When your life feels like it’s getting to be too much ... simply stay in the “I” of the hurricane.
My life feels like way too much right now. My business has been pushed to the breaking point by the pandemic. I’ve been having chronic lower back pain and it’s really wearing me down. As if all that wasn’t enough, my wife needs surgery to determine if a mass in her abdomen is cancerous. What do you tell people like me who just feel totally overloaded?
Kevin: I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a difficult time in your life. When we are struggling with many stressors at the same time it’s easy for our thoughts to get into loops of fear, regret, or hopelessness. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) tells us that we need to practice replacing such loops with better thoughts. This can feel forced or fake to some people. Others just have difficulty coming up with healthier thoughts. When I’m really struggling, I search for a metaphor to guide my mind and spirit to a better place.
Your email made me think of an image I turn to often: “i” is a hurricane and “I” is the eye. This line came to me in writing a nested poem (see box). The small-i version of us is quite expert at generating fearful, stressed-out, depressing thoughts. The small-i self becomes part of the swirling storm in which we are caught when life feels like too much.
The large-I version of us is the eye of the storm. That Self is capable of observing the storm swirling all about us both in the outer events of life and in our small self’s stressed-out approach to them. The large Self is the only version of us that knows how to return over and over to “I accept that this is here now.” But the large-I does not stop with noticing our judgments that life should be other than it is. It has the wisdom to act on whatever needs to be acted on from a centered, nonreactive place.
Inside the eye of any hurricane over the ocean there are many water birds flying around. Where else would they go in a hurricane? Imagine you are a bird near the west coast of Africa that decides it is time to migrate to South America. You find yourself in a hurricane and choose the sensible thing: Stay in the eye. You travel with the eye until it makes landfall. That means you might follow the eye of the storm all the way to Florida. So much for a direct flight to South America!
That’s what times of great difficulty do to us. They take our lives to places we had no intention of going nor ever imagined going. Few people would voluntarily say to life: Bring me a huge storm so that all my plans are disrupted and I end up somewhere I never imagined. But when we are in a hurricane with a track we cannot know or predict we are wise to stay in the “I” and let life take us wherever it is taking us.
How do we stay in the “I” when life is a hurricane?
During intense times we need to notice that many times per day, perhaps hundreds, our small-i minds will meet difficulties in a way that is not helpful. This is because the small-i mind is way off-center. It is caught in the storm’s spiraling winds. Small-mind’s fear does not help us find courage. Its protesting of life’s difficulties does not help us center ourselves in radical acceptance. Its hopelessness does not help us act wisely. When we notice we are in the swirling storm of the small-i mind, we can breathe and do our best to return to the “I” of the storm—to the larger Self that is the only version of us that knows how to be in the storm with acceptance, courage, and openness to where life is taking us.
In difficult times each fearful thought is like a bell calling us to a brief meditation practice. When we notice fearful thoughts, we can breathe as if we have a direct connection to the highest virtues available. We realize that there are now two energies in us simultaneously: fear and courage. Courage doesn’t wait for fear to pass. It is present at the very moment fear is trying to control the mind.
In talking about the hurricane
image recently with a patient, it
occurred to me that even though
human beings are not able to bilocate
our bodies, this staying-in-the-I-of-
the-storm idea involves a kind of
bilocation of the mind. You don’t need
to get all of your mind to the “I” of the storm. More realistically, you will observe that you are in two places at once. Your small
self is like a bird that keeps trying to learn how to fly in hurricane-force winds. Another part of your awareness is a bird that has a knack for noticing when it is in the hurricane winds and orienting itself to fly toward the center of the storm as often as necessary.
Information in this column is for general
psychoeducational purposes and is not a
substitute for assessment and care provided in
person by a medical or mental health professional.
Explore nested meditation with Kevin Anderson ...
The apparently faulty grammar of this nested meditation is an attempt to write about two versions of each of us, small-i self and large-I Self, as if observing them from a third van- tage point. The last line, admittedly a bit of a mind-bender, is a playful take on the “love your neighbor as yourself” dictum I heard so often in my upbringing.
i is a hurricane.
i is a hurricane, I is the eye.
i is a hurricane.
I is the eye
of any storm you’re in.
i is a hurricane.
I is the eye
of any storm. You’re in-
vited to be the I in the eye of your neighbor’s i.
From Now Is Where God Lives © 2018 by Kevin Anderson