Saturday, August 18, 2012

Navigating Disaster

It's election time, everybody, and you know what that means. The politicians and media are going to pump you full of fear;  Unemployment is soaring, Facebook stock just dropped by half. The pundits are screaming and yelling, people are losing their jobs and homes. Everyone is throwing the blame, but no one knows what to do. Forget red states and blue states, a state of fear is the worst state to live in. Decisions made from a place of fear are always the wrong ones. So let’s pull ourselves together, shall we?

First, let me assure you of this fact: All will be well.

How do I know?  I consider myself a connoisseur of disaster. I’ve been trapped in a burning house, bankrupted, abandoned by my family, betrayed, destitute, mugged, sued, threatened with violence, homeless. (And don’t even get me started on my childhood!) But guess what?  I’m happy.

I’ve had a lot of therapy over the years to get me through the panic attacks that used to plague me, and these are the tools I’ve learned for navigating disaster.

This world has existed for billions of years. All kinds of catastrophes have occurred and yet – the world still turns. The talking heads called JFK a socialist and communist and said he was destroying America, and guess what? We're still here. Yes, life will change and evolve.  Everything is impermanent - the bad phases, and even the good. The more we try to clutch onto something to keep it the way it was, the more pain we cause ourselves. Accepting life as it is will bring you peace. 

Think of it this way: Life is a river, ever flowing, ever changing, a force all its own. You never step into the same river twice, and so it is with life. We can’t control the river, but we can learn how to navigate it. We can be dragged through it kicking and screaming, or follow the flow. Whatever is happening to cause you stress, remember: the tide will rise and fall, the sun will continue to rise every day, new life will spring up from devastation- that is the way of the world. Find your flow, and when it changes, find it again. 

Wayne Dyer said that if we stay in the present, 99% of the time, there is no problem. I mean, unless you are in this moment hanging from a cliff by your fingernails, which is unlikely. Most of our problems are in our heads, where we either lament about the past, or worry about what may possibly happen in the future. The majority of the time the things we worry about never come to pass. If we could stay in the right here, right now, we’d realize we are okay. Ask yourself this, right now at this very moment, are you in danger? If not, feel free to relax, and enjoy your day.

The world is a place full of beauty and art and music and nature and heart-stopping wonder, and it’s all available to you. So how bad could it be?  Step out of fear, and make a list of the good things in your life. If you can’t see the good, spend a day volunteering on Skid Row, serving the homeless. That’ll put things in perspective. Or try playing this game:  If I were alone on a desert island, what are all the things I would miss?  Write it down. You’ll realize just how much you have to be thankful for.

No matter what is happening in the stock market, in politics, at your job, don’t let it rob you of JOY. Find what brings you happiness, even the little things, and do that. If you can afford a spa day, go for it, but joy doesn’t cost money. Take a bubble bath with candles, take a long walk in a beautiful place, sit under a tree and read an inspiring book, buy yourself a 64-pack of brand new Crayolas- lay on the floor and color, play your all-time favorite album, go to the beach. Even little things can bring great joy.

If you can possibly afford it, get out of town for a few days. Albert Einstein said, “You can not solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”   I know personally that I need to get out of my every day routine and environment to look at things differently. If I can’t get away, even a day of walking on the beach can bring that perspective.

And finally, if you still can’t get out of your place of fear, try this…

After our house burned down, I had anxiety attacks. My therapist used to play this game with me:
He’d say, “Okay, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“I will lose everything, be penniless and homeless and have no credit.” (All of which did eventually happen, by the way)
“And then what?” he’d say.
“I guess I’ll…have to find a good job, and find a place to live.”
“And then what?”
“Well, I guess little by little…I’ll pay off my debt.”
“And then what?”
“I guess I’ll be okay.”
( I was, and I am.)

Play this game with a friend, with every possible worst-case scenario, and keep going until you’ve sorted it all out. The reality is never as bad as you make it out in your head.

Look at the people of Japan. After the tsunami and earthquake, they were out there in the trenches with shovels, starting at square one, rebuilding their lives. The world is resilient, and so are we. Leave fear behind. Embrace your life.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
-author unknown

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. As for me- I'm getting out of Dodge!


  1. Excellent advice as ever, though part of me I keeping its eye on the trajectory of the voter id law in Pa.

  2. That should read "part of me is keeping its eye . . . ."


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