Shock to the System


Over recent months, I've written quite a bit about the influence of rabble-rousing radical Uranus, in terms of what's been going on both in my own life and on the broader macro-level scale.

Personally, as I explained last month, I'm in the midst of major Uranus transits to my natal chart—Uranus oppose Uranus, Jupiter conjunct Uranus, both Uranus and Jupiter square Moon—which have often left me feeling like I'm falling apart.

Collectively, we face a year astrologically dominated by this unpredictable rebel-planet… a fact made all the more indisputable by the unexpected ascent-to-the-presidency of Mr. Trump, a strongly Uranus-flavored character, and the multitude of startling news developments which continue to stream forth as a result.

On my end, I've now been living in Portland for nearly four weeks. I would hardly say I'm 'settled in' (fairly far from it, actually), but I'll venture to declare that my initial shock has dissipated. I love where I'm living—the century-old Craftsman dwelling with yard and front porch, the quiet tree-lined street with neighbors who greet me warmly, a slice of town spilling over with delicious food and cocktails and coffee—and am starting to arrange my home as I want it. I already feel much calmer overall, having been unaware of just how much psychic (and literal) noise I was constantly bombarded by in San Francisco until I finally attained relief from it. I drive slower and am consciously choosing to no longer honk my horn. I've begun sleeping through the night again.

I use the term 'shock' to describe the experience of my first weeks here, not only because it is a common keyword in discussions of Uranus's symbolic impact, but to further detail this ongoing process of recreating my life.

In anticipation of moving away from SF, I was acutely aware of everything I'd be leaving behind while I was still immersed in it. As I hiked up the hilly wonderland of Buena Vista Park on a trail I've walked hundreds of times, I reminded myself this could be my last stroll through my favorite park, at least for quite a while. Each time I ran into an acquaintance around town, someone who perhaps I've been smiling at or flirting with for countless years, I considered if maybe I'd never see them again. Closing accounts, cancelling my gym membership, shutting down my office—all gestures of impending departure, an ending, goodbyes. I felt like I was falling apart because all the familiar identifiers which made me me were being unhooked, dismantled, and removed from my everyday identity.

Then I left.

As the front door echoed shut and we drove away from the bay, I soared with zeal for my immediate liberation from the NorCal chaos and congestion. For the moment, all that concerned me was the ten-hour roadtrip to northern Oregon. Once we arrived, there were a million-and-one pressing tasks to attend to—address changes to make, local businesses to find, supplies and furnishings to gather, movers to beg to show up—and, as long as I remained wholly present in that moment's errand or activity, I was content in what I was doing. Each deed was its own new experience, bearing little resemblance to the patterns of my old life, and therefore easy to engage with novel perspective. New experiences, new life, clean slate wide open ahead of me.

Alas, my hyperactive ego-mind rarely allows me to sustain such utterly pristine presence for too long, before scratching at my conscience to make meaning out of a moment's circumstances. But once my mind looked around at these surroundings, gazing this way and that at one unfamiliarity after another, it would start to panic. Where am I? What was I thinking? What have I done? This disconnect between everything I'd lived up until this point and my clumsy fumblings through a foreign existence that was supposedly my life now… hell, it posed such a shocking perceptual contrast at certain moments, I'd become dumbfounded in disorientation.

I crumbled into corners in tears of nostalgia and loss. I shook in fear that my best days had come and gone. I cowered in the shadow of self-doubt, wondering who in this strange land could possibly want to build a friendship with someone as pessimistic and used-up as I. Meanwhile, my brain struggled with simple decision-making and problem-solving. My body endured phantom aches and pains, numbness, digestive disruption, dysmorphia, swelling, other symptoms without root-cause beyond stress. I was not functioning normally. Shock: a sudden or violent disturbance, a collapse of function, the physiological response to such a jarring event.

If I didn't think too much about my big-picture transition and transformation, I was fine. Better than fine, actually. Happy as a clam, particularly whenever I set off on a solo walkabout through the tranquil flowering neighborhoods of my weird new city, ventured to explore an intriguing coffeehouse or crafty shop, paused to snap shots of another inspiring streetscape or junkpile. Is this what the enlightened types mean by silencing the mind of its attachments, in a deliberate effort to cultivate inner peace, right here, right now?

But I had to think about all these details, since I had important stuff to do. I wasn't on an extended vacation or monastic retreat, as if wandering the Portland streets were my only primary duty to myself. There were practicalities to handle, plans to set into motion, responsibilities to pick back up and figure out how to address from this now-altered state. Once thinking about such matters, though, the panic from reencountering unfamiliar contexts set back in. What was once straightforward to accomplish will now require attention, consideration, and analysis to adeptly tackle… and I'm not so confident I can pull it off. Cue another freakout.

My shock-response, then, has fluctuated madly between an eerie peacefulness and a near-paralyzing emotional distress.

The peace feels eerie because it's seemingly predicated on treating a moment on its own terms (not repeatedly calling back to mind the dramatic conditions which brought me here or how odd it is compared to what I'm used to), as if nothing else matters, or even exists. That moment's qualities—the sights and sounds and smells, the vibe in the air—come in crisp, lavish, almost otherworldly. I'm utterly engrossed in the given activity with my intent everythingness, suspended in 'right now' like a survivor coolly focused on getting to safety without yet fully conceiving of the calamity just suffered.

When not absorbed in activity, or when a sharpness of terror or grief stabs into the moment, I lose my balance. I tumble into the emotion, for a handful of minutes or hours. I sob. I shiver. I sometimes fall for the lure of unhealthy indulgences or unkind self-talk. I catch myself, grab for something steadying: a walk, a swim, a nutritious meal, a good read, my notebook and pen. Most importantly, I return to mindfulness of the fleeting nature of all feelings and, until this one subsides, recommit to being gentle with myself.

Shock, as mourning a loss or processing a trauma, unfolds jaggedly in stages, by no calculable timeline. We regain function gradually, as our disbelief that what happened really did happen gives way to acceptance and integration, and we adapt accordingly.

In closing, let me loop back around to the macro-level… not merely to assuage my self-indicting shame about all this navel-gazing, but as an invitation to apply this close-up reading of my personal shock to how we're currently responding to collective circumstances. I assume no political orientation when I observe so many of us experiencing some type of shock, in the face of striking developments that bear so little resemblance to what we've come to expect from our governing systems, we almost can't believe it. Where are we? Did that really just happen? What are we supposed to do now? Whether we're reacting to certain political leaders or news media and the rhetoric they spread, certain policy-drifts or ethics rewrites, or maybe certain giant pieces of broken-off iceberg forcing us to redraw our continental maps, we stand in uncertainty or upset or horror. This is no longer the life we identify with.

So, let us approach any such shock with mercy. Appreciate the crisper qualities of the moment, paying closer attention to details which otherwise would've gone unnoticed or underacknowledged, gathering insights from this conspicuous unfamiliarity, gaining perspective. Grieve the glory days (which were never as 'glorious' as our heart wishes to remember them being), and witness the fear of what tomorrow may bring. Be gentle with ourselves and each other, without enabling denial or reactive overindulgence… and continue those most vital practices which ground us in health and productivity, learning all the while how best to evolve them amidst the changing currents, the light of survival guiding our way.

related reading:
The First Day (1.27.17)