Does it ever feel like you are living in the midst of a hurricane with 150 mph winds? Over the last year, my life has often felt like I have been swept into a Stage 5 hurricane, as both of my children are dealing with very challenging illnesses and it has been deeply painful for this “mother’s heart.” When life gets really overwhelming or seemingly out of control, the challenge is learning to stay centered, no matter what is happening in your life.
It sometimes feels like I am being torn apart limb by limb when the fierce winds of my mind (fear, despair, helplessness, sadness, etc.) suck me into their world. And yet I never stay caught in my mind for very long because I know that the calm place in the eye of the hurricane is always here. At times, that calm place can seem so far away. Those are the times when I am resisting what I am experiencing and in that resistance, the pain is actually intensified. When I can just relax and allow everything that is uncomfortable to just be here, the intensity calms down and I open into the vast healing and spaciousness that is always within me.
Whenever my mind is in the midst of a fierce storm and I get hooked by the voices in my head, I like to think about the image of an ocean. When you live on the surface of the ocean, you are totally at the mercy of the tides, the winds, and the storms. When you live by identifying with your mind, you become vulnerable to all the storms that your mind creates. You desperately hold on when a big storm hits and you may even send out an SOS (or two). But right below the surface of the sea it is very calm. Inside of you, no matter what is happening in your life, is the calm, nourishing, healing spaciousness of who you really are.
Life goes through its seasons, and we all experience the winters of our lives when we are cracked open. What we forget is that winter with its wild storms is necessary so the rebirth of spring can happen. I love this quote by Cynthia Occelli: “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” In other words, all the uncomfortable challenges you encounter are for you. The great hurricanes that come through your life are here to crack open the shell of your conditioned self so you can be truly alive.
During one of these hurricanes or any challenge you are facing, there are three very powerful tools I invite you to use when your mind is upset and your heart is closed so that you can show up for the ‘cracking open’ that Life is offering.
Allow a couple of long slow out-breaths.
Your out-breath is the key to turning on the calming aspect of your nervous system. It can be helpful to imagine blowing out a candle to lengthen your out-breath. Since I was a single parent for the majority of time my children were growing up, I sometimes joke with them that the reason they are alive today is because I was able to return to my breath over and over again!
2. Ask yourself the question, “Who is here right now?”
You have a whole cast of characters inside of you and each one of them has its own view of the world. To recognize what is happening inside of you is a moment of healing. To acknowledge that anger is here, or maybe anxiousness, or even despair, is a moment when you are relating to what your mind is saying rather than from it. You can even give the different characters a name (make sure it is a kind name, even for the so-called unlikable parts) and say, “I see you.” I eventually found myself calling all of my wounded parts “Little One.”
3. Bring your attention out of the stories in your head (the winds of the hurricane).
Bring your attention back to Life, right here, right now in this moment. The storyteller in your head lays all sorts of stories over the top of Life so you experience thoughts about Life rather than living Life. When you find yourself caught in your struggling mind, it helps immensely to realize that all the while you are paying attention to your struggling self, Life is unfolding around you in all of its aliveness, magic, and newness. Take a moment to really see, hear, and taste Life, for this is where the eye of the hurricane resides.
When the storms come, and they always do, remembering to use these three tools will help you to access your ‘natural calm’ and to discover what is asking to be seen and met inside of you. These tools can be used individually, in combination, or step-by-step, depending upon the particular challenge you are facing and your experience with these skills.
Trust what is calling to you and be gentle with yourself as you explore this process. After all, you have been listening to the stories your mind has been telling you for your entire Life (and believing every single word it says). Slowly and surely you will learn how to step out of your stories and bring your attention back to this present moment. This is when you can relax and allow the fierce winds of Life to blow through, as you rest in the eye of the hurricane.