By Ellen Brenner, Certified Aromatherapist
I began the drafting this post from Atlanta, Georgia where I evacuated from my home on the Gulf Coast of Florida, which was located in the path of historic Hurricane Irma. As I finish this blog more than a month later, I am grateful to have escaped all but some displacement, stress and inconveniences.
Others were not as fortunate, and as I finish this blog there are still many suffering not only from Irma, but also from Harvey and Maria. And, while the East has been drenched, the West has been parched with folks there suffering terribly from the raging wildfires. I want to acknowledge their significantly more serious situations and note that I am simply sharing what I learned from my own personal experience in the hope that it may help should your life’s journey suddenly become stormy. As always, with a life crisis, do not hesitate to access professional support as needed.
While I have been exposed to hurricanes, and hurricane season, for a number of years (a Floridian fact of life) this one felt different. Irma intensified quickly and, then, she didn’t set her compass for a distinct location until the last minute. Instead, she led us on a wild chase as we raced to do what we could and must to avoid her destructive forces from a direct hit of unknown determination.
When you live in certain locations, planning and preparing for the possibility of a hurricane comes with the territory. But, for myself, and for many, the intensity and unpredictability of Irma caused chaos creating a storm within us mirroring the force of nature coming at us.
The first practice is to pause to restore and rebalance. The other is to savor that solitude so I may hear my soul speak.
It is only in this quiet space, with my whole self, that the lessons I seek reveal themselves for next steps in my life journey. What this looks like, for me, is to support mind, body and spirit in a restful and introspective state while opening myself to higher consciousness. In this way my spirit can show my mind the information I need to see through my sense of intuition.
Once I reach the part of my being that is internal, I am then able to ask of the Eternal, “What am I meant to learn/know?” After doing so, I let that thought go from my conscious mind, before I drift into a mindful meditation trusting the answer will return to me when I am ready to receive it. Sometimes, it is immediate and sometimes the information arrives much later at an unexpected moment when my mind is again quiet. But, it always comes as a sense of clarity where I can “clearly see” consciously what I couldn’t before.
Here is what came to me.
While Irma was her own event, she also acted as a natural life metaphor bringing me the following message. What worked well in weathering this storm, would also serve well in weathering any other stressful life crisis suddenly blowing in to buffet our sensibilities and our unbalance our sense of being in the world.
In that spirit, here are the Lessons from Irma for Weathering Life’s Storms that I wanted to share. I hope you will bear with me as this blog is a bit longer than usual. Irma had a lot to say.
Looking back, for me, there were three distinct stages of the crisis that sustained intense levels stress over a period of several weeks. Each meted out and merited its own message.
The Arrival of Seriously Significant Storm
Prep and Plan But Be Prepared to Change – over a series of hours and days, it seemed that no matter which way I planned to go to get out the way, Irma’s path followed my every move. This required discarding the plan and making new preps sometimes on the spot multiple times in day. When the wind keeps changing directions it is important to be resilient.
You Can Run, But Nature Runs It’s Course – at the last possible go time, driving what is normally a seven-hour distance northward and inland to Atlanta seemed the best course of action. And, then, Irma locked in her GPS to follow. We ended up at a safer distance from the intensity and a direct hit, but there was going to be no total escape from the storm. Eventually, you are going to have to turn and face the circumstances.
Do Not Hesitate to Ask for Help – there are many people who love me, but assumed I had it handled. What we needed was a place to stay out of the way. When we thought of whom to ask, we hesitated because of the last-minute imposition. Yet, when we called, she was relieved. She had heard we were going in another direction, but that plan had been scrapped the day before while things were moving quickly. She was ready to help. Don’t assume someone knows what you need. Help them help you if they are able.
Don’t Take In the Alarm of Others – while busy planning, re-planning and rebooting those plans, I was trying my level best to stay calm and focused. In that time, I received an incredible amount of messages from folks who were anxious on my behalf. What they mostly transmitted, however, was simply a sense of alarm without specific support that was rational, reasonable or doable. Absorbing all that anxious energy finally sent my own anxiety over the edge taking me off course into a melt down for a short period of precious time. While there a hurricane around you, you do not have to bring the storm into your soul.
Choose Your Planning Partners Wisely – it is simply impossible to think of everything yourself. Look to those who know you best, and whom you know will come through with concise and sound information specific for you and your situation. For me, this was my best friend, who was also my roommate, and who was evacuating with me. In spite of the stress, we worked in sync keeping a synergy to our energy so we could do more than we thought possible. My Mom, from across the country, dispensed some insightful advice through the distance to help sort out some simple solutions to smooth the way and sooth the stress. Carefully choose whom to take along for the ride so you may depend on their ability to help navigate the crisis.
