A Voting Day Reflection
Deficiency and excess characterize the times we’re living in. Our engagement with life is deficient — incomplete, chronic, pale. The national discourse is excessive — coarse, loud, forceful. Many of us are exhausted by both.
Deficiency and excess are two principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an ancient system of health and wellness still practiced today. Central to this system is the concept that a life force called QI flows through the body. QI is also called prana. This animating energy contains the qualities of yin and yang. Described many ways, yin is dark, heavy, soft, slow. Yang is bright, light, loud, active. Often associated with female, yin supports and restores. Often associated with male, yang asserts and expands. As the image depicts, there is a seed of each in the other. Without light we don’t have darkness. Without internal reserves we can’t fully engage with the world. Balancing both energies is inseparable from health. In biology there is another name for this tendency towards equilibrium. Homeostasis is the stable internal environment every organism seeks to maintain by optimizing the physical and chemical conditions to sustain life. When this energy management fails to recalibrate from the extremes of deficiency and excess, chronic pain or illness can occur.
Western medicine treats disease often by intervening with medicine or surgery. Traditional Chinese Medicine supports the body’s natural capacity for healing nudging the process along with techniques such as acupuncture, massage, herbal treatment. Neither promises guarantees and both systems have their strengths and weaknesses.
I am taking an online course on restorative yoga and the nervous system. This yin like yoga practice offers a way to disengage from stress and move within ourselves. Can we be still within noticing the agitation as it arises and letting it go? Can we build resilience by acknowledging our fatigue without judgment. Can we modulate our sympathetic reactivity seeing threats around every corner and accelerate our parasympathetic response by accepting that which is not within our control.
In the prescient 2018 essay, “What to Do When You’re Frozen by Overwhelm”, Buddhist teacher and author Sharon Salzberg discusses the importance of seeing ourselves and the world with clarity. The Buddha named the muddled disturbances blocking the way of a clear mind as the Five Hindrances — desire, resentment, sloth, worry and doubt. She singles out sloth as an understandable response to the discord around us. It’s different from depression. It’s different from the body’s need for rest, which we all need. It is a low energy sluggishness consistent with how I’ve been feeling during this covid period. Sloth or torpor as she calls it (both words not immediately familiar) signals a fatigue out of kilter with our body’s requirements. So what do we do about it?
Vote. Really. Vote to restore balance to our nation undeniably fractured and hurting. Vote to seek common ground. Vote to take steps to heal the body politic, the people of this nation bound together as citizens. Vote to express your stubborn optimism in this very messy, imperfect democracy.