My husband and I watched in terror from our bedroom window as enormous red flames rose high into the sky. Started by an arsonist, the Palisades Fire jumped from 100 acres to 750 acres in just a few hours and, at the time of this writing, has engulfed more than 1,300 acres.
Local areas around us were forced into evacuation, and I knew we might be next. The firefighters’ helicopters roared overhead, dropping water on the inferno around us. It was hard to tell if it was just my heart beating quickly or if my whole body was trembling in fear. I had never experienced a threat like this before in my life. With our 11-month-old baby cradled in one arm and our five-year-old playing with his Legos next to me, completely unaware of the imminent risk, I had to start packing our bags. I instinctively grabbed our passports, laptops, a few sentimental items, and some essential clothing for all of us.
After I did all the basic prep, I knew where I had to go: inward. I went into another part of the house, shut the door, and meditated (while hubby stayed with the kids).
As I meditated, I started to center. I realized we might have to leave soon–our house and neighborhood here that we love so much might burn to the ground–and there wasn’t anything I could do to control the fire and the destructive trail it was leaving behind. Yet, as I meditated more, I could feel a sense of tranquility in the chaos.
Reflections on Being out of Control and Finding Comfort
Being in out-of-control situations is something I’ve experienced before (as I’m sure all of us have at one time or another). Four years ago, my mom found out she had cancer. Six weeks later, she left her body. Looking back, that month-and-a-half is a complete blur, but I remember how helpless I felt. My mom was dying and dying quickly, and there was nothing I could do about it.
My mom’s passing was a turning point in my life when I went from practicing meditation to living it. Prior to that event, I would do my practice when it fit in, and I would sit after my asana practice and it would feel nice. Yet after that event, it was a whole other story. I leaned on my meditations not just in periods of the morning and night, but to connect in deeper all throughout the day when I was drowning in grief on the surface. Even if for a minute or so, mini-meditations started connecting between my morning and evening meditations until my whole life felt part of my practice. Since that time, mediation has become the core foundation of my life; going inward, deep down beyond the external, has saved me time and time again.
While not everything in life is as dramatic as a raging forest fire or the death of a loved one, much of life is still beyond our control. In small ways and significant ways, including losing a job, relationship failure, a social media post that falls flat, we are all reminded that we don’t have the kind of control that our egos would like for us to believe we have.
Sure, we can intend, we can plan, we can take all the proper action steps, but we are never truly in control. There are much larger forces at play–call it fate, call it destiny, call it rotten luck; we are humbled time and time again when we think we have more control than we actually do. Yet, when life goes awry, we can always go inward, and there we can find order in the chaos.
Six tangible tools to cope with feeling out of control and to shift to getting comfortable:
Pay attention to your body and mind.
As soon as you feel your heart race or observe your mind going off into a dark place, realize that you are in some triggered state. When this happens, it’s time to reset.
Prioritize going into a quiet place, putting your entire focus on calming your breath and recentering yourself. Try doing nadi shodhana breathing or another pranayama practice that resonates with you.
The ocean’s surface is choppy, but underneath the waves there is stillness (which those of us that have gone scuba diving have experienced!). After finding some peace in your breath, go deeper, and observe. If you can, observe who is observing the fear, discomfort, pain, or uncertainty moving through you.
Look at the larger picture. Life doesn’t always work out as we plan it. If your business proposal fell through, take a step back. Often, we are so close to something that we don’t see the whole picture. In this instance, maybe the timing isn’t right. Maybe there was a flaw in your idea. Maybe there is something better for you. And perhaps you can’t see any of these things because you need to take a step back.
When things don’t go our way, we tend to fantasize (negatively) about future scenarios. After a breakup, many of us become fortune tellers, “I’ll never love again” or “I’ll never find someone I connect with.” Never? We can’t deal with a future that isn’t here yet. When your mind starts coming up with “what if” scenarios, call it back in. Take a breath. Take a few. Focus on the present moment. Focus on your present breath.
Call on community.
Love and connection endure. Going inward is essential. So is going outward. Reach out to a friend or lean on a trusted family member. The people we love and respect around us are like roots–we can hold on to them when the storms of life rage.
Find a Safe Harbor for Getting Comfortable
In the end, life is unpredictable. Our days may be choppy, but we can find safe harbor–and a vital lifeline–by putting our practice to the test. Yes, we practice meditation to calm ourselves and find center, but most importantly, we meditate to allow our True Self to safely guide us in all that we think, say, and do. When the world turns upside down, let the real you take a deep breath and meet life with a sense of balance, acceptance, and sometimes, even a little bit of humor. Ultimately, you are going to be okay.