In one of the first episodes of Ted Lasso, Coach Lasso takes aside a despondent player —who just missed a great shot—and says, “Do you know what the happiest animal is?”
The player looks perplexed, “No.”
Coach says, “The goldfish. Wanna know why?” The player stares at him. Coach smiles, “Cuz goldfish have a ten second memory,” he winks, leans in and pats the player’s shoulder, “Be a goldfish.” The player stands there, nonplussed, but Coach just pats him, and says, “Yah, he’ll get it.” Coach keeps smiling, as he does, throughout, and off this Emmy nominated series goes, weaving comedy, yearning, kindness and heartbreak in my new favorite show.
The main character, Ted, is set up to fail. He is doing an impossible job— asked to coach a B league soccer team in England, when all he has ever coached—or played, for that matter, is American junior college football. He isn’t dull or incompetent, he is bravely making a choice to keep his positive outlook. This is no Pollyanna, this is a brave man that is humiliated publicly over and over and over, who could easily slide into murderous mayhem and we might have expected his snap to violence. It doesn’t happen, and while you might think this is a recipe for pablum— a boring show about boring, smiley caricatures, it grows on you slowly, choice by brave choice.
In Ted Lasso’s hate filled world, he resists— not with stubbornness, meanness or by reigning down revenge (like one character does), he resists with kindness. To himself, to others, friends and enemies. Ted shows the real toll this ever-present-kindness-in-the- face -of-hate takes on his soul. We see just how deep his bravery goes, and how much he must find the support of others to keep navigating the raging rivers of his world where all the rocks are stacked in his path and his oar is broken. Be a goldfish, the same player later tells others. Those words caught me, maybe they will catch you.
Life right now seems like an impossible job IRL. I am so bone tired, how are you holding up? Tired of wishing everyone would just do the kind thing, say the kind thing, get together and stop hating and judging? Whew. Life now in the second half of 2021 is an angry river, and with this second wave or twelfth wave of Covid, who can keep track anymore, we need help, support, a kind shoulder to lean on. How do we navigate this mean, angry world and find joy? Hope? Peace? Are those still a thing?
The quiet news is— what Resistance fighters in WWII knew, that every activist against hate and division throughout history knows, is this; we are more resilient than we know. Let that deep historical truth sink into your bones.
They whisper to us; we were born for this time, and the resilience and kindness we can stitch together will be, can be, must be— powerful.
Please forgive my not giving credit, a wise writer wrote that kindness is an act of resistance. So how do we ‘be like that goldfish’, when everything around us is shit that hit the fan and just keeps flying, and it gets shittier every day? We are all living in 24/7 fight or flight mode, our stress responding sympathetic nervous system on high alert. We may look like we are moving through our lives with some degree of normalcy, but maybe we find ourselves multitasking into brain oblivion, tossing and turning at night, healthy habits becoming obsessive, we might snap at our kids out of the blue, scroll Instagram/YouTube/Tiktok for hours, or maybe just never put the phone down, sharing dog dancing videos late into the night, (this is sounding very personal isn’t it?) A little forgiveness for me and you, please.
We participate in whatever addictive patterns help us not deal with life, because our survival brain says so. When we are stressed, we can’t help but listen to this ancient animal brain; it has been doing that survival thing for millenia. It takes a commitment to be a goldfish, to let go, and let go, and let go again. It takes a determination to come back to what Pema Chodron, American Buddhist leader and author writes, is our warrior commitment. She writes,
“It is only to the degree that we become willing to face our own feelings that we can really help others. So we make a commitment that for the rest of our lives, we’ll train in freeing ourselves form the tyranny of our own reactivity, our own survival mechanisms, our own propensities to be hooked.”
So if I acknowledge my many triggers, stay present with my own discomfort, return to my commitment to my values, develops my friendliness toward myself. No judging, I just keep pivoting like the wise goldfish, breathing big bubbles, and letting go.
What I do want to remember is that humans developed a fabulous frontal brain/the prefrontal cortex designed for insight, creativity, compassion, resilience, confidence, and hope. Bring your fingers to your forehead, gently rest there. Know that this is the human brain that built Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, add your favorite activist to the list. Awareness is the first step! I want my thinking brain, full of compassion, creativity, and drive to be in charge.
Our stress response brain has a negativity bias. Its a survival instinct, with a good intention, to remember the bad things that happen so we can respond differently, but we are charting new scary waters every day, aren’t we? Raise your hand if you survived a global pandemic at some other time in your life? Global climate crisis? Anyone?
Ok, so instead of flapping fins in place, gasping and twirling in the murky deep, if I can choose to breathe, return to my vision, my values, resist the urge to hang out in the muddy waters of blame, shame, victimhood, and ask myself a question or two about what I am actually feeling. “Thanks for asking, I’m feeling desperate because the world is ending!”
Next question for my inner self; “Is that absolutely true?”
Let my own sweet goodness deeply assess my feelings; finding fears, sadness, grief, anger, a little shame hiding down there. Ok.
Pema writes, that we will be triggered again, we will fall into self judgement and anger again, but we can bring awareness to that with these simple goldfishey steps:
1. Come into the present. Quick and gentle, notice what’s happening with you right now. Avoid the narrative if possible, rest in sensation.
2. Hands to your heart, for a little self care, coming home, take a lovely big breath and lift your eyebrows (try it, see what happens). This simple movement quickly brings us out of survival brain, rests our fears for a moment. It is a moment of acceptance. We can’t love what we don’t first accept and respect.
3. Maybe saying words in your mind to deepen that acceptance, “This is my experience right now, and it is okay. I am safe, in this moment.” Breathe.
We can swim into clear waters of our authentic, true, selves where we don’t have to create or maintain empathy, it just naturally lives there. In the water. Where we are all goldfish, breathing together, choosing to keep swimming, to pivot in our swim, letting go of our attachment to The Yuck, every 10 seconds or so, remembering that we are swirling around in the reverie and ecstasy of our own loving warrior lives.