Clean Up After the Storm
By Kathryn Hall
One unsuspecting autumn, in the space of five minutes, more than one hundred mature and stately trees came crashing down in Asheville, North Carolina. They came barreling into eaves of roofs, roofs themselves, into cars and yards, and across streets and power lines, grinding neighborhoods into an unexpected and shocking halt. Massive root systems lay bare and exposed, their tangled life severed from years of dedicated and steady service in a flash.
I had been on the phone, talking to a client, glanced out the window and noticed the Japanese crabtree branches lashing about uncharacteristically, made a small mental note and turned my attention back to the conversation at hand. When I hung up the phone moments later everything was curiously still. It was not until I left the house shortly after to run afternoon errands that I realized that in those five short minutes seemingly all of life shifted to revolve around the aftermath of the devastation that mysterious and seemingly harmless brief wind had left behind.
Then spring. I am standing on the porch. In an hour’s time the temperatures have catapulted downward. What was rain moments before now lacquers trees with ice and burdens them with the heavy weight of an unexpected snow. The branches of the flowering crabapple tree that survived the lashing winds of fall are lowering their extended arms closer and closer to the ground, hearty red buds trustingly now encrusted with the white of snow, a strange sight to a California girl. I stand in the freezing cold, poised and helpless, waiting almost breathless, for the inevitable crashing of branches. My heart is breaking in knowing they will fall. Craaaackk, crash. Craaaaack, crash. All about the neighborhood, even as the snow offers the softening of all sound, the continuous cracking and crashing comes from all directions. Large branches with leaves burgeoning, no longer streamlined to endure such weight, succumb to the fast falling snowfall and come streaking through the trees to the ground, hitting sister trees and branches as they fall. My heart grieves with each break and resounding descent as I track their demise.
And so it is sometimes.
Unexpected events enter and departand leave us suddenly broken, shapeless, collapsed, immobile, and hurting. And in both cases the solution in the same. We must clean up after the storm.
Cleaning up after a personal storm can mean many things. Sometimes it entails the primary expressions of rage, anger or sorrow, depending on the ferocity and impact of the storm. This step is generally not to be skipped, and to cause no further ill will to self or others must be done in the most conscientious, constructive ways. These strong emotions are not to be used as instruments to hurt either self or others. Rather these feelings need to be experienced and released, not unlike the falling of a rain on the receptive Earth. Express. Release. Let go. And now forgive, even if you are not quite ready to forget. Forgive yourself first, for being part of this unexpected event, and then begin to forgive those with whom you danced this sad and angry dance.
Having released the emotional charge of a personal storm, one can move on to restorative healing. This process is not necessarily a linear path, though I myself am apt to literally make a list of the resources I have at hand and begin to work my way through that list, going where I feel most drawn. To gentle massage. To healing acupuncture. To a nurturing spa, which one can often access just for the day. To being out of doors. To yoga. To swimming. To walking around the lake. To deep restorative slumber, allowing Spirit to work things out a bit in our dreams.
I provide myself with food I know will act as high powered fuel, which is what I need. I do not generally use food for comfort any longer. I know that giving myself the best fuel around is going to move me much faster to where I want (and deserve) to be. By the same token I do not lambaste myself or take myself to task if I eat some little sweet. You will not, however, find me standing in front of an open refrigerator door looking for a fix. I know it isn’t there.
Nor do I seek any ups or downs, available to us all, that will “numb the pain”. There is no “around”. There is only “through”. Use it. Make it a gift, a lesson. Empower yourself with it.
I open myself to the wisdom of the books. I focus on feeding my mind with positive imagery and on new perspectives for learning. Each of us has his or her own sources of inspiration and information to which we are individually drawn, and to these we must faithfully turn.
Know that you are not a victim, though it can feel like that and that Belief can be easily justified. The inner dialogue of the victim is not unlike the seductive voice of the siren mermaids who called to the sailors causing them to forget their sense of direction and follow these alluring voices to their deaths on the rocks at sea. Casting ourselves as “the victim” can trap us into taking no responsibility. Thus the slippery slope of not having to Do the Work, feeding the notion that one’s power (and lack of it) comes from outside, not from within.
I provide myself with music I love and flowers that delight and warm baths with lavender and eucalyptus oils mixed together, or by themselves. Geranium rose sprinkled under the flowing warm water beckons me to the healing richly scented tub. Soaking rehydrates, as well as relaxes. When I step out I visualize whatever was bothering me going down the drain. Gone!
I talk with friends and family, with whom my life is so richly blessed, who love and understand me and share their wisdom, experience, insights and encouragement. Some of us might seek counsel from a therapist or minister or a trusted family doctor.
I scrutinize my own thoughts, weeding out the ones that replay the drama, and focus instead on cultivating positive images and positive thoughts. I rely on the power of prayer, and turn to affirmations when I flag and need support. I try not to judge, while still honoring my feelings. I search to see how I contributed to the crisis, and what I need to learn. I ask what communication tools or insights I lacked in the situation that I might learn so next time I am better prepared. I seek quiet, not noise. I steep myself in the blessing of it.
I hug the animals, coo in their ears, run my hands over their gentle furry warm bodies and gratefully receive their kisses and affections.
Sometimes I find a change of scenes is good. I focus on fun, not to distract myself from my process, or to avoid the truth, but simply to nurture myself in a stimulating way. I like to hike around the lake, allowing the wind to surround me as I rhythmically walk, sweeping away any residual energies that clutter my being. Walking somehow integrates the shift toward normalcy, claiming my body, my feelings, and my power as my own.
I turn to writing. Delete. Write again. Delete again if necessary. Write again. I watch myself digging my way through the piles of leaves and debris and moving gently, lovingly toward my center, my clear mind, my clearer heart, my stable, loving authentic self, and leaving the rest behind.
I slip gently back into the rhythm of my own routine, the one I had Before the storm swept through. I light candles. I clean house, always wrapping up that process with the burning of sage and then a sweet incense like frankincense or rose.
Cleanliness and orderliness are important reflections of our inner state, and lack thereof equally reflects our inner condition.
It is when we most need our healing practices that we might find them most difficult to implement. Begin with one step. Judge yourself not. Take one more step and then another. Check in with yourself and see if you find yourself healing, however slowly. Be gentle. Be kind. Acknowledge yourself for each positive, self-loving act. Make certain you have a list, a guide, some skills and resources to turn to. And you work your way through. The I Ching counsels, “The best way to fight evil is to make energetic progress in the good.”
What is it, dear ones, you turn to that nurtures you in the face of pain or sorrow or the sudden desolate storm?