Archive for the ‘emergency’ Category

Crisis, and What Next   1 comment

Or we could call this “(Spi)ritual First Aid”.

John Beckett’s excellent recent post “When you have to be a spiritual emergency room” is a good reference for the angle I’d like to take in this post. My focus will be on the self, rather than helping another. Experience your own crises and refine your strategies more than a few times, and the opportunity will come to serve others in need.

bridge-arch

Yesterday at an open discussion on dreams I had an insightful conversation with a person who was walking his path as consciously as he could. At one point, he said he knew what gave him nightmares, but he wasn’t going to forgo hot wings every once in a while, just because of the fallout they caused. They tasted too damn good.

This is being the knowing effect of a cause, a step along the path of spiritual discipline. It’s using consciousness to help shape what we experience.

But I’m not talking about that here, about such a reasoned weighing of pros and cons before choosing, but about those moments of full-on spiritual (and sometimes physical) ambush — moments we know too well. The world is no longer a friendly place.

Experience a form of combustion, shock, blowback, fallout, karma, inner explosion, cause and effect, consequences, results, crisis — and hearing someone tell you that “you create your own universe” just doesn’t help ease the suffering. True, down the road, once you’ve pulled yourself back together, tracking down possible contributing causes can be a wise course of action, one that can lead to averting, or processing, or seeking more wisely — the same experience in the future. But in urgent situations, we need a compassionate — and effective — first response.

Obviously, deal with any immediate emergency conditions. First aid, or even a visit to an urgent care center or emergency room, may go far to restoring a sense of safety and self-care. Treat the burn, stop the bleeding: deal with intoxication or drug use or poisoning of any kind. A panic attack may have physical causes among others. Get away from whatever is toxic — smoke from the fire, the bottle of mead, the bong or cigarette, the hypnotic drumbeat, other people, the ritual circle, the spiritual practice, or the room you’ve been in too long. If necessary, remove any books, pictures, clothing, or other objects associated with the crisis — or remove yourself from the space, if that’s easier.

As a next step, yes, listening’s enormous in its power to ease many kinds of suffering, though sometimes it may simply not be available — no one I’m in contact with understands, no one gets me. (True, this can be mere destructive egotism — “I’m special. Nobody knows me or my inner world. I can’t be helped”.) But if I have a partner or friend or community, a priestly counselor I trust, then I’m blessed, and partway home. Giving shape to my experience in words helps me see into the situation more clearly, and know it for what it is or might be. Getting it down on paper does the same thing, and sometimes more solidly. The Wise in Ancient Egypt knew that if you can name it, you can begin to tame it — or at least not inflame it further.

As John notes, ground and center. Repeat as needed. This can be a matter of a practice I already do regularly, or something I haven’t yet incorporated into my routine.

One common version: Sit upright, or — better — stand. Stretch, feeling the muscles and tendons of your body. Take three slow deep breaths. Feel the body rooted in the earth, the legs going down like tree roots. Release what holds you back. Know the blood flowing in your veins is an echo of the ocean’s tide, the same salt sea. Feel the air around your skin as you breathe in and out, whether there is a breeze or all is still. With the blessings of earth, sea and sky, you are here and now.

Address other physical symptoms. A bath or shower can help wash away emotional extremes, as well as calm the body, slow the heart, ease tensions, etc. We all know this, but often remember it least at crisis points when we need it most. Accompany the bath or shower with visualizations and meditations, prayers, and any other physical aids like incense, bath oils and salts, etc. Music can also soothe, just as it can raise adrenaline and blood pressure: choose what soothes. Sometimes silence is perfect. Other times, there has to be something playing in the background to help calm the inner and outer turmoil, if silence itself is unnerving.

Watch diet. Carnivores can often benefit from eating a meat meal, which effectively closes down the psychic centers because it demands significant energy to digest. If I dig into a steak, I can feel the doors close and the body center. (Fasting has the opposite effect and is pursued for comparable reasons — conserving and then redirecting energy normally used for digestion to other purposes.) Other non-flesh proteins can have a similar though less immediate effect.

Choose surroundings. The familiar may be immensely comforting — a place, a particular room. Or a change may be indicated. Be outdoors if possible, if this feels good, rather than too much. Lying on the earth can help restore a feeling of security and groundedness. Make sure any people and animals nearby are a comfort, not a source of anxiety.

By itself, focusing on slow, steady breathing can induce calm, charge the body with oxygen, and release tension. Its regularity is meditative, and counting the breaths to ten and then starting again can become a basic practice.

John Beckett mentions shielding exercises, good ones. Here are some techniques I also use.

Visualizations to dump negative thoughts or unwanted experiences can help. One of my favorites is the snowball technique: visualize what you want to drop as something you pack into a tight snowball. When you’ve clumped it thick, throw it into a river, which washes it away and dissolves it.

Another similar visualization: sweep your outer and inner spaces with a broom of light. Collect the sweepings and cast them away — again, into the river, or a hole in the earth you fill, or a dump truck/lorry, or somewhere/something else that takes them away and disposes of them. Some find visualizing a friendly monster with an enormous mouth which consumes them and then obligingly runs away with them can help. Others like to imagine a whole team working to do the same thing — friends, or an army of helpers, cleaning the space. Go with what works — use the inner creativity we all possess.

A third technique — the Three Doors. Visualize — or if visualization doesn’t come easily — feel your way toward — a cave or tunnel entrance into an enormous mountain. Once inside, close the first heavy door behind you. You hear it boom and resound as it shuts, the locks banging home. Do this two more times as you pass down the corridor or tunnel — three doors altogether. At last you are within a chamber of light, with the three immense doors protecting you from all harm.

