I first learned about titration as a nurse. It’s like this. I might need to start my patient on a less than full dose of medication (because otherwise the medicine is too strong and might cause harm), then gently increase (titrate) the dose upward, so their body can adjust slowly to the medicine’s effects.
Jon Kabat-Zinn spoke about titration in meditation. For instance, if sitting quietly for 20 minutes is going to put you over the edge of your sanity, then start with fewer minutes, perhaps, 5, or even 2. Slowly, you can build up your “meditation muscle” and be able to enjoy the benefits of sitting quietly for longer.
In other words, don’t push yourself beyond what you as an “organism” can tolerate. Bad things happen when we disregard and over-stress our body and/or psyche.
When I was a young radical, I wanted to be a modern day La Pasionaria. I hated injustice in all its forms; I wanted people to be treated fairly, whether they were African Americans suffering Jim Crow, the people of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia bombarded by the USA, or children and women suffering in a multitude of ways everywhere. I wanted to be indomitable like Dolores Ibarruri. But I wasn’t. Instead I cried a lot. That was my passion. A deep sadness for the suffering of the world. I did what I could — I demonstrated, occasionally spoke at rallies, attended endless meetings. And I cried.
I was not destined to become another La Pasionaria. I was destined instead to become a nurse, mother, sometimes artist, buddhist, writer, organizer of women’s groups, gardener, friend.
I no longer aspire to be a heroine. But I’ve never lost my passion to live this life fully, including trying to understand my inter-connectedness with all things, and how that connects my well-being with the well being of all other sentient beings (human and non-human) and also the well-being of the Earth herself.
In these times of 24/7 news (mostly bad), it is difficult to know the appropriate level of bad news to “allow in”. I hate to close my ears to suffering. I want to be like Kwan Yin who hears the suffering of the world with great compassion. Still it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of people in the most extreme situations, not to mention animals of all kinds suffering at the hands of humans, not to mention climate change. STOP!!
Writing these words, I can feel my heart beating faster. I am sure my blood pressure just shot up, as well as a surge of stress hormones. See what I mean? This too-much-info-stuff is not helpful.
I need to titrate my own inner freaking-out voice. Even without a TV, I have enough info in my mind to run a 24/7 internal news channel, which can run me ragged with worry, guilt, frustration, and fear. In other words, I can have a bad effect on myself.
I can also notice what my mind is doing, choose to change channels, and do it. This is not easy; I’ve spent years practicing this maneuver.
Right now in America, we have a massive stress situation going on with the pending Presidential election. Some of us can bear to watch the debates; others can’t. Some can bear to make phone calls on behalf of Hillary; others can’t. Or travel to a swing state. We all react differently to the stress we are under.
How do we take in enough information to understand the complexity of our situation without undermining & overwhelming our sense of well-being? How do we sign up to do a fair share of the work without taking on more than we can handle?
Allowing ourselves to feel overwhelmed and creating even more suffering with self-judgement is not helpful. As my nephew Harrison would say “Don’t do it!” As Jon Kabat-Zinn once said this is a marathon not a sprint. How do we pace ourselves? One way is to titrate the amount of stress we take in. It’s not just what we choose keep out; it’s also what we choose to take in.
My personal acts of titration (taking time out from too much bad news) include watching inspiring & educational documentaries and/or murder mysteries from England, Denmark or Sweden, connecting face to face (or on Facebook) with friends, noticing (and noticing that I am noticing) beauty and/or creating it, eating healthy and pleasurable food, actively seeking inspiration at all times, reading memoirs, getting as much exercise and rest as I can, and yes, writing.
These activities float my boat, thereby keeping me afloat. I wonder how you keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed. I wonder how you sort out and optimize your own best relationship to this world?
A few days ago I noticed some food scraps from dinner prep left in the sink. They were beautiful. I took a picture. Then, more pictures. These pictures make me happy; sometimes I think my food scraps would be a treasured meal for a hungry child in Syria or Sudan. I remind myself to be less wasteful of food, even as I enjoy and photograph its beauty. I hold contradiction. Beauty and sadness are not always far apart, sometimes they live right up against each other.
My friend Andrea said my food scrap photos remind her of the paintings I used to make. I decided to go for it. I started a new project called #thekitchensinkseries. This is part of how I nourish myself — my body with food, my soul with images of beauty, my heart with friends like Andrea (and her mother Fern, and her daughter Gigi). Thus nourished, I can step up to the plate of civic duty, this extremely important election for instance, and do every bit of my part, willingly, happily, hope-fully. I can give it my best shot. As Lin Manuel Miranda wrote in Hamilton “I am not throwing away my shot.”