Yet in our relationships, especially with our partners, many of us now see heightened evidence of what divides us. For instance, many couples are noticing a tendency to indulge their irritations, to feel misunderstood, and to forget the purpose of relationship, which is to come together to give comfort, to share burdens, and to make life easier on one another.
Today much of the world's population shares in a conflicted mindset that operates on several levels-it is affecting our marriages, health, motivation, job performance, and parenting attitudes. It is a complex of thoughts and feelings that includes unity, patriotism, tolerance, and generosity, all of which are much talked about in the media. But it also includes somberness, anxiety in the present, increased fears about the future, and, interestingly, an overall decrease in motivation. These combine into a single mood or mindset that often results in distraction and preoccupation. As one of our talk-show listeners said, "My idle thoughts are much louder than usual."
In addition to our contacts with our friends and the people we counsel, our radio program has put us in touch with people in disparate locations and walks of life. Almost to a person, they are having difficult and contradictory emotions. On the one hand, they feel more closeness with their family and friends, and on the other, they experience more discord with many of these same people. Their ordinary day is also affected. They feel a spiritual unity at unexpected moments, as if suddenly they catch glimpse of great wings of love sheltering them and all others. Yet at other times nothing makes sense, nothing seems important, and there is a nagging feeling that everything in their life is going to pieces: circumstances, relationships, emotions, health.
The first rule of healing is acceptance. What has happened has happened. The attitudes of our partner, family, and friends are as they are. This means that to heal we must allow the people in our lives to react to our national tragedy in their own way-to be sad, angry, optimistic, depressed, dysfunctional, or withdrawn. We don't judge. We don't point out mistakes. We resist drawing our own private conclusions about how they should be. We don't even demand consistency.
By giving this gentle tolerance to others, it is easier to extend it to ourselves. If from one moment to the next we are confused about what to do, let us admit it. Is it right to celebrate our birthday and have a joyous gathering of friends? Is it okay to let our housework slide--and even our diet? Should we allow our partner to slack off in his or her chores? Should we volunteer or give more money to charity? Perhaps we should cut back on our demands of our kids.
Acceptance applies to ourselves as well. It is an American tradition to "demand the best" of others and to be even harder on ourselves. But this is a time of healing, and healing requires patience and inner rest. Acceptance of our own and others' moods and reactions brings rest to our entire experience.
The second element of healing is faith. We acknowledge the place of wholeness and stillness within us, even if at the moment it seems remote or irrelevant. This is something that in normal times we would do automatically, but now there are several lines of thought that are blocking the spiritual efforts of many people.
Regardless of the form this doubt takes, it blocks us from thinking of God as a consoler, as a present help, as One we can turn to as we experience the increase of personal problems that inevitably follows an event this shocking and unsettling.