There is an encouraging peace that abides within me as I reflect on this moment in which we are living. It’s an internal assurance that understands the pain of each moment is not the totality of my story. No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated some major challenges within our higher education communities.
Our human condition has experienced suffering, isolation, despair, disappointment, and even depression in ways like never before. There are times that I haven’t been my best self with polarizing practices of overworking, overeating, procrastination, and horrible sleeping habits (insomnia). This intense level of grief and the experience of major upheavals in our lives can impact functioning. Seasons of crises will expose our vulnerabilities and it will also draw on our strengths. The reality of the world is that it has the consistent potential to make us uncomfortable even as we attempt to bring balance to our personal realities.
However this lived experience has provided me with a great wealth of knowledge and insight that has helped me to become a different and evolved leader. My greatest learning has been to become more comfortable with ambiguity. I don’t like it, but I have learned to love it. Developing the muscle to sit with ambiguity has become my greatest flex. Not in a definition of ambivalence, but developing the quality of being open to uncertainty and multiple interpretations. I’ve known this power before in my preaching practices especially in the development of liberation hermeneutics. However, living in an understanding of the unknown or enigmatic reality can be freeing from a constant need to be exact. It has created a pathway for me to be more kind to myself and others. There is so much we don’t know and this is how I’ve managed the trauma of the pandemic.
What do I do? How did I get here? Well, I’m glad you asked. I stepped out of my typical Christian theological comfort zone and read Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation.
The co-author, Lama Rod Owens, lifted up our varied challenges of today and offered a range of practices as coping mechanisms to address the effects of traumas, They included meditation, prayer, and acts of gratitude. I already practice those things (although I desire to go deeper with those options). Yet, I was drawn to Tonglen (meditation practice in Tibetan Buddhism) or ‘taking and sending’ as a practice that uses breath. It’s an art of breathing in the energy of discomfort and breathing out the energy of peace and openness. The power of this practice helps me stay with the energy of discomfort and to relax into it building a sense of resiliency.
Previously, I operated in a faith practice of optimism in an attempt to ignore or erase the bad news and trauma and focus on a future of hope. However, I’ve come to realize that it is okay to let bad news be bad even as we face the truth of our imminent realities.
For those that don’t know, there is a popular song in the Black Church tradition called, “I Won’t Complain” (performed by The Rev. Paul Jones). This song is often sung at funerals and during extremely trying occurrences in the Black community (which is frequent in America). The song declares that a person should bless God for good days and bad days in resolution that God is in control and loving us through it all. Our Jewish siblings also connect with this resiliency in The Mishnah (Berakhot 9) explaining the variety of blessings in good and bad days. Many cultures try to explore and find silver linings in everything because we have a strong discomfort with tragedy or bad news. It’s what we have practiced.
However there is freedom in not being afraid of our circumstances, yes, even as we live in the openness and uncertainty of our realities. In the days ahead in our campus ministries and world there are more unknown experiences that we will face, so pause and breathe. Our needs remain yet the means to address them are ever changing, be open and learn something new. Find a way to breathe and live your best life.