This past week, we went without electricity from Saturday to Tuesday evening. Temperatures in our home dipped into the high 40s each morning when I awoke at 6.
We were one of the north bay communities affected by power shut offs in an attempt to prevent fires from starting in the dry and windy October weather.
Being without electricity for my household was not so bad. We brought out our camping gear, used it as a time to write and read and even watched some movies on a device Andy charged while at work. I sat outside in the cold dark of the evenings, listening to the owls and other animals which came out in droves in the absence of human light and noise. We still had hot water to shower with, the gas stovetop to cook with and a pour over coffee system for our morning caffeine.
Many others in my community were much more deeply affected. As we stayed home in the dark, fires ravaged countryside, homes, animal burrows just the next county north of us. People were evacuated en masse and had to leave their belongings, their homes in order to get out of the way of the fire.
In our town, seniors living in low income housing were left without elevators or heat or light- disabling them from descending into the communal kitchens if they were not on the first floor when power was lost.
As someone who spends their life advising on safety, I was most concerned for the elderly and disabled and with the lack of emergency communication. Coming into our town, the world went dark. I lost ability to access incoming information from our county sheriff and fire department. Many of the emergency alert systems have been set up for people to access online or via cell phones- which was impossible without electricity. If emergency information had come in, there would have been no way for us to receive it.
As I write, wildfires continue to burn in the northern, central and southern parts of the state of California. This may indeed be our new normal. Whether this is a product of climate change or neglected utilities or a combination of both factors, the question I am thinking of is this: how do we choose to respond to this?
In a time when things change, how do we take this new information and choose to respond (rather than react out of habit or emotion)?
I can feel certain emotions and qualities arising and moving through me- fear for the wellbeing of fellow Californians, sadness over the loss of what was, cynicism and anger about why this might be happening. As all of these emotions give rise to different thoughts and pathways for action, I try to get very calm. To let these different voices, emotions and ideas pass and simmer down. How do I- and how do we all- want to respond to the current state of affairs?
I truly believe it is only from this place of our calm and higher selves that we can create meaningful and effective responses. In our mindfulness courses we speak extensively about moving from a responsive, rather than reactive, place. I am hoping to share this very quick tool with you.
The next time you notice yourself caught up in a strong emotion (this does not have to be as major as getting a wildfire evacuation notice, it can be as simple as someone cutting you off on the 405) practice S.T.O.P.
1) Stop: notice you are overcome with (anger, fear, grief etc. )
2) Take a breath: take 3 or 5 diaphragmatic belly breaths. Please refer to previous posts if you have questions about how to do this. Draw breath down deep into your abdomen- this allow the parasympathetic (the rest and digest branch) response to kick in. As you breathe out gently lengthen your exhalation. You can soften your jaw, and rest your tongue on the back of your front two teeth.
3) Observe: what is happening in the moment. You are driving safely. You are in immediate danger and need to take action. Notice.
4) Proceed: with presence, with your parasympathetic (rather than habitual fight or flight) response proceed with the higher centers of your cognition on board.
If you have a practice for staying calm in the presence of change or struggle, please share it here, we would love to hear about what works for you.
Wishing all of those in Sonoma, Los Angeles and everywhere peace and health,