Friday, August 12, 2011

Navigating Disaster

photo by Laura Hennessee

Everyone in the country is in a panic. The stock market is tanking, 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. And so we, the public, are living in a state of fear – the worst state to ever be 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? Well, I consider myself sort of a connoisseur of disaster. I’ve been trapped in a burning house, almost killed, bankrupted, abandoned by my family, betrayed by friends, lost everything, destitute, mugged, sued, threatened with violence, homeless. (And don’t even get me started on my childhood!) But guess what?  I’m still here.

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 only thing we can be sure of in life is change. 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.

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 accept it for what it is and 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. Accept change. Accept it all for what it is.

I’ve seen Wayne Dyer speak several times. I remember being especially struck by this point. He 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.

Today, in this moment, we have food, a roof over our heads, and we definitely have internet access other wise you wouldn’t be reading this. There are people in your life who care about you, even if you don’t always feel it. 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 the fear, and think about all that is right in your life. If you can’t see it, spend a day volunteering on Skid Row, serving the homeless. It’ll put things in perspective real quick. Sometimes I play this game with myself:  If I were alone on a desert island, what are all the things I would miss, all the things I would dream about?  I write it down. Try it. When you play that game, you realize just how much you have to be thankful for. Turn off the TV. Stop listening to the noise, and stay in the good place in your life.

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. Make no excuses. You need this. 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, take a break. 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. Even if I can’t afford it, the sanity and clarity are priceless. There are other places in life you can cut back financially. I’d rather eat potatoes for a week and get myself some much-needed perspective. 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 an anxiety disorder that could send me reeling with a panic attack at the drop of a hat. 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.”
(and I was, and 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.

So, America, let’s all just settle down and relax. As we know, it’s not the end of the world (that was supposed to be May 22nd, and that didn’t happen either.) Look at the people of Japan. The absolute WORST has literally happened to them. And yet they are 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


  1. Do what brings you joy.


    This was a great perspective-builder, Hollye. I just got back from three days in Palm Desert celebrating my grandmother's 88th birthday (my grandpa is 92 and still feisty, too).

    We had four generations together, sharing love. And wine. And cake. And love.

    Everything else (bills, chores, obligations, stress) seemed to fade into the background.

    And now this. Thank you for your words.
    I want to keep the momentum of perspective rolling.


  2. How life affirming and realistic! Let's line you up for whatever new project Oprah is manifesting now. I mean it. I really appreciate the final quote. And 'What is the worst that could happen?' always puts things into perspective for me. As the world spins towards chaos *yet again*, I remember the Buddhist saying that 'the only constant in life is change'. And sometimes, that change comes kicking and screaming and baring its teeth and snatching gold coins right out of my hand, at which point I revert to 'the worst thing that could happen' question. A swirling circle of thoughts but there you are. More specifically, as the financial world comes crashing down, *yet again*, I'm learning a thing or two, that being to take a second, third and fourth look at these redemptive verbs -> reuse, reread, recharge, reconsider, rediscover, rethink, rebalance (everything but my cheque book), reconnect, reboot I(and reshoe!), reaffirm, research, retry, restore, resurrect ...

  3. Julie- how wonderful that you had that weekend and are holding on to it. What wonderful perspective -Don't let anything snatch it away!

    Cathy- I love your comments, and love the redemptive verbs! I hope everyone scrolls down to read those!

  4. Love your thought process and encouraging words Hollye!!! Also like the positive comments. I made my daughter read this and I do believe it actually made her feel better in spite of her current turmoil. I have such a strong connection with some of my Facebook family….like you!!! The love and support mean the world to me….especially blogs like yours….so inspirational. Thank you Hollye…..for being here and writing what you write….I am grateful, for it all makes me content.

  5. My Mom played that game with me for as long as I could remember as I was an anxious child. It worked. I went through ever possible scenario and worked it through. It became automatic. It still works today. I love the quote. I might have to share it.

  6. Great post, full of optimism Hollye. Your life has been difficult and you have had so many curved balls thrown your way and yet you continue to triumph in the midst of adversity. You are a true tribute to the power of the human spirit to overcome darkest trials. This is truly humbling.

  7. Thank you Elizabeth. I think we are all a tribute to the human spirit- I've just been given a little more practice. : )
    Madge, remind me of that when I start to panic again!
    Georgie- your love and support means the world to me too!

  8. This is so good, Hollye. You've just nailed it. You espouse all the true and wonderful elements of the human spirit and distilled it perfectly. Fear is a poison, why are we so addicted to it? But sometimes it's just the slightest twist of the prism to bring us to where we need to be. Love this! xoxo B

  9. Hollye this was like yoga--calming and uplifting. I want to remember this for my daughter and myself.


I love hearing your point of view- thank you for taking the time to comment and be part of the conversation!