A grain of salt: The small things that keep us sane

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Columnist

The world may well be ending, and if assessments of common science are plausible, we’re headed along an expected trajectory where the only real debatable matter seems to be the timeline. 

It’s a little overwhelming, to say the least. Regardless of where you fall on the socio-political-value-religious spectrum, what your source of news or social media filters look like, the incessant, relentless barrage of bad news and emotionally-loaded content is enough to make anyone invest in a set of blinders. 

I predict them to be the next fashion statement, after we’ve exhausted styles of face masks.

Ammi Midstokke.

As my social circle grows smaller and my outings limited to only the essentials, I am finding even those interactions to be awkwardly filtered and guarded engagements of tip-toed conversation and labored conscientiousness followed by a deep sigh of relief when I cloister myself back in the front seat of my car. It is as if the world is now a minefield of issues of divisiveness that we cannot escape. 

If you’re emotionally exhausted, it would seem warranted; and, perhaps time to employ some of your strongest tactics of avoidance. I’m calling this method “Sanity by Naivete” and applying it as needed in the form of mountain escapes and meditation on the simple pleasures of life. For it is in the minutiae of the day-to-day that we often find comfort and normalcy. 

In those things, I find the solace of nothing-has-changed. While I doubt it’s healthy to live in a state of perpetual ignorance, I know it is not healthy to live in a constant state of unknowns, fear and helplessness — the latter being a common thread I hear among patients and friends alike. Many of us just don’t know how to help, be it in bridging gaps between political divides or relieving economic distress or bringing calm to the mask/no-mask debate. 

Yet one of the first steps we can take to becoming part of a collaborative solution is to take care of our own minds and hearts. The research has long been clear that when we are having an extreme emotional response, flooded with stress hormones, we are not capable of constructive communication, emotional attunement or even hearing the words coming from other people’s mouths.

If this time in our lives calls for anything, it is for us to be able to hear each other.

The more we feel threatened or unable to sustain our standard of living, the less capable we are of having compassion for our communities. This is why it is imperative that we practice the kind of self-care that makes us feel safe and grounds us in the rituals and relationships that provide us with security.

I write this from the front porch of my father’s home in the mountains. Today, we made coffee together and sat quietly around the fire pit while the dogs played in the cool morning air. My small nephew ran with his stubby bare feet across the lawn with the kind of hysterical laugh about nothing that makes even the most callous heart soften. A strange bird came to drink water out of the Radio Flyer wagon (now bird bath) and we all had lengthy, uninformed discourse on what kind of bird it might possibly be. None of us knew, so we just agreed on its beauty. 

For a few hours, nothing else mattered. It is this kind of reprieve we must seek and find solace in right now. Yours might be in a bowl of really great cereal or a fantastic novel or a walk among the trees. It could be in the mere joy of a child’s laugh. Whatever you find, take the moments your mind and heart need to find calm in this storm. It is how we will keep ourselves from becoming part of it.

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