Today, author Elizabeth Gilbert penned an open letter on her Facebook page that asks a simple question: "Who do I want to be in this situation?" The results of the 2016 election have left many of us feeling a myriad of emotions, just take your pick from the grab bag; shell-shocked, raw, angry, sad, discouraged, scared. As we all work through this aftermath and what it means for our country, this message is an important reminder that while we can't control outside forces, we can control who we are.
"When the sh*t goes down, and the sh*t goes wrong, and when the sh*t gets real — that's when the sh*t gets interesting. That's when the test comes: Who will you be now? Right now. Right this moment. Because that's the only part that is up to you."
Read the full letter below.
Dear Ones: Good morning. As Beyonce once sang, "We woke up in the kitchen, saying 'How the hell did this shit happen?...Posted by Elizabeth Gilbert on Wednesday, November 9, 2016
As Beyoncé once sang, "We woke up in the kitchen, saying 'How the hell did this sh*t happen?'"
I did not want this outcome. I did not expect this outcome. I did not in any universe imagine that this outcome ever could have occurred — and the fact that I did not imagine it as possible means that clearly I have been out of touch with the hearts and minds of millions of my fellow Americans. I cannot say that I understand them. I certainly don't agree with them. And yet this is the world we wake up to today.
Every single day, you must face whatever world you have woken up to — whatever that may be. That's the only world you get. You must start there.
Let me tell you what happened in our home last night.
I settled in with Rayya, to watch the returns — relaxed and certain that we were about to watch a historic and joyful moment: The election of the first woman to the presidency of the United States of America. Then it all started to slide. Then came the stress. Then came the growing anxiety. Then the panic started. Then: FLORIDA. (Always Florida. What are we gonna do with you, Florida?) Everyone I follow on Twitter was suddenly hysterical. Text messages of horror started flying around across the world. (Never have I seen so many "WTF's" fly across the screen of my phone.) The global financial markets began to collapse. Foreign leaders started losing their cool.
Around 11 p.m., I found myself in this state: Huddled on the couch in the fetal position, clutching a pillow, eyes wide, speechless, paralyzed with fear.
That's never good, right?
I've been there before, and that is NEVER good.
At that moment, I closed my eyes and asked myself to observe what was going on my physical body — my animal body. What I felt was a sickened stomach, shaking hands, a clenched chest, shallow breathing, a wild and uncontrolled mind, and an elevated heart rate. This is exactly what happens to an animal when it is being hunted.
At that moment, I asked myself, "Is this a helpful response, Liz?"
If I believe that I am here to serve the world (and I DO believe that I am here to serve the world), then how does it help anyone if I am feeling and acting like a hunted animal? Answer: It doesn't help. Feeling hunted and trapped doesn't serve me, and it doesn't serve anyone.
This is when Rayya and I made a decision to turn off every single electrical device in the house and GET REAL. We stepped away from the television, from the social media, from the phones. Because we knew that RIGHT NOW, we needed to find calm. These are the moments when it's time to find out who you really are — and who you can really be.
We lit a candle, sat with each other in quiet prayer for a while, and then we each asked aloud the big question: "Who do I want to be in this situation?"
This is a question that we ask in our house a lot these days. This is a question Rayya has taught me over the years to always ask myself, when sh*t goes down, or when the world goes crazy, or when the panic starts to rise: "Who do I want to be in this situation?"
This is the question that Rayya and I asked of ourselves six months ago, when the doctors found signs of tumors on Rayya's pancreas and liver, and it didn't look good. I remember the day she went in for her CT scan, to confirm just how bad the situation really was. We woke up that day in a panic. We were both experiencing the standard human response to scary situations. We were undone. We both felt like: "We are terrified and anxious, and we will be terrified and anxious until we find out the results of this CT scan. We will not be at peace until we know what's going on. And if the results are horrible, we will totally fall apart."
But then we stopped, checked ourselves, and we asked, "REALLY?"
Was that true? Was it true that we could not be at peace RIGHT NOW — even if we didn't know the outcome, or even if the outcome promised to be horrible?
So we got really quiet that day, and we each asked: "Who do I want to be in this situation?"
The answers came, same as ever:
Once we answered that question, we found our peace. Because THAT PART was up to us — who we would decide to be, regardless the outcome. And once we found our center again, we were able to walk into that hospital with relaxed breathing, clear eyes, steady hands, and resolute hearts. We were able to find peace BEFORE we even knew the results. And a few days later, the results came: CANCER. Not just any cancer, but terminal cancer! But by that time, we were were at peace. We were ready, because we knew who we were. And once again, facing this difficult situation, the only question on the table became, "Who do I want to be in this situation?"
That is the only question that EVER really matters.
I insist that we can learn — with practice — how to choose our emotional state in all situations. This has to be true. If this isn't true, then we are TRULY AND THOROUGHLY F*CKED — because our state of being is literally the only thing in this world that we can control.
This is not denial. This is not complacency. This not me cheerfully saying, "Oh well! I'm sure everything will be fine!" Sometimes things are not fine. Sometimes the diagnosis is terminal cancer. Sometimes the dark forces win. Sometimes the outcome is dreadful.
But all our practices in peace and grace and equanimity and courage are for TIMES LIKE THESE — for times when you do not get the outcome that you want. This is when it matters. When the sh*t goes down, and the sh*t goes wrong, and when the sh*t gets real — that's when the sh*t gets interesting. That's when the test comes: Who will you be now? Right now. Right this moment. Because that's the only part that is up to you.
So last night, Rayya and I decided to go to sleep without waiting up to find out who won the presidency. We decided to keep the phones off, and the TV off. We decided to step away from the burning vehicle of global panic. We decided that — when the world is trampling itself in a stampede of fear and anger — we will not join the stampede. In the same way that we decided six months ago to find peace in our hearts BEFORE we got the biopsy results, we decided last night to find peace in our hearts BEFORE we got the election results.
We prayed and meditated and coached each other through until our hearts and minds and bodies were at peace. Then we woke up to THIS world, and the same question as ever: "Who do I want to be in this situation?"
Decide who you will be today, Dear Ones. Right now. DECIDE. You can do this. This is what all your training and practice has led you to. Show the people around you what a calm and peaceful strong mind looks like. (Trust me, they need it. They already know what a panicked mind looks like; show them what a calm mind looks like.) Ask yourself again and again who you want to be, and believe that you can be it.
Nobody gets to take your emotional state away from you, unless you give it to them.
This is how you lead. This is who you are. This is how you BE.
Here we go.