Storm Thoughts, or Stormy Thoughts?
As our changing climate spawns more and more violent weather around the world, humans are faced with new challenges to our ability to respond to disruption, discomfort, uncertainty, fear, loss, and grief. This was brought home to me last week, with the steady, deadly progress of Monster Hurricane Irma towards my city, but millions across the globe have recently faced similar, or worse, storms, tornadoes, flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, rising waters — all leading to life-altering situations.
It’s one thing to be aware that day-to-day stress is self-created from our own thinking, but the rubber meets the road with the realization that alarm, frenzy, frustration, indecision, self-pity, doubt and terror are, too, even when people are facing a deeply threatening, looming threat over which they have no control. Yet that is when realizing how thought works, and sensing our innate power to sustain a free and clear mind, is most critically important. We are always at a crossroad: Do we follow upsetting thinking into a maelstrom of anguish, or do we look away from that path and go to quiet, looking for the wisdom to guide us through the trouble.
Put it this way: If you were in a crowded auditorium sitting in the middle of a row, and someone in the back yelled out, “Fire! Get out now!”, would you follow the person on your left who started jumping around screaming, “Oh my God, oh my God, we’re all going to die! Where’s the exit? I can’t see one! How are we going to get out of here? I’m so scared! What if we’re trapped? Run! Run!” Or would you follow the person on the right who stood up, looked around, and calmly said, “There’s the nearest exit, four rows down to our left. Let’s head that way.”
Since we are always following our own thoughts, it makes a lot more sense to follow calm, clear thoughts than to follow agitated, confused, scared thoughts. The more dire the circumstances we face, the more clarity and wisdom we need to remain safe and make the best decisions. The more urgent the situation, the less it makes sense to waste time and energy on thoughts that serve no purpose but to maintain or exacerbate insecurity and unhappiness. We want our full faculties and our best ideas to address danger. And we want our most serene perspective to guide us through chaos in the aftermath of events.
Truly, in the midst of increasing exhaustion, painful deprivation, unwelcome inconvenience and relentless uncertainty, it is inevitable that negative, insecure thoughts will come to mind. “Why me?” “I want my life back!” “When will this end?” “Where is the help we were promised?” Allowing those thoughts to swirl and expand, we can lose hours, even days, to a whole host of woeful thoughts and just feel worse and worse, more and more afflicted and hopeless. With some understanding that every thought that comes to mind is my thought — I made it up — we have an option. We can let the thoughts that are bringing us down just pass through our minds without paying them a lot of notice, and look to quiet down. And then we find that more constructive, positive, helpful thoughts come to mind. Even if those thoughts involve nothing more remarkable than the most comfortable, effective way to do the best with what we have, it is much more uplifting for people to feel that they have ideas about what to do and know they’ll be OK, than to feel lost, untethered from their lives, and victimized.
Life, as Sydney Banks said, “is a contact sport.” As long as we are still alive in this world, and still playing, then the game is what we make of it. We tend to wish things would move slowly and surely, to expect life to be what we’re accustomed to, to want change to be initiated by us, not to just happen. Those are thoughts, too. If I get attached to thinking life should be a certain way, that doesn’t mean it actually will be. That only keeps me upset because I think it should be. When we are able to take each moment as it comes, all those expectations are gone, we are not prone to disappointment or discouragement, and we simply live, doing what makes sense right now.
In moments of quiet, we get a glimpse of our place in the universe, a sense of connectedness to all of life and the feeling that we are dancing with universal energy, not stumbling through a hostile, separate environment. That quietude welcomes the flow of wisdom, knowledge beyond the intellect. It builds our trust to look there in times when quiet seems much more distant and difficult. Just a moment of quiet reflection opens the door to wisdom, to life-saving and life-sustaining ideas. We fall into beauty and love, the essence of wisdom, even in the heart of the storm.