By Hilary Illick, Hoffman Process teacher
In a world where the news is constantly telling us to be afraid (of climate change, terrorism, disease, financial crisis, etc.), it would be natural to operate out of fear much of the time. In the Process, we learn how fear can rob us of our natural capacity for joy, how it can deplete our nervous system, and even immobilize us from taking action. Here are a few simple steps that can shift your state from fear to practice hope.
Connect To Your Spiritual Self
Let’s say you’ve just learned of a crisis somewhere in the world that freaks you out, makes you feel afraid and possibly helpless. The first thing to do is connect to your spiritual self. I once saw a bumper sticker that read: “Don’t just do something, STAND THERE!”, and it became one of my mantras. It reminds me to first get still.
From that place of stillness, check in with your spirit. You can do this by getting a visual image of your spiritual self, this radiant, unprogrammed aspect of you who is resourceful and whole. Connecting to your spiritual self reminds you that you are more than this finite moment in time, more than this body living on earth. Your spiritual wisdom exists transcendently, far outliving the disaster du jour.
Having connected to your spiritual self, you can move into the practice of self-compassion. An especially effective method for cultivating self-compassion involves repeating the self-compassion prayer: I am suffering right now; all human beings suffer and deserve kindness; may I be kind to myself. Combining this with placing your hand on your heart, or rubbing your cheek or lips (all of which spur the production of oxytocin, the bonding hormone) can switch your state from fight-or-flight (the sympathetic nervous system) into relax-and-respond (the parasympathetic). Once in your parasympathetic nervous system, you are no longer churning out the stress hormones of adrenaline and cortisol, but are instead creating endorphins and oxytocin, the feel-good hormones.
Make A Gesture Of Kindness
Once you feel yourself to be in a more centered, calmer place, you can then ask yourself, “What gesture of kindness can I do now, for the world?” “For those in need?” See what comes to you. It could be something directly relevant to what you learned about in the news, or as simple as smiling at a stranger as you pass them on the street.
We have no idea the far-reaching impact of our large or small gestures – even the simple act of bringing ourselves into a state of loving-kindness has ripple effects on our world that we may not see or be able to gauge. What does that smile do for a stranger’s day? And what might the subtle, positive shift in that person’s mood do for the next person he or she encounters? We may never know. But we do know that our peaceful, positive state is certainly better for our immediate world than road rage, or isolating in fear, helplessness or self-pity. At the very least, connecting to our spiritual self and to our self-compassion makes us feel better. Kinder. More hopeful. Then we make choices from hope, not fear.