Stormy Weather

February 26, 2018 by School of Medicine Webmaster

As I am writing this, I am sitting in a hotel room on vacation unable to go outside due to the weather. It’s raining, the wind is blowing hard (with gusts over 60 miles per hour), and it’s cold, a few degrees above freezing. Not ideal conditions for outdoor activities. So what are my choices when it’s like this? Well, I’m sitting in a room, warm and dry. There is nothing I can do about the weather, it is what it is. But I can decide my response to the weather. I could be upset that it has disrupted my plans and I won’t be able to do what I wanted to do today, blaming the weather for ruining my day. I could also be indifferent and not care one way or the other. Or I could be grateful that I’m warm and dry and protected from the elements. I don’t think there’s only one right response to this situation, but it is important to recognize that I do have choices, regardless of what is going on outside.

Watching the wind and the rain also got me thinking about weather as a metaphor for other circumstances. Like many of the challenges we face, we have little control over the weather. What we do have control over is how we respond to it when it happens, and how well we prepare for it before it becomes an issue. When bad weather occurs we can get out of it and seek shelter, just as we can sometimes choose to get out of other difficult situations. We can also be prepared so that we are better able to deal with bad weather in the moment. If we’ve carried an umbrella or brought a warm coat when we go out, we are better prepared for rain or cold weather than if we haven’t. In other circumstances, we can be prepared for different life challenges by paying attention to changing conditions, and responding skillfully. When someone says something to us that we find upsetting, if we’re not careful, we might find ourselves ruminating about what has happened, becoming even more upset. But we don’t have to react this way, magnifying our suffering. Instead, we could notice what’s happened and be aware of how we feel, decide on the best response, and move on.  When we go out in the rain, we don’t have to just get wetter and angrier. Instead, we can notice it’s raining and that we’re disappointed because we hoped it would be a nice day, and then put up an umbrella to not get soaked.

It requires more preparation to avoid having severe weather turn into a calamity. In areas where tornados are common, having a safe place to seek shelter is key, as is building a strong structure out of the way of tidal surges in areas prone to hurricanes.   Similarly, to best be able to deal with other difficult life circumstances we need to prepare ourselves, and one way of doing this is through meditation practice. When we practice, we become more aware of the changing weather in our minds and bodies, and how when we acknowledge the thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that arise and practice letting them be, they often have less impact. Sailors know they can’t sail into too strong a headwind, and when it is extreme they may throw out a sea anchor and drift along with the wind instead of battling it.

With practice, we may also find that there is a place of strength and stillness within us, a place that can provide refuge from the difficulties we are facing, just like in a strong structure during a tornado or a hurricane. Sitting with awareness, allowing our experience to just be as it is, without thinking about it or judging it, or wanting it to be different than it is, can be an internal place of refuge. As with taking shelter in a storm, the storm doesn’t go away, but it can rage outside while we’re safe inside. Similarly, we may find a place of calm within ourselves that allows us to not get so buffeted by the difficult conditions affecting us. After a storm, there may be damage that has to be repaired, and when circumstances are difficult we still may have to deal with loss and grief and other hardships, but perhaps we can do this from a steady foundation that we know will endure rather than a shaky one that we feel may get swept away, taking us with it.


Filed Under: Monthly Musings