News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

So calm out in the open

Tejanos curse in Spanish and a Cajun eyes the weather

There’s black mud on the belly of the yellow colt I ride

Never thought I’d catch myself so calm out in the open

As a gulf storm deals in bucket loads and hits from every side

— Turnpike Troubadours, “A Cat in the Rain”

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” — Seneca, First Century Roman Stoic

These are unsettling times, no doubt about it. Wars and rumors of war. A “booming economy” where everything costs more, and it feels like our standard of living is slipping backwards. There’s a whiff of corruption and failure around many of our once-revered institutions. Our politics and culture are riven by divisions so deep and angry that we despair of them ever being bound together again. The buzz-worthy movie of the moment depicts an America plunged into civil war.

Our society is marinating in fear — and fear is bad for us, collectively and individually. Fear corrodes trust, and you can’t have a pluralistic republic where nobody trusts anybody else. On a personal level, living in a constant state of fight-or-flight wreaks havoc on our bodies. Dumping cortisol into the system leaves us anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, overweight and unhealthy, with upset stomachs and headaches. Fun times.

Stoking fear is big business. Politicians fundraise off of fear — because stoking fear is the surest way to pry open wallets. Social media companies make bank off of our constant doom scrolling, which can be addictive. Partisans of every stripe preach fear-thy-neighbor doctrine because exploiting fear to create division offers them power.

When we succumb to fear and the rage it breeds, we’re being played.

The storms are real. I’m not suggesting that we pretend they’re not. Heck, my column last week was about Annie Jacobsen’s chillingly plausible doomsday scenario for nuclear war. (A friend asked me “When do you read that?” Not before bed).

The important thing is to recognize that we can’t control the storms — all we control is our response. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on those clouds on the horizon, but obsessively checking the forecast every 10 minutes probably isn’t.

The Stoics knew 2,000 years ago that troubles usually loom larger in anticipation — in our imagination — than the stature they assume when they actually arrive. Mostly, we can handle them. It’s prudent to be prepared; it offers better outcomes, and salves fear and worry.

Even better is to build resilience.

Sisters offers a whole lot of ways to do that — and quite pleasantly, too. Nothing soothes the mind and spirit more than getting out into the natural beauty of the world that surrounds us. It’s spring — or trying to be — and time to dig your fingers into the earth in your garden. Or go for a hike or a bike ride. Or just sit in the yard and soak up some sunshine. A bit of vigorous exercise elevates the mood — and it makes us stronger both physically and emotionally when we have to face adversity, as we surely will.

It’s hard to nail down a causal connection, but there is a clear correlation between spiritual practice and resilience. The National Center for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) notes that: “It is likely that spirituality and religiousness provide a foundation for resilient coping in the face of difficult traumatic event(s) and loss events through a meaning-making process. Spirituality also plays a role in coping with grief and loss.”

For many people, time spent in the woods and on the streams of Sisters Country is a spiritual practice.

Knowing you are not alone is critical to warding off existential fear, and building resilience. I am blessed to have a strong community of family and friends around me that have my back. To be worthy of their love and support, I must always be ready to step up and have theirs.

The storms will come, and sometimes they will deal in bucketloads. If we make ourselves ready, we may just find ourselves surprised at how calm we are out here in the open while they hit from every side.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit www.frontierpartisans.com.

 

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