Focus on What is Immediately Important – I always thought I knew everything I would pack and take if we ever had a hurricane on the way. For the all the reasons outlined above this was not my reality. While I did not know which direction I would be heading, what I did know was I needed to be nimble. What that meant was I needed to be able to carry what I brought to manage within my abilities. That realization helped me quickly focus on what was would literally fit into two suitcases, a small tote and my handbag. Turning the lock in the front door, and leaving my car behind as I left, I felt confident I could create a new life from the few things I carried. Letting go of what was helped me lighten the load while traveling toward the unknown.
Note: As an aside, you may be wondering what I brought from my precious stash of essential oils and supplies. I wrote about this in an upcoming companion blog. I thought the lessons I learned there merited their own mention. Look for this followup to publish shortly. In the meantime, you will find some supportive synergies for this blog below.
Find The Time to Keep Your Gas Tank Full – growing up in earthquake country this was a mantra my Dad had drilled into me. You never knew when there would be any kind of personal or environmental emergency and so it is important to be prepared. Irma’s direction for landfall in Florida became apparent as one day drew to a close. By early the next morning, the gas stations in the local area were drying up. I had just filled up my tank the day before for the week ahead and was never so glad I had listened to my Dad. Just as importantly, it was the close of a holiday weekend. I had spent the last few days relaxing and restoring my body, mind and spirit. Having been rested rather than run down was never more important for being able to take the trip ahead. Taking the time to top off your tank of energy reserves ensures you don’t get unexpectedly stuck or sidelined.
What Can Seem Impossible Can Be Possible – if you had told me that we were going to make an arduous trek in the car over 16 hours in one day, I might not have even tried. With my spinal cord injury, and my friend only 8 weeks post major surgery, the notion would have seemed daunting for the two of us. We knew the trip in traffic would take longer than the normal 7 hours and so started out early on a day we hoped we had timed to miss the worst of it. We were wrong. Taking turns resting and driving we crawled forward mostly in middle lane to see and steer around any upcoming chaos coming our way. Staying focused on navigating the road right in front of us kept the fear at bay for how far we had yet to go. After we safely arrived, we were both dumbfounded at the distance we had covered. A significant journey forward happens one step at a time, with lots of stops and starts, and by focusing your navigation on what is immediately in front of you.
Anchoring While Weathering the Storm
Restore Your Power Supply At Every Opportunity – once we arrived in Atlanta, we had two full days to rest, restore and replenish ourselves and our supplies and we took full advantage of the opportunity. Irma arrived on at our doorstep in the evening of day three downgraded to a tropical storm.
While Florida would have weathered that reduced intensity well, this was Atlanta’s first ever experience which she was not built to withstand. Predictions that the high winds would topple massive amounts of old growth trees taking out the power lines on the way down proved correct. (As an aside the dark humor of my mind kept me humming in my head the old Vicki Lawrence song “That’s the night the lights went out in Georgia.”) When you find even small pockets of time, take that time to prepare for the next wave by restoring to shore yourself up again.
Ration Your Energy Between Recharges – the unparalleled force of the storm winds left behind an unprecedented power outage for most of the population of the Atlanta region, as well as other areas of the state. And, backup crews were already handling a one-two punch in Texas after Hurricane Harvey and in Florida following Hurricane Irma.
What that meant for Atlanta was that time and patience were going to have to prevail. For three days we were faced with no electricity to power our sources of outside information including, most importantly, our phones. So, we powered down to battery saver mode and also to the off position so we need only recharge our phones rarely by way of car charger because we also needed to reserve our gasoline. While you are weathering the storm it is important to conserve what energy you have left lest you become totally run down and offline.
Mind Your Mind – sometimes , when we are in crisis mode, our worst enemy is our own mind. We can whip up a host of worries, or we create peace by managing our mindfulness. Repetitive negative thinking creates distress in the mind and stress in the body. Below are the practices that helped me steer back on course when I drifted toward doubt and worry. Ruminating on what may or may not be down the road is a waste of much needed energy.
- Draw On Your Inner Reserves –powering down my connection to outside world cleared the way to cultivate calm in my inner world. Being oddly out of touch also created longer time lags I didn’t always take in my day-to-day world. Here was an opportunity for more spacious periods of meditation especially important at this time get in touch with my own innate wisdom.
- Stay in the Present – when I was connected to the TV and phone, what was coming through was a barrage of gloom and doom. This created a sustained sense of anxiety and a stressful sense of needing to know about things I could not control nor deal with at present: Is the power out at home? How is traffic getting back? Did the water crest the bridge cutting off the route home? Is my roof leaking like the neighbors’ homes? These were all important questions, but without answers days in advance. With the power out I just needed to focus on what was important in that moment.
- Gratitude Helps Get You Through – when my mind did wander to the worst case scenario, I would start to feel overwhelmed. So, I refocused my mind on large and small mercies. I was safe. I had a place to stay. A comfortable bed in my own room. Hot water. Temperatures in the area were cool. My best friend was with me. Folks were looking in on us and helping how they could. My things were insured. I had what was most important with me. I had work I enjoyed and family and friends I love. I could start again.
