6 Ways to Stay Calm When Life Is Uncertain
We all want life to be safe, secure, and serene. But it isn’t, is it?
Often when you least expect it, you suddenly lose your job, your relationship breaks apart, or you fall prey to thieves or con artists. And even when a part of you suspects, even knows, that change may be underfoot, the conscious part of your mind can have an uncanny ability to remain blissfully ignorant.
I live on the Big Island of Hawaii, which has been rocked by 16 volcanic eruptions and more than 1300 hundred earthquakes since the floor of the Halema‘uma‘u Crater, pictured above, in the Kilauea Caldera collapsed, dispersing its lava lake into tubes underneath the earth a little more than a week ago.
Miles downstream lava erupted, fountained high in the air, and flowed voraciously from cracks in the earth in Leilani Estates, Lanipuna Gardens, and east of the Puna Geothermal Venture. 116 acres have been covered by lava to date, 36 structures have been destroyed, and thousands of people have evacuated.
Can You Find Calm in Chaos?
I live about 5 miles from the eruptions, on the edge of the East Rift Zone. New eruptions could occur anywhere along the zone.
At the moment, I’m surrounded by calm, quiet, and beauty. Most days, I wouldn’t even know a nearby disaster is in progress if I didn’t visit Facebook or run into camouflage-clothed National Guard on the way into Pahoa town.
But I’ve seen the footage and felt some of the quakes, including the hair-raising 6.9 temblor. At times, I feel frozen in fear, especially when I see video footage of bubbling lava rivers in Leilani Estates or read doomsday predictions.
In other moments, I feel a calm acceptance. I’m safe at the moment. I trust I’ll be evacuated or follow my intuition and leave if conditions become unstable in my area. And I know we don’t own the “aina” — the Hawaiian word for land. We’re guests of Pele, the fire goddess. She built this island and continues to do so through the flow of lava. It’s up to me to stay out of her way.
I think it’s near impossible to stay completely calm in the midst of uncertainty, change, and crisis. But there are ways to stay calmer and to gradually reclaim your calm when it's momentarily destroyed. So what can you do?
6 Ways to Stay Calm and Carry On
These are the strategies I'm using to stay calm and return to a calmer place when I feel disturbed by the reality of what's taking place in Puna on the Big Island.
I'll be honest. It's not easy given the intensity of the eruptions and the displacement of so many people. I usually get unsettled for some period of time each day. But generally, I've been able to stay in a somewhat calm place.
1. Remember, everything is impermanent
This is the first thing I tell myself when unexpected and unwanted change occurs. Anything I think of as inviolable, isn’t.
“ Whatever is born is impermanent and is bound to die.
Whatever is stored up is impermanent and is bound to run out.
Whatever comes together is impermanent and is bound to come apart.
Whatever is built is impermanent and is bound to collapse.
Whatever rises up is impermanent and is bound to fall down.
So also, friendship and enmity, fortune and sorrow, good and evil, all the thoughts that run through your mind—everything is always changing.”
- The Words of My Perfect Teacher
I find solace in remembering this spiritual truth. I can lull myself into believing that a particular relationship or situation will continue forever, but nothing ever stays the same. Day turns into night, summer unfolds into fall. Change occurs constantly at the molecular level.
Change is the only constant. Suffering arises when you resist it.
2. Maintain your routines, especially calming ones
Routines can relieve stress, increase calm, and decrease anxiety.
Instead of jumping onto Facebook to see the latest disaster video first thing in the morning, I meditate, write in my journal, and select three tarots cards from the Wild Unknown deck and one from the Mother Mary Oracle. I also choose a guiding word for the day. Over the last week, my words have included: trust (twice), courage and grace, listen to my heart, and strength.
What routines help you stay centered in yourself? Be sure to put them in place when life feels unstable.
3. Limit your exposure to bad news
I feel the most distress when I see dramatic video footage, hear heart-wrenching personal stories, or read doomsday scenarios on Facebook. It can send my body and brain into a spin for hours.
I want to stay virtually connected to my community. But I need to limit my social media visits to keep my stress levels down. I don’t need to constantly check social media because I receive emergency alerts from the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. Twice a day is enough and not in the evening because disturbing news can seriously effect my sleep.
4. Express your fears
When I bottle up my fears, my stress level rises and rises until I feel I’m about to explode.
Express your fears, let your tears flow, and give voice to your anger without acting upon it in harmful ways. It won’t help to overindulge in your emotions, making the story bigger and bigger, but repressing them can be harmful as well. Let them come up, let them out, let them go. I feel better when I do.
I’m also using my mindfulness practice to catch unpleasant emotions. I’m not able to catch them immediately, but once I do, I’m learning to return to and feel the energy of the emotion until it subsides. I haven’t mastered this, by any means, but I feel it’s an important practice for me right now. It takes considerable training to do this, so don’t expect it will be easy.
5. Prepare yourself for whatever might unfold
I like to hold a positive vision of lava moving through uninhabited areas and entering the ocean as its often done for decades. But Pele is running the show, not me. So I’m prepared to evacuate if necessary.
I’ve packed a suitcase, gathered my important documents, and pulled together my tiny stash of valuables. The kitty carriers sit ready right outside my door.
You may not be in a danger zone. But whatever change you’re navigating, know your options and manage the practicalities. It will lessen your stress and bring you more calm.
6. Listen to inspiring teachings
I'm listening to a series of Pema Chödrön teachings on selflessness and another on working with emotions. This is the main way I’ve re-infused myself with calm each day as new eruptions have emerged.
Inspiring teachings, like these, help me remember what's important. They calm my fears. They remind me that ultimately I’m not this body, I’m not this mind. I am spirit and there's more than this material world.
You’ll find many inspiring teachings in this collection: 100 Free Meditation Resources: Audios, Articles and Videos
There are many ways to care for yourself in changing times. These are a few of the ones that work for me in this intense time when everyone around me is going through so much.
Gather together your own tool kit and when life feels crazy, be sure to use your grounding practices each and every day. The more you reconnect to your calm center, the more you’ll be able to be there for others too.
What helps you stay calm in uncertain times? Share your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from my heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra