It’s been a rough two weeks since the inauguration of our new “president”. I put that in quotes because of the way he took the post, the way he comports himself in the role and the fact that I just cannot accept him for so many reasons. My reasons are obvious to everyone by now so I will not rehash them anymore. Since the night of the election and the excruciating agita that ensued I have to admit that I have indulged in despair, anxiety, fear, endless addicted news consumption followed by over sharing and dismay. I have also felt a shattering confusion and a profound desire not to accept what Trump’s election says about the American people as a whole. This leaves me with a deep sense of loss. I feel as though someone dear and near; a chosen friend; that precious and fragile ideology – E Pluribus Unum – has died.
As an immigrant from England 50 years ago I have always marveled at the diversity of cultures here and at the diversity inherent in so many people that I know. If you are a recent immigrant you might be mostly of one culture but most Americans are the embodiment of E Pluribus Unum with ancestors from so many cultures or countries.
For the last 14 years I have worked on an art project to celebrate the idea of diversity in unity. I believe we can and do live together in harmony and that fact needs to be explored and shared. We only hear about the conflicts in the media we need to celebrate what works more. What is most special about the US is that we are free to express our culture in our own way or we can integrate and become ‘Americanized’ or we can straddle both worlds. Then there is another benefit to this diverse mélange of culture; everyone has access to the gifts of their neighbor’s ancestral wisdom.
In my encounters with people of diverse cultures that coexist here in New York I have found that everyone is delighted to share and honored that I am interested. So here I willingly share some ancient techniques for living a great life that I have gleaned from my enriching encounters. They are a gift for coping with these stressful times in order to cool the heated mind, calm the agitated heart and lift the depressed spirit.
First I recommend chanting. Many traditions employ chanting as a way to still the mind. I recommend Hindu or Indian chants. Regulation of the breath slows the heart and soothes the mind. Pretty soon you can breathe more deeply, relax your muscles and even settle into a super quiet, nourishing and comforting place within yourself. New York is full of welcoming centers, ashrams and temples.
Meditation is another profoundly relaxing and nourishing practice that many spiritual and religious paths recommend because it works. It is not as complicated as it may seem at first try. My teacher Gurumayi Chidvilasananda says that just sitting to meditate is meditation. When you embrace that attitude and allow yourself that time to watch your mind it soon quiets itself. Even if it doesn’t you learn useful things about how the mind works and with faith the mind will still.
Walking is a very traditionally English relaxing thing. Again there is a stilling effect born out of rhythm and regular breath that calms the mind and warms the heart. But in addition there is the passive enjoyment of the scenery. In England that might be classic English countryside in New York there is so much else of passing interest. Often when I go for a long walk through the city streets I click into a mode that feels like I am on vacation and we do have some very nice parks here.
One of my favorite and most powerful recommendations is acupuncture. My acupuncturist Lida Ahmady rescued me from chronic acid reflux about four years ago. I am forever grateful to her. Now acupuncture provides me with a continuity of health and deep rejuvenating rest. I can feel how this ancient Chinese technique balances my energy. Apparently acupuncture restores healthy function of the subtle channels in the body before imbalance or dis-ease is even recognizable in Western medicine.
Another deeply soothing, centering and nourishing self-care practice is Reiki. I studied with a dear friend, Pamela Miles, and I only practice on myself. Whether your Reiki is self-administered or under the practiced hands of a healer it is deliciously calming. You always have your own hands with you though so I recommend finding out about self-practice.
One of the most profound and even enlightening experiences I have enjoyed was at the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Masjid on West Broadway for a night of Sufi whirling. Under the guidance of Sheikha Fariha we chanted and whirled late into the evening. By the end of the night I was ecstatic. Chanting and whirling can definitely lift the mood and under the watchful guidance of a master you may even tap into mystery.
Again on the subject of movement I recently resumed studying Tai Chi. I want to improve my balance but after just a couple of weeks I realize there is so much more going on. Tai Chi is grounding, centering and empowering all things that make me feel better. One good thing out of this disastrous election is the realization that I must take better control of my own state.
I was feeling an insidious creeping intrusion into my psyche earlier this week. It feels like Donald Trump has wormed his way into everything I see, read or hear and it’s making me nauseous. That is why I am contemplating my own self-care management now (a bit late, I admit). I also feel compelled to share it so I’m going to share even the most profound techniques.
On a very esoteric note I have studied now for about five years with Jim Self whose program Mastering Alchemy offers profound and incredibly effective tools for clarifying the mind. All cultures have core mystical teachings, Jim Self’s are the most accessible, comprehensible and practical that I have ever discovered.
A different kind of esotericism is poetry; especially Rumi. Everything Rumi says can feel like a helium balloon that lifts the heart. Rumi and another Sufi mystic Hafiz were so dedicated to the idea of divine love that there was no room for anything else. Contemplating their words pulls the reader out of the ordinary and into an ecstatic state.
This points out the key aspect of the work of state management; our state is our choice. We can decide to dive into the despair of the election result and wallow there or we can decide to choose another happier state. Our health depends on it. The great masters and mystics knew this and often with stories, poems and songs they coached us into more uplifted states to match their own. Very often if I am feeling blue all I need to do is listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Qawwalis and my mood shifts.
On another note a Japanese Zen koan also shifts our state. A perplexed mind wrapped up in the complexities of a koan cannot be worried. The koan is like a nimble finger untying a knot, not necessarily answering a question but opening the mind to a wide-open sky of possibility.
Considering the excessive amount of worrying that many of us are entertaining ourselves and our various bubbles with now I’d like to share a trick from the Mayan culture. Those folks are our Mexican, Guatemalan or Ecuadoran neighbors who will soon be behind the wall. Anyway they have a lovely tradition of a cornhusk doll made to assuage worry. It is a brilliant mind trick; you take the doll tell her your worries and the tuck it under your pillow for the night. Perhaps the doll will just hold them for you so that you can get a good night’s sleep, or perhaps she will solve them for you.
Now I am not an advocate of drinking although many of my friends are but I am an advocate of friends. So like the Irish, Scottish or English get to a local public house and imbibe the sweet nourishment of the company of good friends and possibly even some great music. Don’t talk politics.
Of course another rich cultural tradition is the family dinner. We seem to have too little time to even sit together for dinner these days let alone actually prepare the meal together. But one of my fondest memories is of visiting my sister in law at Christmas and working in the kitchen with her Italian step mother-in-law to make pasta. Yes, our families are complicated multi-cultural, multi-national and sometimes not multilingual. She couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Italian but we worked together all day and had a great time together. This political environment is separating families mine included so we just don’t talk. The divide is like a language gap but we can still enjoy each other’s company.
Now let me go into another direction entirely. This is for the women; we know that French women have a certain saying, “Bien dans sa peau” meaning, “comfortable in her skin.” Well a personal recommendation to me came from a French friend the trick is to wear exquisite silk lace underwear even under jeans or sweats. So if you need to lift your mood do some lingerie shopping. You might just lift your guy’s mood too.
Simple quick things that can be done to shift state, air and space are flowers, incense, a sage smudge or a candle paired with a short prayer of any denomination or your own design. All cultures use these things, which distill to water, air, fire and earth in the practice of their various devotions. That is the key as far as I can tell; our mental state, our sovereignty and happiness is our own most important work. Each culture has multiple ways of celebrating that inner divinity, higher self, or uplifted state of mind and today here in the US we have the benefit of so many cultural traditions and new experiments to choose from.
The image is a mock up for a new massive flag I am making to celebrate diversity. Please go to www.epluribus.us if you would like to participate. Look at my epluribus blog for details.