Other living beings like pets can serve as a comfort — we’re seeing the growth of using companion animals for relieving stress and reducing anxiety. A purring cat in the lap, or a dog enjoying a mellow time of dozing or looking adoringly at you, go far to restoring balance and centering.

Physical objects — rosaries, statues, prayer beads, talismans, rings, stones, etc. — can also help. Specially-crafted items, like talismans, can bring more specific kinds of ease and provide a sense of protection. We’ve seen the popular spread of fidget spinners to help deal with restlessness, anxiety, stress and ADHD.

Physical activity can also help — sometimes the nerve centers, chakras, etc., are already too fired up and any focus on them only exacerbates the situation. Physical movement — walking, swimming, physical training equipment — can provide a focus and an easing of inner imbalance.

Just as there are many spiritual techniques for every other kind of experience in the world, so spiritual first aid can accompany solely physical responses to crisis periods.

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Image: free public domain images at Pexels. com

Wood and Water   Leave a comment

There’s elemental comfort in contemplating the woodpile in our back lean-to (and a second one outdoors) — a reassurance that reaches to the bone.  Wood is our primary source of heat, and we spend about $600 a year to heat our small ranch house.  Some rooms have electric baseboard which we use only minimally, when we’re away for more than a few days in winter, to save pipes from freezing.  Taking a break from splitting, I stand and count days and logs, logs and days.  And I give thanks to the waiting trees around our property.

Yes, it’s labor-intensive to feed a stove and keep it drawing well. If you’ve maintained a fire, you know these things, of course — I’m hardly telling you anything new.  But for us the payback of wood is true solace:  even when the power goes out, and no matter the windchill, we stay warm.  Each log is captured sunlight, and if you’ve spent any time in wood heat, you know its delightful penetrating quality, much like sunbathing. (This winter has been mild so far for southern VT — our heaviest single snowfall clocked in at under a foot, and the thermometer dove and hovered just below zero Fahrenheit for only a couple of days last month.  Today on our hilltop the mercury hit the mid-40s — briefly.)

Especially at night during a winter outage, with flames or embers our only source of illumination beyond candlelight or short bursts of flashlight, a moment’s reverie can transport us back 10,000 years to a Neolithic cave and the flicker of firelight on stone walls.  You sit close to each other for added warmth, and fire-watching feels both utterly ancient and distinctly human.  Then the hearth resumes its old and honored place as center of life and civilization.  (Brigid, saint and goddess, patron of Candlemas and Imbolc just past, is lady of the hearth-fire.) Without heat on a bitter night, we’re each reduced to King Lear’s “thing itself … unaccommodated man … a poor, bare, forked animal.”  At such times, more even than water, heat’s the immediate necessity.

When we first visited the house with a realtor on a bright, cold January day some years back, I remember thinking how much work wood heat would be.  But we’ve only needed to start a fire about half a dozen times since late October, when the stove began burning steadily.  Since then, the coals are almost always still hot enough in the morning to re-ignite whole logs without kindling.  My wife or I wake up most nights now, in the small hours,  almost taking turns without consciously planning it, to stoke the fire just once, and return to bed.  And we can cook on the stove.  Yes, it takes longer, but if the power’s out, time suddenly returns in abundance.

As for water, beyond our well, we have a small pond at the bottom of our yard.  Again, when we first saw the property, all I thought was “mosquito breeding ground,” but I’ve come to see its multiple advantages.  No, the water’s not potable (though the minnows, salamanders and frogs don’t seem to mind), but we can boil it if need be. It also serves for irrigation in a drought. Come spring, we’ll be fitting a hand pump to our well-head for water during extended power outages.  (I stare at the pond now, this pale February light reducing the scene to white, gray, black, wondering how thick the ice is, how much chipping with an axe to reach the frigid liquid water.)

I record all these details in part because my wife and I spent half an hour yesterday watching clips of the new National Geographic series Doomsday Preppers, premiering next Tues., Feb. 7.  While the featured families and individuals carry their preparations to extremes most of us would not, it’s perfectly sensible to maintain a store of several days’ food and drinking water in case of power outages or local natural disasters.  Dried, canned and easy-to-prep foods if you have no means of cooking, rice and flour, beans and pasta if you do.

The harshness of local events in the past several months, like the drought in Texas, the severe tornadoes in the Midwest, and hurricane Irene in the Northeast, have persuaded people in ways nothing else could to consider such preparations.  If heat isn’t under your control and you live in a temperate (read “cold”) zone, it’s wise to have a fall-back plan.  Ditto for cooling, if your home otherwise bakes in the summer.  You don’t have to expect “the end of the world as we know it” to use (as my grandmother liked to say) — “the good sense God gave gravel.”

While much is made of Americans’ dependence on electricity and foreign oil, most of us learn pretty quickly, if we have to, how to make do with wind, water, wood and fire.  If you grew up in a small town,  attended a summer camp, went hiking or just stayed up overnight outside a house, you have a preliminary sense of your abilities and tolerances in the natural world.  It’s useful to know these, and build on them.  That old sense of self-reliance that’s part of the story we tell ourselves about the “American character” is a good place to begin.  And for you readers from other parts of the world, consider the equivalents in your cultures.  Make it a game, especially if you have young kids.   Think through your options in emergencies and disasters, and if they feel too constraining, work to expand them.  We live in such varied circumstances, so no one solution will work for everybody.  And that’s as it should be.

Come September, my wife and I will be back in CT, in school housing, with different contingency plans to consider.

A weekend’s reflection and planning will pay off down the road, even if they simply get you through the next minor “inconvenience” more smoothly.  As the inconvenience increases, so will the payoff.  Live long enough and you know from personal experience that John Lennon spoke true: life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

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