The day after America’s collective night of insomnia, also known as election night, a sense of yearning accompanied my fatigue. I need community. I hadn’t heard of any groups meeting up, and had no energy to be proactive. I figured get-togethers would soon materialize and I could join in. For the time being, I was on my own, me and my dog.
In the midst of nuzzles and mutual adoring gazes with Zakai (Hebrew for pure or innocent), I put on my psychotherapist hat. I gained some perspective on my thoughts and feelings, and meditated. That helped a bit, but my thoughts continued. How are marginalized populations coping? How are clients I’ve worked with navigating this atrocity? What about those who will lose insurance coverage? Who’s out there feeling a depth of fear and despair I can only imagine?
I shifted gears to focus on love. I relished in the joy and gratitude of being married to my beshert, the one with whom I’m meant to be. At the same time, I worried that the new body of government could take away equal rights for the LGBT community. Fundamental rights, by the way, that we had to fight so hard for—and still do.
When in doubt, turn to the literary world. I channelled my childhood friend Anne Frank (I still have the tattered paperback from grade school on my bookshelf). “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” The inspiration and hope her words usually offer didn’t come. Instead, I thought of my ancestors and six million others who were tortured and killed under a cruel, divisive dictatorship. I was sickened by the similarities between Trump and Hitler; it was like reading about the Holocaust from a book that wouldn’t close.
I thought about our dear friends, Martha and Fran, who put their love, intelligence and community-mindedness into volunteering. They consistently make peaceful strides toward positive political outcomes around the country. I consulted with my dog, "Now, what? What do we do? Right, Zakai, we need the wisdom of Martha and Fran!" They were away, but I was comforted knowing we would commune soon enough.
At some point, I moved onto my lifespan of nearly fifty years; certainly there would be wisdom from experience, right? Nope, no revelations, not this time.
I settled into my go-to place of solace. Writing. I spoke while the magic of voice recognition made my words appear on the screen. This is about all of us… I need to look into the eyes of like-minded people…be part of something bigger. Community.
As I wiped tears from my keyboard, a message from our synagogue popped up. That very evening our congregation would have an impromptu post-election gathering to debrief. Well, okay then. That night, I was reminded about the meaning of community.
Here are five ways community helps me—and can, hopefully, help all of us—with the agony of post-election blues.
At last week’s gathering, we used a “talking stone” with the word courage engraved into it. The stone sat in the center of our circle next to the lit candles (another of our rituals), available for each of us to hold if we chose to express our thoughts. It felt safe to talk, cry or sit in silence. Like the stone, ritual gives us something solid to hold onto when life feels slippery. The predictability is a soothing act of mindfulness that eases grief and anxiety. It helps our souls engage in a process of renewal that nobody with any amount of power can take away.
2. Bearing witness
Along with last week’s circle and sharing dyads, the subtler moments made an impact on me. I looked into the eyes of people I love and others I hardly know, exchanging empathetic expressions and raised I can’t believe this is happening eyebrows. We saw one another. When we bear witness to someone’s pain or joy, often simply by being present, we extend acceptance and support at the deepest level.
I’m a big believer in this one for all types of pain. While we need to act, we also must take time to distance ourselves from political madness so it doesn’t consume us. Community settings offer volunteer activities, a great way to re-channel our energy. Distraction, especially activities that involve helping others, interrupts anxiety and ruminating thoughts. It gives our brains a chance to rest and refocus.
Community meets one of our most primal needs, to belong. It’s right up there with oxygen and food, and the election outcome has threatened this for many. We’ve heard diabolical ramblings pushing a “You don’t belong” agenda. If we don’t fear for our own sense of security, we do for that of others. The campaign’s hateful, xenophobic rhetoric has pushed our buttons. (Who in this world doesn’t know the feeling of exclusion?) So, we create community, a place where we can plant our feet on soothing, fertile soils. Even more-so, a place to make others feel welcome and free to grow. No walls.
Just as our shared values, passions, goals or identities draw us to community, our differences can inspire personal growth. Unlike Trump’s image of society, a healthy community isn’t presumptive and exclusionary; it doesn’t advocate fear and hatred toward those who are dissimilar to us. Community brings us together, and the energy can ignite motivation to rally toward political change. If we’ve been solely outwardly-focused, community can also move us to an introspective place, a springboard toward inspiration.
Whatever your communities are comprised of— support groups, co-workers, book lovers, sports teams, religious congregants, neighbors, political activists or countless other clusters—it's a good time to delve into them. It's a good time to remember we're not alone.