One of the most helpful things I’ve learned from my studies in positive psychology is how to deal with sadness. And this week, with its non-stop pictures of the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused , has certainly provided me with an immense opportunity to practice.
The number one thing I know about dealing with sadness is not to fight it. That holds true with a lot of painful emotions, by the way. You let yourself tune right into the feeling, to be as fully aware of it as you can. Where do you feel it in your body? What’s it weight? Does it have a shape? A color? Just feel it and accept its validity. Ask it what it has to say to you, then listen for an answer.
My sadness was heavy and dark, a cloud-like thing wrapping around my heart. It went beyond sadness, I realized. It was sorrow, and grief, and anger that such suffering could befall so many. It held a sense of helplessness because there was little I could to alleviate such a vast problem.
But as I sat with it, accepting it, listening to it, I realized it also contained compassion and love. And as the week went on, the stories of the countless heroes who stepped out to rescue and serve the affected began to emerge. And my cloud of emotion took on a wave of soaring pride in my fellow humans, who came from everywhere to do whatever they could do. And then there was hope, as people started saying that every sense of division disappeared. In the face of disaster, everyone was simply a human being.
It was mid-week before my attention broadened to encompass an awareness of the horrendous fires sweeping the western states. And then I learnedthat another hurricane, even larger and more powerful, is threatening to sweep the east coast next week.
I thought about something Dr. Jordan Peterson said: “Life is suffering. The best you can do is pick it up and carry it with as much dignity as you can muster.” To me that means staying present and attending to the work at hand, doing that work to the best of my ability—whatever the situation.
And then there’s Tara Brach’s admonition: “This is suffering. Everybody suffers. May I be kind.” Amen to that. May we all be kind.
Listen, every September I inform my dear subscribers that it’s National Preparedness Month and I nag about taking time to ensure that you have adequate food and water on hand to get you by for a week, at the very least. Have batteries on hand, and medications you and your family members may need. Have a battery-powered or wind-up emergency radio. Do that! Especially if you live anywhere on the east coast. Make yourself a little go-bag of things to take with you in case you suddenly have to evacuate. Don’t let the gas tank in your car fall below half-full. And here’s a good tip I read this week: Take photos of important papers, like birth certificates, insurance information, deeds, important family contact information and such and put them on a thumb drive in your purse, go-bag, or wallet.
Consider yourself advised. Consider attending to preparation today—because, really, you never know when tomorrow may be too late.
Meanwhile, cover those impacted by life’s tragedies with your compassionate thoughts and prayers. Be kind—to yourself and to others. Be present. Then attend to the work at hand, with all the dignity and grace you can muster.