Storm Shelter

This week’s post is adapted from a chapter from my forthcoming book, The Heart of Reiki, which my publisher has just told me will be available by the end of February.

Storm Shelter

by Susan Downing

I grew up in northern Illinois, in tornado country.  This is the way I remember my childhood summers: the sky would darken with storm clouds and the winds would come up.  We’d check the TV or radio, and if they’d announced a tornado warning, we’d take refuge in the basement and ride out the storm in that safe space, coming back out only when the danger was past and the sky had cleared.

Similarly, in the course of our daily lives, emotional storm clouds or even tornados can come upon us, either with or without advance warning.  Just as my family would ride out atmospheric disturbances by taking cover in the basement, making more intensive use of our given practice – whether that’s Reiki or meditation or another concentration- or healing-based practice – can help us make it through emotional storms.

But if our practice is going to help us in this way, we need to notice an approaching storm early enough that we can seek the safety of our practice before we’re swept away by emotions that can harm both us and others.  Each of us has our own warning signs that can clue us in to an approaching storm, but two of the most common signs that some kind of emotional upheaval is building up are that you suddenly experience either: a strong negative emotion or irritability or antsiness, often seemingly for no reason, a response so unexpectedly strong that you might even ask yourself, hey, what’s that all about?; or growing muscle tension or physical pain that seems to have come out of nowhere and can’t be attributed to any injury or unusual activity.

Although you might not feel highly distressed when you begin to experience these sensations, they often signal that a larger emotional storm could be bearing down on you.  If you hunker down with your practice now, instead of waiting until you’re feeling more upset, your discomfort might fade without escalating. I think this is the biggest challenge – recognizing the warning signs before you feel like a total basket case, when you can still have the presence of mind to take steps to help calm your body and mind.

Assuming you’ve found yourself in this pre-storm state, what can you do to help yourself move through it so that your own discomfort will be at a minimum and you can avoid drawing others into your turmoil?  The basic idea is simple: take refuge in whatever practice skills you’ve developed that help soothe and calm you.  If you know Reiki, now’s the time to step up your practice and do more Reiki for yourself than usual, even lots more than usual, as much as you need to do in order to gain some calm. The same goes for meditation or yoga or any other physical practice you engage in regularly.  You probably have an idea of what helps soothe you, so do that.  Take a long walk, take a hot bath. Call a friend for some moral support. Call your therapist. If physical pain is involved, call your doctor and ask whether you should get checked out.  Ask a friend to send you some Reiki or do some hands on.  If you go to someone for Reiki or massage or other energy healing sessions, now’s the time to make an appointment and go!  Don’t wait!  In other words, take extra good care of yourself.

Now, these are all great ways to respond when you feel a storm brewing inside you, but it’s not always easy to do.  First of all you have to remember that you have your practice – or friends and skilled practitioners – to help you.  I can’t tell you how often my Reiki friends, students and clients have been really upset about something, and when I ask whether they’ve been doing Reiki for themselves, they stop and think and say, “Oh.  No, I haven’t. I didn’t think to do that.”  So, remembering you have tools that can help you is the first step.  Actually using them is the second step.

What you’ll find when you’re able to do this is that these storms have a predictable cycle.  There’s the initial emotional or physical tension that tends to build to the point where you can feel really lousy – you may feel so angry or hurt or despairing or uncomfortable that it’s hard to believe that any of this could possibly help, because everything seems so intense that it’s hard to imagine it will ever end!  But if you trust your practice and give it the chance to help you, what you’ll find is that the feelings that are distressing you naturally rise and fall in a cycle.  Although you might worry that they would never end on their own, you’ll see, as you go through this cycle a couple of times, that the feelings generally start out mild, then get stronger and then eventually fade away.  And the more intensively we practice, the more quickly we go through the whole process.

But we rarely notice the fading part of the cycle, because we generally don’t have the patience to just sit there in the middle of discomfort.  We tend to want to run away from it or do something to get rid of it.  Medicate, self-medicate, distract ourselves with television or some other mind-numbing activity.  But by sitting quietly with your discomfort as you give yourself Reiki – or meditate or do yoga –  you’re not only allowing that discomfort to fade: you’re also beginning to form the habit of tolerating uncomfortable sensations.  (I’ll write next time on why this is a useful skill to develop.)

Now, even if you have a practice to fall back on in the midst of turmoil, it’s not always easy to move through a period of discomfort or unhappiness or anger in this way, especially if you haven’t recognized it early on and it’s gotten more intense.  If this happens, you might be so emotionally or physically uncomfortable that you feel you just have to do something to bring some kind of resolution. But what will help most at this point is hunkering down in your metaphorical storm shelter of Reiki or meditation or contemplation and doing your best to allow the discomfort to be there without trying to resolve or change anything.  Tolerating the discomfort and allowing yourself to ride out the entire cycle of rising and fading negative emotions will actually help you get to the point where you’ll feel your disturbance fade and see relief and happiness replace it.  It will happen on its own if you can just hold tight and stick to your practice.

In my next post I’ll talk about what’s to be gained by allowing yourself to go through this uncomfortable process instead of resisting it.   But for now, I hope these hints will help you begin to recognize approaching storms and think about how to weather them more easily using whatever practice skills you already have in place.

1 Comment »

  1. Blog » Storm Shelter – Part 2 said,

    January 27, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

    [...] my last post, “Storm Shelter,” I wrote about how stepping up your practice – whether that’s Reiki or yoga or meditation or [...]

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