Navigating life can be bittersweet.
On a recent Wednesday, my fourteen-year-old dog crossed over the rainbow bridge. On the following Monday, my twelve-year contract job was terminated with no notice. Fifty days into our pandemic quarantine and I would lose my best friend AND my income in the same week.
How is it that inner ease continues to be my overriding emotional experience? The short answer is the gift of resilience. And I want to help you build yours.
It was the weeks before Christmas in 2006 when my wife and I were shopping for shoes in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland and an unexpected opportunity to dip into a mobile adoption van from the Washington, DC animal shelter brought us face-to-face with the most amazing soul we would ever know. For fourteen years, Chester worked with us whether at the office or on the farm; explored with us on every adventure; and always slept by our side. He was our teacher, our best friend, and our beloved. Chester’s immense spirit filled our home with precious laughter, snuggles, energy, enthusiasm, and precocious inquiry. He always kept us on our toes and in our hearts. It’s hard to say who rescued whom.
In our fifth day of mourning, I sent an invoice for April payment for my work with a health information technology company with whom I have worked for a dozen years and instead received a notice of termination for my position. This is my main source of income. I have another job that I give my whole heart to, leading Soul Force Politics, a non-profit organization that I founded in 2017. However, I do not receive a salary for this work. This is how I choose to be in service. I swallowed hard when I received the cold notice from corporate counsel about the company’s restructuring.
It almost felt like the start to either a bad joke or a lame country music song – losing your dog and your job in the same week. I nearly had to laugh at how it sounded, especially when it is overlaid with the timing of the world’s existential Coronavirus crisis.
A few caveats seem in order while nearly fifteen percent of the country’s workforce is similarly unemployed during this upside-down reordering of our economy. I will have a softer landing in this than most. I have built in privileges and advantages to weather this storm differently. My education and career opportunities have assured good wages and an opportunity to tuck away some savings. Not to mention that banks are more eager to make loans to people who look like me.
In my desire to undo racism I have attended some in-depth trainings in recent years which have opened my eyes to ways that I, as a white-bodied person, receive untold benefits that are not earned but bestowed on me by systems dominated by the invisible but persistent hand and unspoken rules of white supremacy structures. If you are not a person of color, I invite you to see and name this racism in all you do as well. This is a start to how we can tear it down.
While I believe my trust in the Universe’s ability to take care of me no matter what is rooted in my spirituality and faith, I cannot say with certainty whether there also could be some unconscious part of me who trusts in a protected future because the rules of engagement always do take care of people like me.
For these reasons, perhaps it is not remarkable at all that I found myself so emotionally even-keeled when faced with two traumatic events so close together. But I am also human, no matter my advantages, and I have choices in how I interact with my experience. There is something to be shared about what I have discovered in the process of observing my reactions (or non-reactions) to these unsettling scenarios.
At first, I expected that I my normal coherent heart space would be tossed into a jagged mess with the introduction of such sadness and anxiety.
The data geek in me was excited to plot this emotional roller coaster on my inner balance heart rate variability monitor to see what the science of the heart would teach me about this moment.
To supplement years of dedicated work in building resilience capacity, I am halfway through an eight-week certification course on building personal resilience with the renowned HeartMath Institute. As part of our training, we are given an electronic monitoring tool to track our emotional coherence by measuring the quality of the changing rhythms in our heartbeat from one minute to the next. In the accompanying app that records the data from the body monitor, the tool shows whether one’s emotional coherence is low (red), medium (blue), or high (green) at any particular moment.
From the beginning of the class, every time I checked my inner balance, it was always blue or predominantly green. Might I see some red now?
I hooked up the monitor within fifteen minutes of my termination notice and meditated for about ten minutes.
It was still green. High coherence.
But how could this be?
I was definitely observing sadness and anxiety knocking at my door. But I also noticed that there was a division between how my head and my heart processed it.
The sadness and anxiety were seemingly generated in my mind. My brain knew I would not see Chester again. It was processing the empty feeling in the house from his physical absence. On the money front, my mind has a history of weaving a tale about scarcity and how that feels. I am the daughter of a union factory welder who was often on strike during labor strife and our family had to survive on a combination of second jobs, second mortgages, and a bit of creative rationing.
My heart, my empress, was holding the experiences differently. Chester’s memory is a constant source of joy. The sadness of this loss, when felt in my heart space, is more like a celebration of a life well-lived and deeply loved. My spirit knows he is still at my side. My job at the health IT company was a gift. It allowed me to earn stable income while also giving me time to pursue the political and non-profit vocations that animate my spirit. I am profoundly thankful for the dozen years it blessed me. Now that this door is closing, another must be opening. Perhaps I will finally have the dedicated time I need to get serious about writing the book that has been consistently nudging me from within.
This test of resilience has pushed me to reflect more on how and why I cultivated the mindfulness skills to sit with whatever shows up and just observe what is rather than getting entangled by the emotions the situation generates. There is a freedom in simply noticing what is and how it feels without responding with attachment or aversion.
I dove into spiritual and consciousness pursuits to give inner balance to an incredibly challenging external journey I had undertaken over an entire career in politics. For ten years I was a senior staff member in Congress; another eight years were spent as an elected member of the Maryland General Assembly; and my capstone political effort was running a spirited campaign for Governor.
This external version of me, skilled in the fiery pursuits of political activism, would often get her fingers burned. It was like I was carrying a candle in my hands and shielding it from a toxic arena hellbent at times on extinguishing it. I now understand that we are more successful when we shine our light just as brightly from that protected divine spark that burns inside of us. We are stronger when our external actions are lit from the wisdom of our internal flames.
When we balance the insights and promptings of our external and internal experiences, we create new habits of being.
By generating new baseline neural patterns – the well-worn path that gets activated between the rhythms of the heart and the thinking of the mind — it is entirely possible for the heart to override the brain’s experience and take its proper place as the General in charge of the body’s response to stressors.
Building our personal resilience (our capacity to prepare for, recover from, and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity) generates renewing energy for our inner batteries that we draw on to inform self-regulated responses rooted in clarity, compassion, and coherence.
Coherence is an optimal state in which the heart, mind, and our emotions are aligned and in sync. When we are out of alignment, it is the greatest unrecognized source of stress.
Reflection: Inquire, examine, and be curious about yourself. Removing external distractions forces our gaze inward. Most of us do not know who we truly are. We refuse to look inside. Periods of isolation help us become more familiar with our patterns of thinking and our triggers, including how we respond to provocation and what matters most to us – if we pay attention. This is a chance to notice what you are noticing; to become an expert on you.
Renewal: Self-care is not an indulgence. It is necessary. Get plenty of sleep. Eat mindfully and hydrate often. Exercise. Meditate and journal. Play. Get out in nature. Detox from addictive behaviors.
Rebirth: The way humans have been living and interacting in the world is unsustainable. We need a new perspective. Mother Earth is putting humanity in a time out. This collective pause is a chance to redefine ourselves, our habits – our way of being. As systems and structures that no longer serve us start to collapse, it is time to dream a bigger dream.
There is really only one trusted path to remake this world anew, and it carves itself from the genius of our tiny but masterfully brilliant hearts who teach us every day – when we actively listen – how to radiate a resilient, coherent connection from the wisdom that resides within.
When the heart is in charge, the monitor will always be green, no matter what emotion is present. When the heart is in charge, radical love goes from theory to practice.
By: Heather R. Mizeur | CEO + Founder, Soul Force Politics, a non-profit organization that envisions how the world would be different if politics were rooted in radical love.
She has written more extensively about her experiences with reflection, renewal, and rebirth in her essay, “Voyage Within.” You can read it here.