Weathering the Storm
Storms make oaks take deeper roots
- George Herbert
Current stormy weather makes this a particularly fitting thought to muse about today. When I think about the rainstorms we have had recently in San Francisco I think about the wildness, the wind, the flooding, drains overflowing, roads closed; how everything moves more slowly as people drive more cautiously,yet there are traffic jams and accidents. The streets are empty as people stay inside when they can.
And yet, children love to play in the rain, running jumping and splashing in puddles. The parched earth soaks up the water, snow falls in the mountains and reservoirs begin to fill and continue to do so from the runoff as the mountain snow eventually melts. Plants germinate and thirsty trees roots soak up the water, creating deeper, stronger roots.
We owe our very existence as a planet to storms. I recently read that as the earth was forming, it literally rained for millions of years!!! And yet we often grumble about the rain, acknowledging its importance but annoyed but how it inconveniences us.
We have a similar set of "weather conditions" in our lives as well. Throughout life, we encounter a series of storms within and without. Similar to weather patterns created by climate change, many of the storms we encounter are not of our own making. They may be situations we encounter at work, with family and friends or even strangers we encounter. There are storms not of our making that are going on throughout the world with hunger, wars and all kinds of violence, the refugee crisis, political upheaval and ISIL.
There are also the inner storms that frequently soak us, ones that live within with roots in childhood trauma and/or family dysfunction taking many forms such as shame, low self-worth, anxiety, fear or depression. The inner storms that are the way we know habitually to respond to the outer storms we may encounter or to the old inner storms that flair up continuously or from time to time.
Do you become overwhelmed by the storms in your life, and overflow, flood, drown in the deluge? Or can you imagine learning to swim, to float to bundle up and splash and jump in the puddles, refusing to be overwhelmed or flooded? Can you imagine that the storms you face in your life can help you create deeper and deeper roots, connecting you more securely, more steadily to Life and to your life? Can you imagine that facing the inner struggles/storms can help you become more resilient and teach you about being firmly grounded and rooted in your journey? The next time it storms, I invite you to use this imagery and metaphor to think about your life!
Deep in the sea are riches beyond compare,
But if it is safety that you seek,
Stay upon the shore.
This is the human dilemma: stay where we feel safe and secure or take risks and dive deep to seek hidden treasure. Our brains are wired both for caution and safety and also for innovation, change, growth and risk. Finding or striking a balance between the two is the art of a life well-lived.
We are constantly presented with options to stay in our comfort zone or move beyond it, in both the internal and external worlds. It may not actually be an either/or but a both/and. It's possible to move between staying on the shore, relaxing and enjoying the view, and diving into the waves, with snorkel mask or scuba gear, to explore an entire world that is invisible from the shore.
The most important question may be what is your motivation for either option? Are you staying on the shore out of fear of the unknown or of challenging situations? Or are you truly in your element simply Being an observer, being at peace?
And is your motivation for diving deep a psychological imperative, the curiosity of an explorer, the desire to know and feel more deeply? Or are you driven by a restlessness, a compulsion to flee the peacefulness, the quiet of sitting on the shore?
Perhaps looking at these questions, being honest with yourself about your heart's desire and your motivations, what you may be running from or running toward, is the true diving deep!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley