In this life, it seems we must learn to become resilient to life’s ups and downs and challenges. I have personally found a Mindfulness and Compassion practice very supportive in this. It took time, but with persistence and diligence it is very interesting to become aware of how I react differently to challenges these days. I still find them difficult, but somehow, I am able to be with them with more ease.
Storm Arwen hit the North East of England, where I live, with a red weather warning of wind and snow. For once the weather forecast was spot on. Indeed, it came, caused devastation, inconvenience and chaos for a while and then left just as quickly as it arrived.
Storms of life can appear the same. Sometimes I feel as if someone has opened my head, swirled everything around a bit like a hurricane has hit, and then closed it again, as if nothing had happened. Leaving me with a bit of internal debris to clear up. External influences such as events in life and other people’s actions can feel like a storm has hit. Upsetting the equilibrium and leaving me with some work to do to reset the status quo.
I could feel Arwen coming. I sensed an eerie feeling coming over me as I watched waves building on the sea which felt different to normal. Little by little, the wind increased from a breeze to a gale. Within an hour, inches of snow fell, causing a very quick chaos for those out on the roads. Cars slipping, sliding and crashing into each other or getting stuck on icy hills, that were clear some twenty minutes previously. The snow drove its explosion of flakes horizontally, so thick and fast that you could hardly see beyond the blizzard.
I reflected that life seems like that sometimes. We can feel it coming. Sometimes a contraction in the solar plexus, gut feel, or energy building, then it blinds us with its power as it takes over completely, leaving us a bit stunned for a while.
Relentlessly the storm demonstrated it’s power and energy all through the night and next day. The house rocked and shook. It was impossible to see through the windows now covered in debris of leaves, dried grass and a thick layer of sea salt. The wind seemed to penetrate the house despite all doors, curtains and windows closed. The cat paced up and down meowing all night, disturbed by the noise of the wind booming and howling like a beast trying to get in.
Outside, some power lines broke free, leaving live cables hissing and writhing like snakes on the ground. The sea was white – casting foam everywhere. If the tide had been just 1 metre higher it would have devastated the low lying cottages in the harbour with its 30 foot waves.
I could feel fear deep down somewhere inside me. Fear for what might happen, but never did. I sensed a tightness in my chest and belly. Using my Mindfulness practice I dropped into the centre of my being and it felt like entering the eye of the hurricane. A centre of peace and stillness surrounded by total whirling, angry, devastating chaos. I thought of others, where the impact of the storm had taken lives. And my mind began to empathise with those in other countries who live in constant fear of losing their homes from hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. I dropped into my body and rested in the midst of what was happening while it was happening. Sure there was preference but putting that aside I remained intent on experiencing what was happening. Feeling what was happening. With a hand on my heart, I connected with a sense of kindness for this human experience.
I have never experienced a storm like Arwen. Gusts of wind, reaching 90mph, ravaged my garden. The wind was so strong that it moved buildings, chairs, pots, fences and gates that are way too heavy for me to lift. Where it could destroy, it did. I watched the greenhouse explode with shards of glass flying all over the garden. It’s sad, creaky frame swayed in the wind for a while until it finally surrendered and collapsed.
There is an abundance of birds where I live. There was a spooky absence of birds that day. It was too unsafe for us to go out, so I thought of these little light creatures and how dangerous it was for them. I wondered where they were. How hungry and frightened they must be. If the cat refused to go out, then she must instinctively know it isn’t safe. It all left me with a strange uneasy feeling. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I couldn’t go out and yet I felt if very difficult to focus on doing anything indoors. It seems I just sat with it. Not doing anything in particular, but watch it all unfold, with a sense of awe and dread at the same time. The day became the practice. Noticing in full awareness. Even when the power went and we were plunged, unexpectedly and ill prepared, into darkness I stayed in the centre. It was just how it was and acceptance arrived.
After the storm had passed the garden looked like a bombsite.
Memories of moments of joy began to come into my mind as we looked at the wreckage. Little jars containing magic spells for the wellbeing of the earth woven by my grandson, were smashed, destroyed by the nature he prays for. We gathered up the unbroken ones as if they were precious ornaments, still holding their spells. Memories of evenings spent under the stars by a fire were lost in the shattered pieces of the chiminea. Plants that held so much beauty not so long ago, lay broken and blackened from being ravaged by the strong salty wind. I recognised my attachments, sad though it seemed, I found I was able to let it go, and just be with a slight sadness and regret as something I could not fix or change. Life would go on and, after all, no one harmed.
Then came the gratitude. I suddenly felt genuinely grateful that the house hadn’t been damaged. That my family were safe. That we were safe. My appreciation was very simple. Appreciation of just being alive and of the life I live, irrespective of conditions and situations. I felt thankful for mindful awareness and of being able to experience life as it is. In its purity.
There are many storms that can come our way in life. It is inevitable. As we navigate through this somewhat fragile life, we are bound to experience external forces such as sickness, loss of things, money, and people we love. We inevitably experience rejection and pain at the mercy of other human beings. Sometimes our perception of an emotional storm can feel greater than reality as our minds fall at the mercy of our evolution, always looking for threats and being traumatised by life in general.
But in that, is it possible, just as we experience a physical storm of nature, to be with these other storms of life? Can we experience them fully and learn to be with whatever it is that is happening, knowing that, just like the weather, this too will pass? After weathering a storm we can assess the situation, take stock, clear up any debris and carry on. Is it possible to do the same as a natural storm, as we work through the ups and downs of this roller coaster ride of life?
Can we take time in our daily lives to pause and appreciate just simply being in this life, which too will pass. I feel that every moment is precious. No matter what is happening, can we feel that pulse of life running through us and feel every breath?
All in all, sometimes life can be pretty scary. Maybe, by giving ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling, with kindness, as these sensations, feelings and emotions move through us, we can feel fully alive, learn true acceptance and let go, rather than hold on.
This weeks challenge is an invitation to notice how the storms of life impact you. Are we able to ride the storm or do we tend to fight against it. How does this make you feel?
How is it to sit with how we are feeling, gently connecting with the rhythm of the breath and rest in the centre as the chaos the storm brings passes through?
I would love to hear how you navigate your storms.
Take care everyone
Jacky is guiding a practice day of Just Being on 29th December. She is also teaching the new Mindfulness in Movement Course on 8th March, 2022, and tutoring on the online Introduction to Mindfulness course which runs on a Wednesday evening, starting 12th January, 2022.
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can watch an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.
Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels