By David Jones
The American government is shut down again, but this time it’s really dragging out.
As federal employees either sit at home without getting paid, or spend gas and resources going to work without getting paid, they are struggling with far more than finances.
H. P. Lovecraft once wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” It’s that unknowing, that uncertainty, that makes the shutdown so much worse. When will it end? How will it end? Nobody knows. But of course it will end at some point. In the future folks will read this article and have all those answers.
Considering impermanence, even government intractability eventually changes. So let’s think of how to handle these shutdowns, layoffs, downsizings, and other protracted slogs mindfully.
Since mindfulness is about seeing the world from moment to moment as it really is, we can get this out of the way right now:
If you’re scared, I totally get it. It’s okay to be scared.
I know there are aphorisms that tell you not to be scared of temporary setbacks or crises. Don’t stress, it’s not healthy. Don’t worry about things, because worry doesn’t solve anything and it’s counter-productive. You’re human. You’re gonna worry sometimes and you’re going to stress, you’re going to have anxiety. The challenge is to not become immobilized because of it.
Be mindful of your fears—what they are, what triggers them, what bigger struggles you face because of them. Examine them, and if possible learn from them without judging the worry or yourself. Then figure out how you can conquer them.
Show yourself some love.
1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that love is patient and kind, and that’s true whether it’s love for each other or love for yourself. As you treat yourself with love, you become more patient with the things you go through.
Consider the moment.
If I’m not going to work and not being paid, the future looks pretty bleak after awhile. What will we eat? How will we make ends meet? That stuff is all in an uncertain future. It can help to look around and realize how you are right now, because you can at least be certain of that.
Look for floating doors.
In the movie Titanic, the two main characters would have happily caught a lifeboat, but there weren’t any. What did they grab? A wooden door. It floated, so even if it wasn’t their preferred choice, it worked. Likewise, when there are crises in our life it’s important to do what we must to keep our heads above water, even if it means taking advantage of opportunities we wouldn’t normally consider. Temporary jobs, donations, food assistance—there might be a life-saving door floating right next to you.
Be thankful, literally.
Individuals, businesses, and institutions have been lining up to support furloughed federal workers. If you take advantage of these, be sure to express gratitude. When folks do things for you out of compassion, your thanks may be all they receive, and it encourages them to act the same way in the future.
Pay down your time debt.
If you’re like me, it seems like things build up because I never have time to take care of them: That closet door with the avalanche warning posted if it’s ever opened, the pantry full of food items that are now old enough to vote. Fix the patio. Paint the living room. Learn Sanskrit. Whatever you’ve been meaning to get to…if only you had the time.
Re-establish a routine.
The loss of one’s daily routine is its own problem. It leads to aimlessness, a wandering mind that has lots of time to worry. It can affect your feelings of self-worth. A part-time job can help. Volunteering can also work.
Watch your social media habits.
If this shutdown has proven anything, it’s that social media feeds our collective outrage and desperation. It can be a great tool for support and empathy, but it can also drag us down. The more you put negative news into your mind the more you’ll condition yourself to dwell on it. It will disguise itself as a desire to stay informed, but when the effects pile up it becomes a trap. Soon you’re not really learning anything new or helpful; you’re just compulsively piling grief on top of yourself. That’s not relieving suffering at all.
Accept the reality of people.
Don’t post about your situation unless you are prepared to deal with trolls and people who do not sympathize. The pain you feel now can be compounded by criticisms and personal attacks by those who feel differently than you. They are out there, and you can easily become mired in arguments and recriminations that’ll just make you feel worse.
Mindfulness isn’t a cure or a solution to your struggles to make ends meet. It won’t put food in your children’s mouths or put gas in the car. What it will do is help you see your situation clearly. That helps reduce the panic so you can understand where your energy deserves to be spent in solving your problems, as well as reducing anxiety in the meantime.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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