in in “the age of information”, where media is so commoditized that it is nearly unavoidable, and dare I say—violent. Not to dismiss that there are great atrocities in the world, however I believe that there always have been, and because of our “access” to information, we know about EVERYTHING from every media maker, every second of every day. And we especially know about the things that media makers know we will “click on”, because it is profitable and that is pretty much anything scandalous or fear inducing. Ick.

There is this concept in cognitive psychology called “cognitive load”, which suggests that the mind can only hold onto so so many concepts at a time, from the wiki: 

“Another aspect of cognitive load theory involves understanding how many discrete units of information can be retained in short-term memory before information loss occurs. An example of this principle that seems to be commonly cited is the use of 7-digit phone numbers, based on the theory that most people can only retain seven "chunks" of information in their short-term memory.”

And I guess I choose to fill up my “seven chunks” with the really amazing and incredible things that are happening in the world—the stuff that isn’t as profitable to media conglomerates—the people doing beautiful creative things, the acts of kindness that happen everyday, the name of my sweet new neighbor—and hope that stuff goes form short term memory to long. Becomes part of my spirit and my aura and the light I shine, maybe makes it way to the spring in my step, because I feel safe and loved and loving towards human kind.

So I guess in answer to your question, I choose to tune out. Sometimes the heavy stuff gets me and I feel it deeply. I wonder if I can make a difference, I wonder if there is more to the story. But then I recognize the person I am in the world when I allow things to weigh me down—heavy, distracted, grouchy, dimmed. And in the end, when I try to balance it all out, I think I am of better service to the world when I exude light and love. 

After this reminder, in my own words (ha!), I felt a bit better. It’s all about perspective, priorities, patience. At the same time I was reminded that I am not alone in this struggle as the thread had continued to grow over the weeks. One comment I noticed today:

Intone these words: “What can I do about it?” Your inflection may vary.

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." T. Roosevelt.

I love that Roosevelt quote— In matters enormous and small.

Plus, T.R. as a young man looks a lot like my husband, now. Which makes me giddy.



So I have to ask:

  • What “seven chunks” did you fill your heart and soul with today?
  • Did they serve you?
  • “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” How might this mantra work it’s way into your life?