It's been several weeks since Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain on Houston. The kids are finally back in school. Mostly the roads are open. We are still afloat, and, yes, we are #HoustonStrong. We are all the things you hear about on the news—courageous, compassionate, heroic. But we are also exhausted, discombobulated and untethered. Even those of us who still have homes are awash in the environmental trauma. We, understandably, feel like we must do something. We must help those in desperate need—friends, neighbors and strangers alike.
And we are not alone, those in Irma's path are following right behind us, still in the early stages of disaster recovery. I spent a month of my summer on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, the idyllic place I chose for this blog. This is what it looks like now.
What we really don’t want to acknowledge are our own needs. It feels frivolous, in the face of such devastation, to admit that we need to collect ourselves. To sit and just be. To re-anchor our souls that have been disconnected from that still, quiet voice for too long. But reconnect, we must, for if we don’t, all our good deeds and fine intentions will simply add to the frenetic energy of this wounded city.
It is this re-centering of our soul that imbues our actions with love rather than fear. This formula holds true not only in natural disasters, but in the traumas—big and small—that make their way into each of our lives. So whether you find yourself struggling in the floodwaters of the Texas/Louisiana coast or South Asia, sweltering in the California heat wave, breathing in ash of the Oregon wildfires, recovering from Irma’s landfall on the East coast, surrounded by earthquake rubble in Mexico City, or just plain stuck between a rock and a hard place, pulling inward before stepping out to help is essential, as counterintuitive as it might feel. Truly, you can only give what you have cultivated within.
In times of crisis, it is hard to create a self-care plan if we don’t already have one. There is not a one-size-fits-all way to re-center, but there are practices that have worked for others, some of which will work for you. Since Harvey's departure from Houston, I’ve pulled out all my tried and true practices and am sharing them with you. Please adopt whatever resonates to create your own self-care plan. It will not only benefit you, but will create peaceful energy that will reverberate outward to all around you. It is important to include all the senses in your approach, so I’m categorizing them by sense—and I added spirit because that is perhaps the most crucial one in this work.
Healing Music… Gifted singers and songwriters often put to words those things lingering unexpressed in our hearts. My dear friend Shellee Coley wrote a song during the flooding of Hurricane Harvey that does just that. The song’s video can be found here.
Singing Bowl… If you have one or can get your hands on one, the vibration you can create and absorb with this simple instrument can be very therapeutic. Originating in Nepal, this bowls are used in meditation and healing because of the fundamental frequency they emit. Playing one is a meditation unto itself. Dana Shamas of Bayou Bliss Yoga , who led a free crystal bowl meditation session this week in Houston’s Rothko Chapel to aid the community’s recovery, describes the trauma experienced by all who live in devastated areas as “ambient chaos.” Whether directly affected or living among those who were, we all feel the communal trauma in our bodies.
Chanting… Don’t worry about picking the “right” mantra. Just make a joyful noise! This could be a traditional chant like “Om,” considered the primordial sound of the universe which—when sung or chanted—can bring us into balance with ourself and our surroundings. It can also be simply articulating an intention you set for yourself. For example, repeating “peace” or “serenity” out loud as you sit comfortably and receptively. Saying it 108 times is considered auspicious for many faiths. It can even be singing a favorite song or hymn from a religious tradition.
Essential oils… If you regularly use essential oils, smell each one and diffuse the one that draws you to it. If you are new to essential oils, choose a lavender for relaxation or a citrus (lemon or orange) to lighten your mood and lift the heaviness of trauma. A diffuser (widely available) allows you to enjoy the benefits for hours, but if you can’t get your hands on one, dab a few drops on your wrists or temples and inhale deeply.
Candlelight… The most gentle way to view the world is by candlelight. The primal glow softens the hard edges of everything in our sight and works its way inward. Light a candle and, literally, change the way you see the world.
Bath… Slip into a warm bath. For centering trifecta, add a few drops of essential oil and some candles to your bath experience.
Labyrinth… If you live near a labyrinth, go walk it. This ancient meditative movement takes you from the outer to the inner, both physically and spiritually. I always doubt the power of this simple practice when I start, but I inevitably receive an important message or experience a needed release by the time I reach the center. Not sure where to find one? Search this labyrinth locator. I found 30 within a 25 mile radius of me, including the one I walked this morning.
Yoga… If you have a home practice, choose some simple grounding poses—mountain pose (tadasana), down dog (adho mukha svanasana), warrior pose (virabhadrasana) and easy seated pose (sukhasasna). Listen to your body, and move through or hold poses in ways that feel nourishing to you. An extended corpse pose (savasana) just might be your whole practice today.
Tea… Make tea a morning or evening ritual, choosing a blend with calming properties and preparing it as old school as possible. Avoid microwaving your water and opt for a whistling tea kettle instead. Create an unplugged zone around your tea and sip it slowly. You can read something spiritual and inspiration, but don’t read the newspaper or escape into a novel.
Soup… Are you sensing a theme here? Like tea, soup is warm and grounding and can be sipped and savored. Choose a soup that’s flavorful but not overly spicy. It’s hard to frantically eat soup. Let the slow pace of your spooning seep into the rest of your day.
Prayer… This is not about saying the right words. It is, in fact, not about words at all. The prayer we need in times of chaos is one of our heart reaching out to something greater than ourselves. In stillness and with a receptively devoid of expectation. Look inside yourself for what needs to be expressed. For what is weighing you down with fear or anxiety. Give what you find to God.
Meditation… If prayer is releasing our hearts to God, meditation is what happens after in the silence. There is no magic formula to meditation. Our only job is to hold the space in stillness. Not waiting for the outcome to legitimize our practice, but knowing that just be showing up we have entered into meditation.
Take a practice or two from this list that speaks to you. Don’t try to do them all at once or you’ll increase your stress level rather than lowering it. Instead, tuck them away and pull them out when you need them. Be gentle with yourself as you build your practice, especially during a time of crisis. If you’re a journaler, make notes on your experiences that will help you build a practice that will anchor you when life’s storms—literal and metaphorical—come your way.