by Peggy McDonagh
Denise Barter’s poem “After the Storm” portrays a storm’s wild intensity beautifully. We know well how “calm is shattered asunder” as lightning and thunder “reverberate across the darkened sky,” and marvel at“Nature’s pyrotechnics, in awesome display,” that “turn black skies of night, into day.” The “deluge of rain” and “barrage of hail” that often hit without restraint and how such storms never “heed the cries of gardeners, who fear for damage done to what they hold dear” are familiar to us. And yes, it comes as no surprise “when the storm is away,” “to see the world washed clean.”
This past summer, especially in July, we experienced a rather unusual frequency of storms, some bringing great deluges of rain and hail while others brought ominous clouds but left innocuously. Such powerful storms evoke various emotions from exhilaration to fear and anxiety for gardens, crops, cars and buildings. We can be mystified by storms, but feel vulnerable because of their forcefulness and their ability to destroy.
Some storms build slowly while others arrive quickly and unexpectedly. Sometimes, when clouds are heavy and dark, we anticipate the worst only to watch the clouds pass by harmlessly. Other times, clouds are light and greyish but lash out with harsh rains and ear-splitting thunder.
It seems to me that this summer has been a time of intense personal storms as well. Just as we cannot know how intense a storm may be, we cannot foresee encounters that await us around the bend of the road of life’s journey. Life can be tempestuous, tossing us with winds of misfortune, grief, retirement, job loss, depression, and stress. Sudden life-altering news that changes the safe and familiar in our lives can come to us unexpectedly and often with great intensity, leaving us bewildered and breathless. Such storms of life generate an array of emotions and challenges, and in the midst of them, we search for answers, for strength and for endurance.
Every one of us will experience a life storm. Storm chasers say that it is crucial to remain calm when close to a storm. If they panic, they may lose the presence of mind to maintain clarity to make wise decisions.
Remaining composed and feeling the quiet within the turbulence of life’s storms is not easy. A confusion of emotions can inhibit us from thinking clearly so we are unable to respond wisely. Becoming anxious, discouraged and overwhelmed by life’s storms can result in loss of motivation to respond to tasks requiring our attention. We stop thinking rationally and become increasingly more stressed.
Most of us have heard the phrase ‘the eye of the storm.’ Meteorologists tell us that the most recognizable feature within a hurricane is that huge eye found at the centre. The eye, the focus of the storm, is the point about which the rest of the storm rotates and is where the lowest surface pressures in the storm are found. The eye is calm because the strong surface winds that converge towards the centre never reach it, thereby leaving the centre calm. When a person is in the centre of a storm, he or she may feel relieved and relaxed.
From a spiritual perspective, the storm’s eye suggests that there is the possibility for calm as we face the storms of life. Just as the eye of the storm is calm, so too is our deepest spiritual centre, that place of calm that allows for strength and courage to unfold and give us the means to weather the storm. It is only in this spiritual centre that we can remain strong and be confident as a storm rages around us. Here are a few suggestions for remaining in that calm place as the storm rages:
- Look within—move to the spiritual centre. Problems threaten us from outside but the solutions reside within. In the midst of a storm, it is difficult to believe that we have the ability to endure, but we actually do. People have an amazing inner strength that can allow them to remain in that calm place where there is clarity to discern the right solutions.
- Strive for acceptance. Weathering the storms of life requires acceptance of the situation in order to avoid impulsive, reactive thoughts and actions. Storms have finite time, and the passage of time provides the possibility of setting things right. To accept that a life storm will pass opens us to the wisdom to embrace it while remaining calm.
- Act, do not react. Acting is a positive way of dealing with issues while reacting results in panic and distress that keep peace away.
- Take care of yourself mentally and physically. In the throes of a storm, our energy is low and we lack motivation. During these times it is important to take care of one’s mental and physical well-being. Health and rest are essential tools to battle stress, change negative thoughts and stay calm.
- Life teaches that there is a lesson to learn in the challenges of life even though it can be hard to recognize that lesson at first. As American writer Willa Cather said, “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in the storm.”
- Reach out to others. Being in the service of others encourages calmness because we no longer focus only on our own challenges. Seek out volunteer opportunities or simply find someone who needs your assistance.
In her article “How Long Does a Storm Last,” Catherine Pulsifer, author of Wings of Wisdom offers some wise guidance. “I sat on our swing watching the clouds move in… thinking about some of the challenges in our life right now. The dark clouds looked like some of the issues facing us at this time. Then a patch of blue sky appeared in the clouds… I smiled as I saw the patches of blue sky; it focused my thoughts on all the good things that were in our life right now. When you see those patches of blue sky you feel better, your attitude changes, you realize that while there are storms there is also a lot of positive in your life.”
When life’s storms toss you on the winds of grief, pain and loss, rest in your spiritual centre of calm. Seek out Pulsifer’s ‘patches of blue’ and be present to the hope and the peace that they offer your heart and your life.
For more posts like these, visit the Emotional Wellness page.