Breathing on Shaky Ground

by Christina Baldwin

I asked my 96-year-old father how he responds when people ask him about the election. He said, “I tell them that we have just been through an earthquake of great magnitude. My house is still standing, but I have no idea what remains firm ground, where I can take a step.”

Exactly. The words pouring forth on every conceivable media stream, from Twitter to the NY Times, from blogging to pulpits, are our first attempts to discover firm ground and, hopefully, common ground.


Revered Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn teaches, “To wake up, take three breaths: One breath to let go. One breath to get here. One breath to ask, Now What?”

One breath to let go.

I let go of the shards of complacency that my country was progressing, grudgingly or not, to expand our definition of ourselves as a rainbow nation, a diverse culture of broadening acceptance; that America was moving steadily toward leadership willing to address global issues ahead of national interests. That is my definition of a “Great America,” and it was taken off the table.

I voted for Hillary—despite her connections to Wall Street, to the establishment, to the corporatocracy—because she is a tough, intelligent, educated leader determined to break the mold. And if she were to break the mold of a woman leading at the top, then she would also be capable of breaking other molds, including breaking open her privilege and re-evaluating parts of her past record. I continue to believe that she learns, that she reads broadly, that she is interested in evolving her positions. If she had been elected, it was always my plan to help push her toward Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s articulation of our collective needs.

I let go of seeking to find this leadership at the top of government. However, Congress is not off the hook!

One breath to get here.

I am here—standing in the jaws of the system that is deluding and killing all of us. No more wondering what will consume the rest of my life’s energy: this struggle will consume it.

I am here—an elder standing between lines of polarity to offer myself as a buffer: to get to “them” you have to go through me—this is the best use of gray-haired, white-skinned privilege I can imagine at the moment. I have the power of presence, of witness, of holding calm in the midst of chaos. My presence is a shield I offer to any moment of need.

I am here—in dialogue with family and friends who see the world and the ways to fix the world very differently. We the people of this country are in a huge moment where we can show one another the color purple—neither red nor blue. A friend in North Carolina posted this Facebook message on the day after the election: “I am thrilled that Donald Trump is our President-Elect. Both for those of you who are not, and for those who are, I recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s response that the only thing each of us can control is who we want to be in each moment. And we can reach out with conversation, hoping to build consensus and understanding.”

I am here—trained by decades of dialogue and still fiercely in love with the world. The people who voted for him did so for many reasons, but only a minority of them for openly racist reasons, or thinking about furthering the end of civilized society… understanding that “why” (about our votes and their votes) and addressing these concerns with one another is where we start. Sit down. Circle up. Listen.

One breath to ask: Now What?

It is only the people who will save the people.

We have the opportunity to wake up and free ourselves.

We have the opportunity to find our own points of leadership and integrity.

This is a hugely creative time! We can astound one another!

This is all I know right now… it is only days into this changed world, and there is great confusion. There is no firm ground, we are riding the quake.

One breath to let go. One breath to get here. One breath to ask, “Now What?”

Christina Baldwin is a leader emeritus in the fields of journal writing, circle process, and story as change agent. She seeks to inform, inspire, and activate in every aspect of her life work. She teaches her classic “Self as the Source of the Story” seminar and co-leads wilderness questing. See for blog, book titles, and full information.


Amy Vossbrinck

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1 Comment
Erv DeSmet

Listening is very important right now— good activism includes listening. I read the book “Strangers in their own land” by Arlie Russell Hochschild and found it very instructiv

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