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Making Wise Choices in Turbulent Times: How to stay out of the weeds and navigate life in the absence of predictability

choices discernment felt sense resilience stress trust uncertainty wisdom wise action wise choices Mar 31, 2022

There's a lot of talk about the need for resilience these days. And indeed, those who have it will generally bounce back after a rough time better than those who don't. But is resilience all that's needed?   Other things are vital also. These include awareness, discernment, wise action, and the capacity to trust your "felt sense" and what your mind can figure out about the landscape around you. Let's explore some of these and how we can get some of them.

Awareness is pretty much the key to everything. The entire Sattypathana Sutta (the Buddha's epic discourse on Mindfulness) points to awareness as the way to most things we seek in life when it comes to a smoother ride. But awareness is always contextual, and we have ways of referencing anything that is happening around us to make sense of it and make choices around how to deal with it. And how we learned to reference may well be based on a model that no longer works so well.   Most of us tend to slip into a narrative when referencing anything happening. We have stories from the past and scenarios for our future. For example, let's say someone we depend on to show up doesn't appear. Our mind leaps into a litany of the person's past deeds and the various times they have let us down. And maybe we start thinking about how terrible this is going to be going forward, now that we are stuck with the entire burden and how difficult that will be. All of this may well be true, but if you stay stuck for too long in either one of these narratives, you will not be engaging in the process of "being with" what is happening and finding a place of calm within yourself to engage in wise action without reaction. The wisdom of the Buddha and the ancient yogis could be helpful here, mainly if you can take a few moments to engage in one of their practices and reset your body-mind. However, this also needs to be done in today's world.   A mindfulness study back in 2007 (Farb) showed pretty clear evidence that the protocol studied could help people shift their mode of referencing at will. And when the body is also involved, I've found it's even easier to engage when needed.

Nowadays, to successfully navigate life requires a whole system approach. You, the environment, your skills, your understanding of what is happening, and your goals all need to come into alignment along with another bunch of variables that are most likely unknown to you. If they don't align, your navigation may land you far from your "true north," even if you know where that is. We are being called upon to trust our "felt sense" and our "figuring it out." Answers from a purely cognitive engagement sometimes don't fit the messiness of the reality of our times, mainly where there are no "known" answers. You've engaged this space for the past two years as you navigated your life through a pandemic with times of great uncertainty and scientific doubt.

So there is light at the end of the tunnel. Studies show how some have benefited from the turbulence in the past few years and experienced "post-traumatic growth." (Pubmed Dec '21). Yes, they have suffered, but their suffering has, in some ways, strengthened them.   The "great resignation" that we are experiencing is most likely a by-product of that growth. Some of us now seriously realize the value of our time and question how we will spend it, whereas before, we accepted what we thought was normal usage. 

Perhaps we are returning to more than just "a new normal." Maybe there's a silver lining to it all that has happened and is happening now if we can embrace the challenge. From my assessment of the conditions directly arising in our world, I see that these are some things that will support us in navigating this new world.

  1. Establish a daily practice you can engage in anywhere - one that develops resilience and the capacity to shift quickly from narrative to present-centered referencing.
  2. Learn to be more embodied and trust the body as a source of wisdom in navigating life.
  3. Understand and develop trust in your capacity to access a "felt sense" as a vital life navigation tool.
  4. Check the alignment between what matters to you and how you use your time and adjust as needed.

These are the practices that I engage in and teach. I'm not alone, and I find it refreshing to see the uptick in the numbers engaging in contemplative practices these days and the number of colleagues teaching these practices. 

On April 19th at Noon EST, Michael will be leading an experiential webinar on Making Wise Choices in Turbulent Times.  He will share principles and practices to help you navigate life at home and at work with greater clarity, wisdom, and joy.  (9 am PDT and 5 pm in the UK). A recording will be available to registrants.

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