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Blog Alan Seale, Jan 13, 2020 | Staying Centered and Grounded

The recent year-end holiday season brought welcome rest and quiet, as well as the chance to spend time with friends, enjoy small gatherings with delicious food and wine, engage in stimulating conversation, and laugh a lot. Yet without fail, at some point in every gathering, the conversation turned to what is happening in our country. Without exception, every single person expressed some level of fear, grief, anger, or frustration, as well as being at a loss for how to respond or what to do to make a difference. The sense of powerlessness was palpable in every conversation.

Recent articles in The New York Times have referenced the sharp increase in depression, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear in the general U.S. population since 2016. The terms “democracy grief” and “climate grief” are slowly creeping into mainstream media language, describing the sense of mourning and loss that more and more people are feeling. The term “humanitarian grief” can’t be far behind. All three of these “griefs” are very much alive inside of me.

To be sure, what is happening in the United States is mirrored in other countries as well. On the surface, some of the stories and issues may be different. Yet down underneath, the emotional sources of fear and discontent are remarkably similar. The Great Breaking Open continues.

The Toll on Our Wellbeing

While I often hear politics and/or climate change referred to in general conversation, the tone too often quickly turns cynical or sarcastic. Or it devolves into us-versus-them banter. However, more vulnerable, deep-seated feelings and emotions are not often easily expressed. Many people don’t feel comfortable or safe giving voice to their fear and anxiety in the company of others.

When feelings and emotions are suppressed, they eat away at our psyche. As that suppression spreads to a systemic level, it breeds tension, fear, and low-grade depression in the mass consciousness. Over time, this systemic tension takes a toll on our personal wellbeing—even for those whose lives are fairly balanced and stable.

My Own Struggle, and How I Am Finding My Way

In the last few months, I admit that I, too, have struggled. I am pretty skilled at being fully present with difficult realities and choosing carefully where to put my focus and energy. I can usually find a path to move forward in a constructive way. In recent months, however, that has been easier said than done. In the pile-up of all that is breaking open at the same time, I have felt pretty worn down. For the first time in my life, I started to understand on a visceral level how people fall into despair.

A few weeks ago while lying awake in the night, I remembered William Stafford’s poem, The Way It Is. I quickly found the poem again and read it over and over. Stafford’s words washed through me like a healing balm.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The “thread” is your life purpose or soul mission. You don’t ever let go of the thread. That last line of the poem was, for me, the key. It reconnected me with the power, and maybe even necessity, of purpose, especially in unsettled times. More specifically, it reconnected me with my own soul mission, I liberate and empower. Suddenly, I felt anchored again.

Your “thread”—your soul mission—is not only a fundamental gift that you give to others; it is a gift that you must first give to yourself. And therefore, it is often your biggest life lesson—the big lesson that keeps coming around throughout most, if not all, of your life. A life lesson is not something that you learn just once and then you are done. It’s a lesson that keeps showing up again and again so that you keep learning it on deeper and deeper levels. As you keep learning, you keep growing. And as you keep growing, your gifts to the world around you make greater and greater impact.

Coming Back to Soul Mission Helps Us Find Solid Ground Again

When times are tough—when there is chaos and confusion around us—when we can’t find solid ground to stand on—when we feel like we are losing agency in our own lives—it’s easy to become unmoored. It’s easy to lose our grounding, to lose touch with who we are at our best, and to be overcome by fears and emotions that are all around us. Coming back to our own sense of purpose – coming back to soul mission – reminds us why we are here and what our lives are really about. Coming back to soul mission helps us find solid ground again. It gives us reason for being again. It gives us direction. We realize that we can make a difference, even in unsettled times.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.

While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
[Just] don’t ever let go of the thread.

In the middle of the night, I got hold of my “thread” again. I found my purpose and direction again. The chaos and confusion have not gone away. I’m aware that I could be pulled off course again. Yet I also know now that if I hold on to my “thread,” it’s less likely to happen. And if it does, I know how to find my focus again.

The same can be true for you. Hold on to your “thread.” The more of us who remember who we are and why we are here, the better chance all of us have of finding our way.