What Mavis Staples Belted Out: We Can Learn From

Posted by Rabbi Goldie Milgram |

Initially, the metaphor of aninut and the Jewish mourning sequence seemed to capture the impact on  many after the US election. This is not proving sufficient to encompass the "terrorism-like" quality of the cascading post-election aftershocks. While many in my peer group are suffering, I am especially worried about many of the acutely depressed young parents for whom the nature of the land in which they are raising there children is shifting in terrifying ways. What might be good counsel at this point? How do we best support ourselves and those whom we serve?

A possible healing sequence might be:

Trauma-->Shock (aninut)-->lamenting and mourning-->complete exhaustion-->self care-->renewed energy-->reflection, discovery and reframing about self and others-->planning new ways forward-->discerning specific next steps-->action-->outcomes

Last night at an environmental rally replete with a gospel/rap concert staring singer Mavis Staples (age 77), who bellowed out: "I am here tonight to bring you happiness, respite and inspiration and" ...Mavis shared her wisdom about the need to take time to renew broken spirits, exhausted bodies, and troubled minds. On stage she delivered in full gospel form: "I want you to leave here feeeeeling goooood."

When Mavis broke out into the song "I'll take you there." she drew us into a responsive call for self care. Throughout the concert her careful selections allowed time for us to reflect on family, friendship, trust and love. Her preaching revealed the importance of not medicating our pain with pre-mature thoughts of fix-it or exit plans. The Staples were so good for the soul. And were preceded by Shabbat on the road with friends--with neither looking at electronics for news, and ceasing political reflection whenever it would emerge. It was a tender, authentic, healing Shabbat. And after, while driving on and on--listening to Jacque Brel and Leonard Cohen proved cathartic to the max.

Trauma takes a tremendous toll. These are symptoms of the acute stress reaction that trauma often brings:

mood swings,
poor sleep,
trouble concentrating or getting anything done,
faster than normal reactivity,
nightmares or persistent dreams,
avoidance of settings that trigger memories.
self-destructive behaviors. 

People can also become emotionally numb and detached from others. Rising stress hormones may lead to palpitations, nausea, outright chest pain, stomach pain, and/or trouble breathing. 

Now is the time to support and model self care.  If the symptoms above are not properly addressed long term problems can develop, such as PTSD, suicide, etc.

     Self care means:

1. Prioritize taking care of yourself and your loved ones.

2. What in your life makes you feel good? Weave these activities into your life.

3. Maintain familiar routines. Rest, exercise, good nutrition, maintain your spiritual practices, mitzvot, the flow of sacred time, and hobbies.    

4. If you are still in a state of acute stress reaction, try not to re-trigger the trauma -- avoid news, pundits, arguments over politics. 

5. For the self-care phase of the healing sequence, be in community with like-minded people. Avoid isolation. 

6. Avoid making major decisions or rushing into action. 

7. Refrain from alcohol, sleeping pills, and other addictive substances and behaviors.

8. Show up for those who are vulnerable, if you can. If you are too traumatized, this is the time to take care of yourself and welcome others' care for you.

9. Study Torah with a group or friend—as Talmud Torah k'neged kulam. 

10. Find the special person who will listen to you without fixing, correcting or remonstrating.

Do you want or need a call, or want help reaching out to those who do? Please be in touch.

For those ready or needing for some degree of action, the New York Times has offered 12 "steps."
  And indeed, with time, we will find all possible ways to support and preserve human rights  and to deal with all of the issues so suddenly before us. It's just that the shocks tend to render one temporarily incapable.

with care and caring, Goldie

Image: (c) 2016 Barry Bub