When All Else Fails…

There is an oddly prescient quote from American talk show host, Conan O’Brien, that seems quite apropos for our time:

“When all else fails, you always have delusion.”

Conan’s offhand tip to Harvard University graduating students may at first seem nihilistic. But let’s remember some of the wacko events that we have collectively been through in the last year: a pandemic that not only killed 4+ million people world-wide, but also wreaked havoc on world economies from which we still haven’t recovered, polarizing politics, forced isolation through COVID lockdowns, climate-related disasters, racial/class tensions.… I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, it’s been a doozy of a year. “Doozy” might be an understatement.

These are major, disrupting societal events. Life altering, in some shape or form, for everyone. And, how about the more personal struggles that many of us endured, at the very same time? Losing a job, getting sick, losing loved ones, traumatized kids (and parents) trying to do school, the list goes on and on. Maybe Conan was right; delusion might be the right choice, right now.

A common theme to the aforementioned (and not mentioned) traumas, tragedies, and catastrophes is that they are destabilizing. We feel shaken like a ragdoll in the mouth of a Rottweiler. It feels like the floor falls out the bottom. It feels, and it most certainly felt, hopeless at times. We come face to face with what we thought to be true about the world and about the self, is in fact, not … true. Wow, delusion is starting to sound better and better.

When I was faced with all the above as well as a progressively worsening health condition, I felt like I was tumbling in space with nothing to hold on to. Because guess what? There WASN’T anything to hold on to. The things that used to feel solid were disintegrating. I couldn’t rely on tried-and-true sources of connection, of strength, or support. Until one day, as I found myself, once again, on the floor, not able to move, in so much pain and fatigue from a failing body, I discovered (or more aptly, I remembered) some simple strategies that might bring relief to this suffering. So simple it’s easy to forget them.

  1. Finding Your Ground … Literally
  2. Increasing Relaxation in Body and Mind
  3. Noticing You’re Alright Right Now
  4. Showing Yourself Compassion and Kindness

If it feels like there is no ground, then find the ground that is there.

Literally. Put two feet on the ground. Feel yourself in your chair. Recognize and absorb the fact that gravity is holding you on the earth. In Tai Chi, it’s called “finding your root.” Plug into the stability, steadiness, and awesomeness of the earth and let that connection stabilize you. 

At the same time, increase relaxation in the body and the mind.

Swirling, unsettled outer conditions tend to spin up rumination and worry. Finding or generating relaxation in the body generally leads to a calming of the mind. Concentrate on the breath, taking deep in breaths and slow, deep outbreaths. Gentle progressive relaxation throughout the body helps.

Consciously recognize that we are alright right now.

When we face the kinds of societal and personal upheaval like we have in the last year, our negativity bias can take over. Right now, with feet on the ground and the body relaxed, we are OK; alright. We might not have been in the past and may not be in the future. But, instead of time traveling, we stay right here and purposely recognize our “alright-ness.” (This is an adaptation of the work of Rick Hanson.)

As best we can, open to receiving some compassion and kindness from ourselves.

Body and mind grounded. Relaxed. Alright in this moment. What do we need? A bear hug, holding our face with two hands, hands on heart, we then can internally say kind words to ourselves. Can we tell ourselves those messages? 

Four simple steps. They don’t need an acronym. There is no fancy incantation or complex ritual required. There is no special transmission or secret mantra given. In fact, it is so simple that advanced practitioners of self-care and psychological well-being often forget them. 

I forgot them. Until, that day, in desperation, I just put my feet on the ground and took a really deep belly breath. And the crazy circus ride I was on slowly came to a stop. No big fireworks, no fanfare, just a moment of stillness; of quiet. At first it was so quick, that I almost missed it before all the whirling and swirling started up again. But I didn’t miss it this time.

I grabbed a hold of that stillness, that equanimity as if I was grabbing a hold of the dorsal fin of a blue whale, silently diving underneath a calm ocean. Together, we plunged deep into the waters of tranquility, peace, and compassion.

What I have found for myself, and what my students have shared with me after leading them through these steps, is a small shift. Just enough of a shift to bring us back to ourselves. Avoiding the delusion, we can then take realistic, actionable steps to improve our situation — or at least improve our outlook of it.

The world doesn’t seem to be any less disorienting and our personal lives may start to appear to be a runaway train. What do we do? Instead of pursuing delusion, perhaps whisper into your own ear, “When all else fails … just put your feet on the ground.”

David is a Trained Teacher of Mindful Self Compassion through the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. He began his exposure to Mindful Self-Compassion through an initial
eight-week MSC course, followed by three consecutive rounds of the 8-month Community for Deepening Practice (CDP) course, from 2019-2021. David is also a teacher of Lung Gar Pai Tai Chi.

When not meditating or teaching, you might find him singing in his one-man karaoke show, discussing the fine art of video games with his daughter, or avoiding snakes and coyotes in the wilds of Colorado. In a former life, David was a ballet dancer, singer, and health care administrator.

David, along with his co-teacher, Jennifer Ayres, Ph.D., will be teaching an 8-week online MSC class September 14-November 9, 2021, 7-9:45 p.m. EDT. Limited scholarships are available. For more information and to register, go to www.davidteitelman.com.

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