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Reframing the Apocalypse

Earlier this week, an intense windstorm knocked out our power for several hours. Today is the third day of an orange sky casting an eerie pall over Portland, as wildfire smoke slowly seeps into our house. I’m grateful the rain is due soon, though scorched terrain may see land- and mudslides soon afterward. All the while, we continue to ward off an earth-born virus. Air; Fire; Water; Earth. In classic philosophies, the fifth element is Spirit or “Aether”—that which animates the life in and around us. So as I sit indoors wearing a mask to filter out the smoke, I wonder, What more can we do with our own agency, instead of just waiting for the winds to shift?

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned, particularly in the last few years of tumult, is how to reframe a situation or a statement. (I even included a section in my book about “shifting your perception” to make the best of the inevitable challenges during a year abroad.) But reframing isn’t always easy, especially when the conditions and messaging around us echo so much doom and gloom. We are all experiencing hardship of one form or another, and it often seems like we’re bit players in an epic disaster film. Nothing is normal these days.

The words and feelings that dance around me are Fear, Unknowing, and Apocalypse. And I confess I’m challenged of late to write an optimistic post about “becoming better people,” as is my purpose with this blog. But I’m going to try, because I need a reminder on how to be simultaneously present with these darker feelings while also rising above them. Such paradoxes are powerful because they force you into a higher viewpoint in order to look at two opposing ideas at once. So, to keep myself from heading down a river of worry, I’m going to share a little reframing—one agitation at a time.

Fear: that icky, dense feeling that causes a pit in the stomach and starts adrenaline pumping. Unless there’s an immediate threat—like “pack your bags now to flee the fire”—then my reframe is to zoom out. I zoom out until I’m a speck in the universe across infinity, making everything seem miniscule. This puts my fears into perspective. But if I still can’t shake the dread, I reach out to someone who doesn’t discount my feelings, but who also won’t let me stew in them. (Such people are treasures, so when you find them, keep them.) And if that doesn’t pivot me into a better place, I stop everything to meditate. My favorite hack is to use the free app Insight Timer and search their countless meditations for something that resonates. Together, these reframing techniques help to keep me balanced.

Unknowing: that lack of reassurance, having no-thing, and no certainty to guide you in a clear direction. My reframe here is matter-of-fact: There never was a time when we knew anything for sure. That sense of security we’ve all had, of being able to predict the rhythm of life based on past history, is an illusion. As Eckhart Tolle imparts, “the present moment is all you will ever have.” I’ll sometimes take the reframe a step further and remind myself to see a silver lining in the relentless chaos of dramatic events swirling around us. We are being loosened from the binds of predictability, of the “shoulds”, and the formulas we’ve followed without much thought. When we embrace the unknown, we open doors to new and better possibilities. There may not be mental space for this reframe when your house is burning (literally or metaphorically) but when we face the big, scary changes with eyes wide open, they cease to be unknown. And they are always a door to a new chapter in the next “Now.” Whether we experience them with grace or with fear is our choice.

Apocalypse: end days, forces of darkness taking over the planet, and all that mythical, biblical stuff stitched into our DNA for millennia. If I took in my social media and news feeds for capital T “truth,” I’d be a quivering mess filled with rage and pleading for the next spaceship to beam me aboard! I’ve learned it’s best to stay in the eye of the storm and let the chaos swirl around without drawing it to me. This doesn’t mean ignoring reality, nor does it mean to be passive. But it’s about focusing my emotions elsewhere so that my engagement with the heavy, dark stuff is minimal. One big reframe to consider is the actual definition of Apocalypse:

Apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις, apokálypsis) is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling. – see Wikipedia or Etymonline

This definition suggests a helpful reframe to the apocalyptic notion of “end times.” We are indeed at the end of an era—which also means we are at the beginning of a new one. If we view this moment only through the nostalgic eyes of an illusory “warm and fuzzy” yesterday, then the idea of apocalypse is tragic. But if we embrace this moment with the true definition of apocalypse, then we are in an unfolding of something new – as we detach from what has bound us to the past.

To envision that something new, I keep circling back to the fact that we must create the world we want to live in. And we do that with our voices, not by simply echoing the loud ones around us. We use our own agency to shift the winds—through our words, our actions—and if we are lucky enough to live in a democracy, our votes.

To fuel actions behind the words, every post at Becoming Better People has a follow-up post highlighting organizations bringing about change for the better. In Becoming People Who Breathe Cleaner Air learn about the two organizations I call out who are doing good work to counter the devastation of the wildfires.

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