- Use Your Imagination For Visualization when I found myself imagining the worst, it only created worry. Instead, I would visualize what I wanted to see as a good outcome. I also used my mind’s eye to see peaceful pictures that would soothe the spirit. Regardless of what I would find later, I had to the power to choose to change the channel on the pictures I was seeing in the present time.
Small Mercies Can Help You Feel Whole – at one rest stop along the way, I got a good look at myself in the mirror. After three days of panicky prepping, a poor night’s sleep, a quick and early departure and many demanding hours on the road, I indeed looked and felt like an evacuee. My clothes had been grabbed for comfort not style and now felt grubby. My hair was dirty and in disarray. I had been sweaty from the heat and stress. And, I was exhausted and undernourished from snacks at short gas station stops.
By the time we finally reached Atlanta, I couldn’t have felt further away from my own sense of humanity. I nearly cried with relief when I discovered there was a tub in the guest bath, complete with Epsom salts and bath gel so I could take an aromatic bath to ease my bones and spirit before sleep. When you are under duress some things, no matter how small they may seem, can contribute to your sense of self when you need it most.
On that note:
- Little Luxuries Are Important –bringing only things that I could carry meant keeping it simple for my toiletries. Yet, as I was grabbing to go , I also instinctively popped in two little luxuries that would fit – the sumptuous face serum and cream set I had just purchased. It wasn’t about the money. It was the intuitive need to have something nice to help support my sense of self when things seemed down.
- Pack More Underwear Than You Think You Will Need. Seriously. I’m not sure there is a life lesson here except that your mother was right. I underestimated how long I would be away and what my circumstances would be in Atlanta. When the power finally came back on there in the middle of the night — bringing back to life the washer and dryer — it was literally just in time for me to refresh my supply to shore up my sensibilities.
The Aftermath of The Storm
Make Way for Your Own Disaster Relief – After a week away, when I finally arrived home, I found myself feeling like washed up debris from the storm surge. My natural energy flow was spent and my spirit felt scattered to the four winds. My thought patterns were short-circuited making it hard to concentrate and recall things.
With my brain not fully functioning, I had to keep asking what day it was and couldn’t complete thoughts and sentences. Emotionally, I was torn between wanting to put everything away and be back to “normal,” or to keep everything packed “just in case.” In talking with several others, this shared experience seemed a common occurrence that was taking some time and support to shake off.
I recalled, on our way north to Atlanta, the only vehicles heading south were the convoys of military and power repairmen setting up to be in position for the aftermath of the storm’s wrath. On the return trip home we were again accompanied on the road by more convoys of military and power repair trucks, as well as disaster relief organizations. Over the next few weeks, they were everywhere getting the population back on the grid and it was a timely reminder that I needed to do the same to get myself up and running personally. It is vital in the aftermath to take the time to attend to whatever restoration and rejuvenation you need to shore up your sense of wellbeing in your whole being.
Over the next several days, the sky was blue and clear. I slept, took hot showers, ate hot meals, gathered groceries and the gardeners came on schedule. Though I was starting to feel a sense of grounding, I needed a greater sense of support.
As always, aromatherapy can be of great comfort during times of crisis to support restoration, self care and repair.
Below are the synergies I rotated through my diffuser, during the post-crisis mode, that helped me the most to decompress. For a look at what I brought with my on the road as an aromatherapy crisis care kit, please look for the follow up blog coming shortly.
After the Storm Synergy
2 drops Fragonia Taxandria fragrans
2 drops Eucalyptus Dives* Eucalyptus dives
1 drop Lemon Myrtle* Backhousia citriodora
*These were released as part of Plant Therapy’s Oil of the Month Program. Check back to see if they will stocked for general sale.
This synergy helped me rebalance in my energy flow, uplift my spirit, focus my thoughts, gently jump-start my sense of vitality, clear the air and my respiratory system, and ward of some threatening scratchiness and sniffle that were threatening.
Additionally, Plant Therapy had just released their new Chakra Synergy line to help create balance in our wellbeing. I chose the following:
Grounded Foundation – this helped me to pull my scattered energy back into my body and rebalance and reground while help to soothe the spirit. I used it with the affirmation “I am safe. All is well.”
Self Manifestation — though sometimes we have no control over which way the winds will blow us, we are empowered in how we deal with the storm. I used this synergy with meditation to replenish this sacred center of empowerment to reaffirm and remember that I can do more than I ever thought possible.
My wish for you is that your journey always be smooth. Should you run into stormy weather, my hope is that you will find some inspiration in these “Lessons from Irma for Weathering Life’s Storms.” Knowing our own situations and needs are unique, I would love hear back from you on what you have learned in working your way through your own life’s storms. You never know who you might help!