In Part I of the “Bridges across Politics” series, “Take One Tortoise Step,” we saw acts of kindness as steps toward civilized political dialogue with a fellow citizen.
Further steps, ways to actually discuss political issues, should only be taken mindfully, when you are calm enough to choose your words carefully. So while you continue building mutual respect with mutual kindness, begin to practice grounding yourself, that is, evoking a calm, mindful state.
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Did you know that it’s hard to get your fingers to key 911 on a phone when you’re upset? We should all practice those finger moves (without actually connecting) when we’re calm, so that we can do it when the house is burning. The same goes for grounding.
Develop a grounding trigger you can call up any time you feel negative emotions, such as fear or anger, interfering with your ability to think rationally and choose your words mindfully. A grounding trigger is something that automatically makes you feel good. It could be your wedding ring or other gift from someone who loves you. It could be a word or phrase you say to yourself, such as “calm” or “I’m OK.” It could be a mental image that makes you smile, like my little friend Sophie, pictured upper right.
The important thing is to practice using whatever grounding trigger you choose in easy situations, so that, later, it will work for you when a political discussion becomes upsetting. Right now, put three rubber bands someplace where you’ll be sure to see them tomorrow morning. If you can’t do that, put a reminder note about the rubber bands where you’re bound to see it.
Tomorrow morning, put three rubber bands around your right wrist. Every time you use your grounding trigger, move one band to the left wrist.
For example, you spill a glass of water and feel a glitch of frustration. If your grounding trigger is the phrase “I’m OK,” mentally say it, till you feel calm. If your grounding trigger is your wedding ring, look at the ring and touch it till you’re calm. If your grounding trigger is your pet, close your eyes and picture her till you feel calm. Then, wipe up the water and move the rubber band.
You can practice while watching TV. During a police chase scene, you notice your body tensing up. Pause the show, activate your grounding trigger and relax your body before you continue watching.
If by evening, opportunities to practice haven’t occurred naturally, and you still have one or more rubber bands on your right wrist, take a short practice break. Recall a situation when you felt angry, hurt or upset. When similar feelings (though possibly less intense) return with the memory, use your grounding trigger till you are calm again, and move a rubber band.
If you can find more than three opportunities to practice in one day, go for it! Begin moving the rubber bands back from left to right.
Once you find yourself remembering and using your grounding trigger whenever new and upsetting things occur, you can drop back to wearing the rubber bands once a week. It’s like a police officer taking target practice every so often. Be sure to mark the day of the week you mean to practice on your calendar.
And stay tuned for another installment in this “Bridges across Politics” series next week.