Spiritual Practices for Anxious Times

proverbs-guard-your-heartHere are some practices from the contemplative tradition which you may find helpful (and which I have been using) to cope with the shock of the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

  1. Try meditation as a way of staying calm and gaining perspective on your reactions to political events.  See the page on Christian Meditation on this website for basic instruction.  Anger is warranted at injustice and it should be a catalyst to action, but we need assess whether continuing anger at political developments is a waste of energy, just feeding anxiety and depression.  Meditation helps us detach from the anger.  To persist with meditation we need the support of a meditation group (see the group locator at wccm-usa.org).
  2. Take a walk in the woods. Walking in nature and listening to the quiet and the sounds of nature is a soothing and replenishing experience.  Also exercise is probably more effective than any other form of therapy for anxiety / depression.  For some humor (another form of therapy) try reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryant (or the movie based on it, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte).
  3. The Psalms are a wonderful resource for coping with our emotions. The whole range of human emotion is expressed in the Psalms.  The Rule of Benedict prescribed the practice of chanting and reading aloud the Psalms for the health of monastic communities.  When I first participated in this practice at a monastery, I was amazed at how the monks could chant / read these powerful expressions of emotion so nonchalantly.  But there is something to it.  The emotion is set forth and described by the Psalmist and sometimes resolution is given.  We observe this process in a detached way and we are better able to stand apart from our own emotions and see them more clearly.  We need not be ruled by our emotions.  (See a previous blog, You Don’t Have Feelings; Your Feelings Have You).
  4. Strictly limit your intake of news media; read wise journals and books. The news media were partly responsible for getting Donald Trump elected President by constantly leading with stories about him and repeating his speeches at rallies (contrary to his claims that they were against him).  He did not need any advertising.  His brand of inflammatory rhetoric made addicts of the media who pursue ratings at the cost of integrity.  Did they ever ask: is this worthy of being reported?  So, choose your news sources very carefully and do not give Trump the attention he craves.
  5. Also go beyond the daily news for a deeper perspective. Keep your eyes open to journals and books which tackle the underlying problems of our society.  For example, I am starting a book reviewed in the Christian Century (November 9, 2016) that was published six months* before the recent election: Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America by Tamara Draut (2016, Doubleday).   One of her contentions is that the working class in America is very diverse in terms of race, culture and sex and that one day soon they will no longer allow politicians like Trump to divide and conquer the working class by inciting racial and sexual stereotypes.  In the meantime the working class can unite around issues like the $15 an hour minimum wage and the right of workers to organize in unions, to help protect them from injustices in the workplace.  A clearer understanding of what might be done to make a real difference gives us incentive to take action, instead of throwing our hands up in despair and doing nothing.  Other issues where we might press for change are the injustice of a “democratic system” that twice in 16 years has given the election to the one who did not win the popular vote; also, the way a FBI Director inserted himself into an election in order to influence the outcome.  Indeed, the system was rigged, not against Trump, as he claimed, but in favor of him!
  6. Continue to be involved in your local community and church. Give support to those who are hurting and receive support when you are hurting.  Support groups organized around the sufferings that afflict ordinary people can be very helpful resources.  Also they can be the staging ground for political action against injustices.

This list is not exhaustive.  You may have additional practices that you have found helpful.  Please share them in a comment below.

(*Note: in an earlier version of this post I had mistakenly written “three years before the recent election”)

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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6 Responses to Spiritual Practices for Anxious Times

  1. Wendy Oliver says:

    Thank you, John, I just knew that you would be writing helpful words for us. I would add a couple of prayers that are helping me. The Serenity Prayer truly brings serenity when used frequently. It works for me like exercise reps do – after a while you realize that you are indeed growing stronger! God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The second is the prayer attributed to Saint Francis, Lord make me an instrument of Your peace.

  2. Cheryl Brooks says:

    Thank you for this very interesting and helpful post, John – I have shared it with several friends. Your suggestions offer proven and practical ways to move beyond debilitating emotion. Also loved the earlier post you referenced, “You Don’t Have Feelings; Your Feelings Have You”. Keep up the good work!

    (Also loved Wendy’s post – thank you for reminding me of those two powerful prayers of surrender and acceptance!)

    Cheryl Brooks

  3. Frank Mello says:

    Want to sit down and eat your food.

    Peace and Hope, frank

    • John Fisk says:

      Always enjoy our breakfast conversations, Frank. Thanks for your encouragement in these dark Trumpian times. “Trumpian Times” sounds like a title of a Dickens novel!

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