“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Again and again, I come back to this wise Jewish psychologist’s words as we show up for our world in distress.
Some days, I truly comprehend the inhumanity in our administration. Every time, I feel an urgency rising up within me, a pressure, like the desire to run to address the wrongs this minute. By contrast, the systems of change in our nation are slow—the churning legislation, litigation, and repeated calls to elected officials to praise or influence their actions.
As Viktor expressed, I often find myself unable to change the situation. Maybe you can relate. Change is possible, but it is very, very slow. How do we not flame out in fury or give up in exhaustion? How do we stay the course? The only thing we can do is ponder Frankel’s words: we are challenged to change ourselves.
Changing ourselves means using new strategies to cope. Something inside changes, even as you go about your democratic engagement as before—calling, showing up, donating, gathering. I’ve written about many tools and strategies before to accomplish this (and my class will be returning, improved, next January), but there’s one I haven’t mentioned.
Every Monday morning for the last three years, I’ve called two friends on a conference line. Together, we create an hour of sacred space to answer one fundamental question: How do you choose to feel this week?
How do you choose to feel this week? Its echoes are Frankel’s—the belief that one’s inner state is a choice. With obvious exceptions for cognitive challenges (depressed brains can’t “cheer up” at will, for example), the emotions we feel moment to moment are a decision we can make.
How do you choose to feel this week? My friends and I often list words that reflect the challenges we’re going through. I choose to feel determined, patient, accomplished. I choose to feel compassionate, grateful, and accepting. I choose to feel outrageous, wild, and irreverent. We sometimes borrow each others words because, Joy? I want some of that! I’ll have what she’s having!
Neither of my friends is as politically engaged as I am, but they’ve both faced down times with narrow corridors, few options, and no sign of hope. And still we show up each week to ask—right in the midst of the hopelessness—How do you choose to feel this week? Even inside those hard times is a degree of control of one’s inner state. Who do you want to be—not just for others but also for yourself?
And that, for me, is at the heart of the question. When I’m old, I want to look back on the bleak times, the dire and hopeless times, and I want to be proud of how I showed up. When things are good, it’s easy to be kind, resourceful, generous, and open. What if I chose those states in the hardest times too? While no one is perfect, How I choose to feel is my heart’s GPS, my inner compass. Answering this question each week in community lets me source my truth from the inside.
This is simply called an intention statement or prompt. Today, I choose to feel…
When you try it, first pause a moment in the silence. Notice what words come up organically and without force. Make a list of any that feel right.
Then check that each one is a feeling or emotion word, not doing words. You may not be able to control what you do, but you can change how you feel in any moment.
Then post it somewhere so it can remind you when you forget (because we all forget).
When there’s a tragedy, I have my reactions, but then I remember to choose to feel grateful, joyful, and forgiving. When the president tweets, I turn it off and recall that I choose to feel committed and trusting. I cannot make legislation pass any faster than making the call. So once I do that, then I remember how I choose to feel—sometimes at the same time. It’s a practice (which involves forgetting and imperfection), yet it’s one of the core practices that I credit with my own perseverance.
As we journey on this rocky road, may we remember the power we have to change ourselves. By practicing intention, may we find new clarity and energy on our path together.