By Vega Subramaniam
My friend Ericka said that to me the other day: “Optimism is a form of resistance.” And it occurred to me just how impossible it feels to be pessimistic right now. My entire being would reject the effort. That force inside me would be tempted to smack me upside the head and point out that we don’t have time for pessimism, what are you even thinking, Vega? That force would remind me of all the fighters who came before me and who surround me now and point out that I wouldn’t want to betray their efforts by sparing even a second for pessimism.
This is new. This smack-me-upside-the-head internal barometer.
It wasn’t that long ago when an onslaught of truly horrifying news such as we are experiencing now on a daily (hourly?) basis would have sunk me into bitterness, cynicism, and alienation.
I don’t sink anymore. Not even lately, when my desire to stay in bed long after my alarm goes off is creeping up again. Optimism is a must today (always, really, but especially today).
I’ve been pondering how I got here: unsinkable. (And let the records show that I am not modifying that word “unsinkable” with “currently” or “largely” or “especially after a couple martinis.”)
I’ve been on a mission to build, as Dr. Marsha Linehan says, “a life worth living” for my whole life. It hasn’t been easy. Untold years of enduring toxic workplaces, stretching myself too thin, watching my confidence plummet and my pettiness soar took their toll. I’ve done my time indulging in behaviors not designed, un-designed, anti-designed for building a life worth living.
My point is, I know whereof I speak. I have spent endless hours over the past many years reading up on the best of life practices. And some of what I’ve read, I’ve even tried to apply.
While I know that rafts of others have already preached and pleaded and exhorted about these practices, I figure every single voice counts to amplify a message worth hearing.
So in the spirit of amplifying the message that optimism is a form of resistance, I offer here my three go-to pessimism-busting silver bullets (aka daily practices) for becoming whole in mind, body, and spirit. Kid-tested; mother-approved.
First off, I sit silently and just breathe for at least a few minutes every day. I am a big fan of the 30-minutes-of-meditation-a-day Rule of More-Evolved-Than-Thou Living. But I am an even bigger fan of each one of us in The Movement giving ourselves the gift of sitting silently for at least a couple minutes every day. Not gonna lie: the day I started practicing this for real was the day I rediscovered my sense of possibility. And what does science say about this? It says that it works. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “It is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself.” A radical act of love.
Also, I get more sleep. However much sleep you’re getting right now, it’s not enough. It’s possible I’m projecting. But for at least 40% of people in the U.S., it’s not. I’m guessing that for my leftie tribe, that percentage is way higher. It’s bad enough that the CDC say insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Reality check: when I’ve given my brain a fighting chance to recuperate, it’s a whole lot easier for me to find my patience, compassion, and resourcefulness. Go figure.
I know that for lots of us, it’s not (yet) an option to get a full nine hours every night. But I’m quite confident (dare I say optimistic?) that all of us can get at least a bit more than we’re getting now. Thirty minutes more, maybe. Fifteen minutes? OK, fine. One minute? I say this not only to honor the reality of our lives, but also because my personal experience of trying to change my sleep patterns is that trying for too great a change in too short a time doesn’t work. Habit-change requires small, daily shifts. Consider yourself warned.
And third, I express gratitude every day. Mala and I express three gratitudes every morning on our walk or commute (Ahem. By “commute,” I mean when Mala drives me to the Metro even though I could theoretically take the bus. By “theoretically,” I mean the bus stop is like 100 yards from our house. If that. I’m grateful to her, is what I’m saying). This practice has gradually, magically changed my perception of reality. And while I say “magically,” again, science agrees.
Sinking into pessimistic nihilism begins, and that force inside me yanks my head back and reminds me how blessed I am, how beautiful my loved ones are. How bountiful the earth, the air, and water are. How breathtaking novels, and new skeins of yarn, and crossword puzzles are.
If expressing three gratitudes every morning doesn’t float your boat, here are some other ideas. You are, of course, also invited to come up with your own daily gratitude practice.
We’re going to keep getting more sophisticated about how we take care of ourselves, and learning what works and how to practice that — so as to stay whole in mind, body, and spirit. So as to live to fight another day.
My dream for us is that we fortify ourselves, reject pessimism and hopelessness as tools of authoritarian oppression, and instead recognize optimism and hopefulness as our birthright.