August 21, 2020

Our Oxymoronic Times

By Vega Subramaniam

Our current experience is large; it contains multitudes.

We’re used to the same event evoking multiple, even contradictory emotions. Weddings, funerals, family gatherings, new jobs, all of these experiences are laced with mixed emotions. Joy, nervousness, excitement, sadness, all reside simultaneously inside us, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not.

Our current environment is “mixed emotions” on steroids. Contradictions, on steroids.

At any given moment, I am simultaneously impossibly grateful (health, good work, parents close by, Mala, I could go on, but I should probably stop with Mala) and equally, stratospherically, enraged and infuriated (the reasons for my rage and fury are left as an exercise to the reader).

I hear variations on this theme every day. “How are you?” “I’m feeling really weepy today, but also incredibly glad that my family is OK.” Anxious, yet hopeful. Disgruntled, yet appreciative. Guilty, yet blessed.

The contradictions extend beyond our internal emotions. Case in point: crossword puzzle tournaments (sorry not sorry to return to this subject). I typically attend several crossword puzzle tournaments a year. Needless to say, this year they’re not happening in person. On the one hand, it sucks not to have that connection with my xword folks. On the other hand is the fact that, since this thing called the internet exists, tournaments have gone virtual and I can for the first time participate in some that I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person otherwise.

Another example: not just a few Black leaders of Black-led organizations working in Black communities have suddenly been discovered by Philanthropie$$$. And they can barely keep up with the RFPs. As a colleague of mine said recently, as she reflected on 30+ straight days of working mostly on grant proposals, “turns out they discovered Black people! It took them this long to figure out we exist, and now suddenly there’s money for us! How about that. It’s disgusting…disgusting, and beautiful.”

Some people have more work than they can handle, more money being funneled their way than they’ve ever seen (and I’m not even talking about the billionaires). People wishing they could clone themselves just to meet the demand. Meanwhile, many others are flung into the wilderness and won’t find any work, much less reliable work to be able to reliably pay bills, for months, maybe years.

Contradictions, on steroids.

It’s one thing for us to hold multiple emotions and truths at the same time. That’s challenging enough even when we don’t have an impending dictatorship to forestall. It’s another thing to constantly, daily, hourly, experience stupefyingly contradictory emotions and truths. It’s taxing our mental bandwidth in novel and unpredictable ways. The mental health crisis is real.

How do we support ourselves now? Supporting ourselves now probably means returning to the longstanding practices that we already know work, except returning to those practices on steroids, like our lives depend on them, because they do.

Here are the practices that I know I have to return to, like, no, seriously:

  • Being still and breathing
  • Journaling
  • Spending time with friends
  • Walking
  • Reminding myself of my core values and life purpose, that I matter

And I’ll let you in on something: just writing that list down lifted a solid ton of weight straight off my shoulders. A reminder that just naming a thing releases its power.

I invite you to radically, unapologetically, and ferociously turn to whatever you know in your very core that you need to keep from being shattered by the contradictions. Now is not the time to exercise self-restraint in tending to your heart and spirit.

What’s on your list? Is there a neglected practice or two that you can dust off and renew? What are your cherished rituals? I’d love to hear.


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