Mental Health Education,  Mental Health Resources for Families

Redirect the Lightning: Lessons on Handling Difficult Emotions from Avatar the Last Airbender

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This year has been pretty awful.

Today Bruce and I headed into the city to get some supplies from the Caribbean store. Right next to the small grocer’s shop was a gold and jewelry business.

The door was smashed and it was clear it had been looted during the night. Framed in the broken glass doorway was a woman in a Hijab, looking about as downcast and lost as I’d ever seen a person. It looked as though she’d lost everything.

It was a heartbreaking moment in a series of heartbreaking moments this year. The senseless murder of George Floyd and so many other BPOC. The life-altering pandemic. The stock market crash. Lockdown. The Australian Brush fires. The massive job loss. Racism. Violence. War.

I could go on, but you’re living through it too. You know what I mean.

It’s all heavy, heavy stuff.

What can we do? How can we go on with the weight of injustice, anger, and division piled onto us non-stop?

It’s all heavy, heavy stuff emotionally. And rightfully so – we should be angry, sad, and confused about how the world has come to this.

However, dealing with this much emotional weight may be a new experience for you. You may not know how to handle it. You may be feeling lost, scared, depressed and utterly confused by the tidal wave of emotions hitting you after months of relentless bad news.

Redirect the Lightning

If you’ve binged Avatar the Last Airbender on Netflix lately, you’re familiar with the characters. These kids live in a world where elements can be manipulated to serve humans (known as Bending). The kids often struggle with the implications of being bending masters at such a young age.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise Reveals Gorgeous Omnibus ...

One of those struggles comes when Prince Zuko must learn to redirect lighting, the purest expression of Firebending.

Now, the Fire Nation’s powers are fueled by a deep rage. This means the lightning some Firebenders can shoot from their fingertips is literally charged with emotion. Because of this, it’s a devastating attack that destroys the opponent physically and mentally.

It’s revealed that only Firebenders who have mastered their emotions can generate lightning. If you know Zuko, you know he’s an angsty boi. This means he can’t shoot lightning, making him almost powerless against that type of attack.

Knowing it will surely be hurled at him by his evil father and maniacal sister, Zuko’s Uncle Iroh teaches a him a clever defensive trick. To redirect the lightning – taking a direct hit without absorbing its energy.

Check it out:

Why Redirect the Emotional Lightning?

If you think about it, this year has been full of lightning. Indeed, we’re being pummeled, shocked, and mentally destroyed. Devastated.

We need to redirect this emotional lightning.

Yes, we must be brave enough to take the direct hit. We must let the shock of these terrible events flow through us and change our hearts. But then we have to learn to let it go.

Otherwise, we’ll perish.

How can you Redirect the Lightning?

It’s no easy task to master. The Buddhist principal of emotional non-attachment requires a great degree of emotional intelligence and study to perfect.

But you don’t have to be a master to incorporate non attachment into your daily life. You can start redirecting the lightning using some of these simple tricks:

  1. Meditation – Meditation helps us “become the observer” allowing us to view thoughts and emotions as impermanent visitors in our mind. If you have a hard time meditating, check out our guide on Meditation Made Easy.
  2. Take Emotional Breaks from Social Media and the News – Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely essential to be informed these days. But as with anything that’s so emotionally charged, you have to take a break from it. As Dr. Elaine Aron tells us you should give yourself 2 hours/day of quiet time if you can. It doesn’t have to be consecutive, just make sure to get time to decompress.
  3. Set Emotional Quiet Hours at Home – Just like you wouldn’t run around the neighborhood hootin and hollering past 9:00 PM, you may not want your emotions disturbed after a certain hour at home. That’s why it’s good to decide with your family what your emotional quiet hours are going forward. It could be something like 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM where no one is allowed to talk politics or current events.
  4. Understand Your Emotions are Valid and Give Them Space and Time – Have a designated hour or so in your day to validate your feelings of sadness, grief, and confusion. Don’t bottle them up, this will only cause extra pain later. Instead give these feeling the respect they deserve and learn to sit with them. This will make it easier to let them go later.
  5. Journal – One of the single best ways I’ve learned to deal with huge emotions is to journal (thus why I started this blog)! Journaling helps you validate and work through tough feelings. And writing them down gets them out of your head, helping you let go.
  6. Talk to Someone About How You’re Feeling – Talk about your feelings with a trusted and caring friend or family member. You can also seek the counsel of a therapist, a religious figure, or an online support group. Or all three! Whatever helps you get past the emotional charge of current events.
  7. Don’t Try to Change to World – Remind yourself of your Circles of Concern vs your Circle of Control. Yes, there’s lots to be concerned about right now. We’re allowed to be worried, but if you focus on what you can’t control for too long you’ll waste precious energy. Stop trying to change the whole world and start working on the things you can control.
Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern @ David Rynick

What to Do Once You’ve Redirected the Lightning

And now we come to the most important part – where to redirect that lightning.

In the show, Zuko pulls no punches. He uses redirection to defend himself against the Firelord on the Day of Black Sun.

On the other hand, Aang, the titular Last Airbender and Avatar (master of all four elements), choses not to redirect lightning at the Firelord in their final battle. Instead, in a moment of mercy, he directs it up and away.

Here’s the thing. Neither Zuko or Aang made the wrong decision. Both of their actions led to a peaceful outcome where all the Elemental Nations finally became united after a long war.

There’s a time and place for everything.

Sometimes we must use our difficult emotions to generate empathy, mercy, and come up with unique solutions to the world’s problems. Other times we must use them to fuel change and defeat injustice. (not condoning violence, I’m talking more about raising your voice in anger against injustice)

On that note, here are a few things you can do with your newly redirected emotional lightning:

  1. Take action – Join protests, volunteer at your local Feeding America Affiliate, build a Community Aid Network, write to your Congressperson. Help the elderly and disabled in your community by grocery shopping and cooking for them.
  2. Help others understand their feelings – If you’re emotionally able, lend an ear to someone else who’s struggling with these strong feelings.
  3. Use the emotions to create change – Realize your words have great power to change things. People need to hear your voice in this dark time. Start a blog. Make powerful art pieces. Start a Facebook group as my friend Carley has done to encourage conversations about race, culture and poverty (check her out at World, We Need to Talk).

Wrap Up

It’s okay to be angry right now. We’re all scared, confused and to some degree feeling helpless.

Your task now narrow your field of concern and widen your circle of control. This doesn’t mean you should ignore current events or cut off from the world completely. It just means it’s time to redirect your focus on more productive, mentally healthy thoughts.

This will help you change the world directly around yourself, which in turn has a ripple effect on the people around you.

I’ll leave you with this closing thought: Positive change hardly ever seems positive at the beginning. But if we don’t give up or give in, we’ll see the light sooner rather than later.

So keep going.

Much Love,

MB

P.S. If you happen to love our content and fantasy RPGs, please consider pledging a monthly amount to our Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Mysoulbalm For just $1/month you can join the quest to defeat the Curse of Stig-mah and help us spread mental health awareness throughout the land! undefined

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Mad as Hell Mental Health Rights Advocate. Likes margaritas, long walks on the beach, and JUSTICE.

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