Life Lessons I Learned Through Death & Destruction
My beloved partner died from a massive heart attack at home, ravaging me to the core. Almost immediately, I realized I was awash in the same emotions I had painfully confronted when Hurricane Katrina destroyed my house and my mother’s house, leaving nothing but what resembled a bombed-out space where two houses once stood side-by-side with children running between them. Katrina erased the footprints of these children and abruptly ended their childhood, just as Bill’s death erased our plans to spend our “mature” years together, leaving me to confront Covid alone. One storm had destroyed my past, another destroyed my future.
Both events left me in the darkness feeling damaged, wondering if I was beyond repair. It was as if the hurricanes had picked me up and twisted and broken me. I felt scared, shivering in the face of overwhelming forces which I had no hope of defeating. How could I possibly recreate feelings of security for me and those I loved?
A year has passed since my beloved’s death. Yet, the lessons of Katrina returned as a gift to help me survive and thrive through another devastating loss.
You Have All The Resources Within Yourself To Manage The Greatest Of Storms In Your Life
This lesson is one with two sides to the coin. If you go deep, you go slow, and it slowly allows you to go deep. Our heads are usually filled with rapid-fire thoughts. This is often referred to by Buddhists as the monkey mind. Our mind jumps from one thing to the next, unsettled, capricious, and uncontrollable with anxious reactivity. Our emotional states suffer even more upheaval with the devastating loss, so the monkey mind becomes even more uncontrollable.
Going deep is akin to getting out of your head and seeking a quieter place. The heart and the core of being are metaphors for this elusive space in which you must reside to find peace.
Author of Awakening the Soul: A Deep Response to a Troubled World, Michael Meade, puts the word “deep” in the title of his book. Meade writes about “‘growing down,’ by becoming deeper and therefore closer to understanding life.”
Calm is the pathway to go deep; it allows distractive thoughts to resolve, the heart to lead the way, and intuition and understanding to bubble up to the surface. The process is one of slow revelation, allowing one to see what is inside the person, the hidden strengths, potential skills, and unattended pain.
Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh noted the incredible calming effect of breathing in and giving attention to “deep” and breathing out and giving attention to “slow.” Whilst I practice this, I find the place in which I can find calm. This settles the turmoil of thoughts, and I remind myself that recovery from life-changing events is a gradual healing process. Grief and sadness have to be lived through, and life has to be rebuilt, and both processes are slow. When life’s hurricanes either physically or metaphorically wipe out the ground from under our feet, we must attempt to find new ground to stand on, and what place can be more reassuring than finding you have all the resources you need within yourself.
Spend more time in silence, calming disturbing and repetitive thoughts and replacing them with the quiet that allows for insight.
Choose a mantra that has a meaning for you or makeup one of your own to help guide your focus and discovery.
Begin each day by writing down an intention. Then, focus on what you will achieve that day. Create days that have meaning to you. You will grow daily in a new awareness, and this will bring new horizons into your life.
Meet Your Future-Self – The Stranger Within
We are constantly shaped and reshaped by life events. Sometimes the changes wrought are greater than at other times. I learned with Hurricane Katrina how thoroughly lives could be upended. I learned about how we respond to dislocation and disconnection and the changes this brings us in. Unforeseen changes take place, and we can tap into undiscovered internal resources which serve us.
Drawing from the Anglo-Irish poet David Whyte, it is as if we are meeting the stranger who is always in the process of becoming. He advises us to be “hospitable” to the emergent stranger.
The nature of the hurricanes of life is that they leave no choice but for those who suffer them to admit change, no matter how difficult. Acceptance is much easier if one comes to terms early on because the change is irreversible. Having been through the first hurricane, I am now experienced enough to expect enormous changes in life circumstances and my personal development. These changes bring our resources to the surface, which we never knew we had. You can become renewed in the darkest of days. In my worst of days, the “stranger” within me made herself known. I have even amused myself somewhat by pretending I am meeting this ‘future self stranger’ and noting how different she is than I was pre-hurricanes. I did not know I ever had it within me to experience peace in the belief my partner was out of pain when he died. Embracing the future stranger is another way of saying we need to be compassionate towards ourselves, embrace that this will help us grow as we cope with grief and the challenge of rebuilding our lives.
Accept that the stranger is a new life emerging and is essential to the adaptations required when circumstances change to such extremes. Allow for your growth.
Build confidence by developing new ways of being you.
Learn new experiences to create happiness, welcoming new people and experiences into life.
Encourage and develop your sensibilities. So many people who are struck by tragedy feel alone, but in truth, they are developing wisdom and empathy, which is a gift to others in their darkest days.
Impermanence Brings Loss, But It Also Brings New Beginnings
On the face of it, accepting everything as impermanent looks like a cynical attitude. Realizing all the things we work for and put our passion into are fleeting is a hard pill to swallow. However, the reality is actually quite different: Impermanence is not only about things ending; it is about things beginning. It is more about the dynamic of life than it is about a result. Basically, it is fully embracing that we cannot know what will happen in life while embracing the full possibilities of life, including the glorious ones. The aftermath of Katrina taught me that life comes back. As I try to envision life after the death of a loved one, the situation so many of us find ourselves in during this fragile and tragic time, this lesson is, perhaps, the most important one. It contains so much promise. Certainly, we never know what life will bring, but it often delivers a fullness we could have never imagined.
When Life’s Hurricanes Wipe Out The Ground From Under One’s Feet, We Must Attempt To Find New Ground To Stand On
Consider what your new ground will look like. Please write it down, or draw an image of your next chapter in life. Then, consider how you may use the lessons from this hurricane to enrich your life.
Realizing all the things we work for and put our passion into are fleeting is a hard pill to swallow. However, the reality is actually quite different: Impermanence is not only about things ending; it is about things beginning. Look for the signs of the beginning, no matter how subtle they may appear.
Whilst we never know what life will bring, it often delivers a fullness we could have never imagined. Storms of the magnitude we are talking about taking over the whole sky, but eventually, they dissipate and disperse, allowing for the sun to break through and the clouds to float lightly. Trauma may feel like the heaviest feeling globally, but it is as moveable as the clouds.
New life is a force of its own and a source of strength and healing.