When something happens that's contrary to all established precedents and traditions, it's deeply disorienting for us all. Could be a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, the assassination of a celebrated figure, an economic meltdown, a public health crisis, or a crooked politician who cheats his way into high office. These kinds of events are all similar in that even our most advanced technological simulations couldn't have mocked up their resulting storms of severity and complexity. When a death stroke hits, look out. Because there is zero chance everything will go according to plan from here on out. It's such a dizzying, out of control experience. It makes people feel scared, sad and helpless. How about you? Gerhardt, a minister who preaches about the gifts of grief, writes about this experience in her book. Like a child caught in an undertow, flipped and spun underwater, uncertain which way is up, the mourners will struggle to right themselves. What was, is undone. What is, is unfamiliar. All of our expectations are upended. Just when we thought we knew how things worked. Sound familiar? Blech. Your mouth tastes like saltwater just thinking about it.
SHITSTORMING — Reorienting ourselves in our pain so that we aren't a victim of it
Typically, in these moments, our tendency is to either fight back or shut down. Both are primitive survival responses, but neither are particularly useful. Protesting in the streets, that precious form of social theatre people perform to make themselves feel virtuous and provide the illusion that they're making a difference, that doesn't help. Numbing out with drugs, alcohol, video games, outrage porn or whatever other narcotic du jour is within reach, that doesn't help either. In my experience, the mature and healthy response is to reorient ourselves in our pain so that we aren't a victim of it. First, we announce to ourselves that everything belongs. Even this current shitstorm we're trapped in. We accept that our disorientation and disorder aren’t good or bad, right or wrong. They just are. No judgments. This is simply life doing what it does. The sooner we situate ourselves within that larger drama of cosmic activity, the calmer we become. It may not change our outcome, but it sure does change our experience. And that's all we can ask for right now. The second element of reorienting ourselves is upgrading our intention. In the face of this chaotic, swirling, frenetic environment that threatens to end us all, we decide that we will be the place where turbulence ends. No matter how freaked out everyone around is us, we choose to channel this energy to incubate something new. This is the ultimate evolutionarily adaptive trait. Human beings have the unique ability to frame their confusions in a way that converts turbulence into creation.
Here's my favorite part about any shitstorm. It's fuel. The inspiration is raw, urgent and generative. Gryskiewicz, in his widely cited research on the subject of positive turbulence, wrote that only those predisposed to thinking that turbulence can be positive, see its strategic potential. Only those with a process to turn turning change into a productive force will create innovation and ongoing renewal. Those who choose the most have the most reason to feel free. What's your version of that? Do you have mechanisms that provide order, organization and focus? How could you predispose yourself to thinking that turbulence can be positive?
You don't have to do something heroic, expensive, grandiose action, either. Could be as simple as taking a walk, as aggressive as taking a boxing class, or as complex as composing a song. Point is, when unprecedented shit storms jostle you with the velocity and turbulence, you can always advance by taking short and slow steps. Are you among the strong who will find ways to reorient yourself?
Stay calm during unprecedented events
Channel turbulent energy to incubate something new
Productively manage feelings of fear, sadness and helplessness
Become more free, focused and adaptable during times of change