What a catastrophic natural disaster we’ve experienced here in Houston, Texas. All of us living here, though many of us have weathered countless storms and hurricanes living so close to the Gulf Coast, have never seen anything like it in our life.
There has been wide spread damage from Corpus Christi in the south to Houston and all of its outlying neighborhoods to the north. Today, with Hurricane Harvey finally gone from our area, the sun is beaming, the skies are blue, and there is a sense of hope and gratitude in the air.
The kind of hope and gratitude that I personally sense is a hope for normalcy slowing returning and a devout commitment to rebuilding our city and, gratitude for being alive and safe with my family.
Some of us evacuated, but many of us stayed in our shelter in place at home. For four days (and for others many more) we stayed hunkered down in our homes with provisions and prayers. I had worse case scenario discussions with my own son and talked about survival techniques in rising floodwaters.
Though we are not on the battlefield in a war-torn city, there is much similarity to the effect this natural disaster, and all natural disasters for that matter, has had not just on our physical existence of losing material items and homesteads, but on the dire impact this kind of event has on our hearts and minds, which is akin to being in the crossfires of battle.
Luckily, at least this time, my family and I have been spared the loss of our homes and family members in Hurricane Harvey. However, thousands of families have been displaced and have lost everything except the clothes on their back. And, while I’m able to write to you on my laptop in the comfort of my home, we all share a common thread – the distressing and, in many cases debilitating, impact this event has on our mind and heart.
I’ve grown up on the Gulf Coast and I have weathered many storms. I also have had first-hand experience at losing everything in these kinds of natural catastrophes. When I was five years old we lost everything in Hurricane Alicia. My family and I lived in Galveston at the time. We evacuated and then stayed in a shelter for a short time. We lost our home and all of our possessions, but our family was safe. It took a long time to get back to normal. We lived in a tent on the beach for a couple of months before we had the resources to find a temporary home and move back into living life as we knew it prior to that great storm.
What strikes me about that catastrophic event in my young life is that I remember feeling safe, secure, and loved. Sure, I lost my favorite Strawberry Shortcake bedroom set, I had no toys, and school was out of session, but I had my family, a reasonably comfortable place to sleep, and warm food. But, what really brought everything together is that we created a community with others that were also temporarily living on the beach. We had a complete outside kitchen set up with tarps as walls and fly tape hanging from the tarp poles like an art deco beach inspired wind chime.
We salvaged a few items from our home and used them in the tent and for cooking. Many people pitched in and we cooked food on camping stoves and had community dinners. I’ve talked to my grandmother about it and she recalls that there were elements in this rebuilding phase that were fun. The fun, safety, security, and love came from a sense of community. Who would think fun, safety, and love could be found in such a natural disaster?
Many of us might feel completely overwhelmed and still in a state of shock. That’s completely natural. As I stayed cocooned in my own shelter in place with my son, what I realized was how important community is in relieving distress from an over stressed heart and mind.
My grandmother wasn’t cooking on a camping stove this time with other tenting neighbors, but thankfully with modern technology I was in contact with so many people in my life and could get instant feedback about their safety. It relieved the overwhelming feeling that I was having in my own heart and mind.
If you are reading this and have been impacted by the storm or know of families and friends that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, you are likely experiencing distress without even realizing it. There are a lot of things we can do to help cope with stressors triggered by catastrophic disasters, but what I desire to mainly highlight here is leveraging our relationship to community.
I think the worst thing we can do is hide and think we can rebuild on our own. The homestead and possessions will slowly come back. However, community is the nutritive force that will get us there with a relieved heart and mind. In that light, I offer you a simple, but transformative heart and mind-shift practice.
Disaster Relief for the Heart and Mind – A Personal Practice
When you are feeling overwhelmed and like your brain is in a fog, stop and notice that what you are experiencing is completely natural and normal. Take a moment to close your eyes, steady your breath, and then breathe deeply in and out with intention and purpose, visualizing our community rebuilding together. Commit to seeing the abundance of resources coming in to assist you and our city, and see families and neighbors working together. Sit tall and spread your toes or stand tall and feel your body and your feet steady, supported, and secure. Place your hands on your heart and feel your precious breath. Send a thought of love to someone with each exhale.
Community is built step-by-step, breath-by-breath. It’s the small things that always get us through and take us above and beyond. Whether you are in a position to volunteer your time, possessions, or money to aide those in need or you are accepting these kinds of resources, stop and enjoy the humanness we share with a smile, laugh and a hug.
Authentic human connection will heal all wounds including the battlefield of natural disasters.
We’ve got this Houston!
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea