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our lives to react to our national tragedy in their own way-to be sad, angry, optimistic, depressed, dysfunctional, or withdrawn.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.
A second hindering thought is the assumption that we must find the correct way to think about this tragedy. Now instead of turning to God for guidance, we turn to intellectual conclusions. However well meant, mere concepts can block our sensitivity and intuition. The people around us need us to act on intuition. We don't need a philosophy to be kind. Often the most healing acts in times of crisis and devastation are nonverbal.
Another hindering thought is that the subject most deserving of our attention is not our God, our spouse, or our children, but what world leaders are up to. For example, we may think that we should have strong opinions on all the issues, spend many hours watching news reports, and send out lots of e-mails stating our moral stance. But how we use our time is important. A gentle use of time is always more healing than being "right."
1. Do not tell yourself when your disturbing or upsetting emotions must end.
2. Do not tell your partner, child, or anyone else how they should be feeling.
3. If you have been having a particularly disquieting thought, and if there is no action to be taken, put in place a plan of how you will release it the instant it begins.
4. Instead of seeking a breakthrough, try for a little gain each day. Whether it is exercise, job performance, housework, or meditation, do what you can do in the present.
5. Even if you don't feel like being kind, be kind. Even if you don't feel overwhelming love, be a friend.
6. Seek to think peacefully about your partner, and seek your partner's peace.
7. Turn to God and let go of the day at the end of the day so that tomorrow you can begin anew.
8. During the day, talk to God often. Do not be afraid to say anything on your heart. And know that God knows how to reach your heart with the answer.