Sit. Stay. The New American Hero

SitStayHeal

A few years ago, a friend initiated a divorce. Her two young sons took the news hard, but she knew in her heart that it was time to leave the marriage and she proceeded with grace.

One day I noticed a new silver pendant around her neck. When I asked her about it, she straightened and held it towards me. On one side was etched the word “Sit” and on the other side, “Stay”. It was a reminder, she said, of her meditation practice: to sit on the cushion and keep her mind calm.

Last year I went through my own divorce. And my brother’s death. And all the topsy-turvyness you might expect when life flashes you The Finger. I thought of my friend’s pendant: to sit with it, and stay with it. And that’s what I did. I faced the sadness; I didn’t run from my feelings. I let myself feel chest-cracking grief, which many of you know. I didn’t bury myself in work or keep a stiff upper lip. I discovered bourbon. I stayed with my anguish until it felt like it was time to move on.

Sit. Stay.

It’s countercultural. Our nation was founded on exploration and mobility and achievement. America’s compass has always seemed to point towards movement, aspiration, the future. America’s narrative has been, “Better days are always ahead.” You just have to keep moving.

But the cultural zeitgeist is shifting. Our recent Winter has shown us that better-days-ahead can’t be taken for granted. The economy shifts. Political compromise recedes. The “American Dream” is less attainable for more Americans.

pathways_middle_class_presentation_Page_3

Hollywood has picked this up. In “Should We Stay or Should we Go?” cultural critic Virginia Heffernan notes a tonal change in American movies:

Rather than getting out of Dodge, the very latest protagonists are opting to stay. […] This emphasis on staying suits our times. The people writing and watching these movies are all part of an introspective, if not isolationist, culture that’s still licking its wounds after plotless wars and a traumatic recession. Those who choose to stay express a steadfast commitment to a cause, a family or a discipline [..] In this context the balance of cultural power seems to have shifted from the getting-outta-here rebels who used to tell the squares and schoolmarms to kiss off to the squares and schoolmarms themselves, who just wish everyone would hold on a second and think this thing through.

Frankly, I’m relieved. We aren’t going to outrun the after-effects of the Great Recession. And doing more of what we’ve always done isn’t working for the middle class. Or the environment. Or for our next generation.

In winter time periods like the one we’re in now, we need people who are willing to sit in the midst of the yuck, keep calm and think things through. Sit, stay. That’s what’s needed to toggle meaningfully from winter to spring.

Topics in Blog