Dealing with the Boston Marathon and Other Disasters – Some musings on finding peace in the presence of the unthinkable

Solidarity with Boston

There’s no disaster that can’t become a blessing, and no blessing that can’t become a disaster.” – Richard Bach

Yesterday I watched in horror and dismay, along with much of the nation and the world, at the events in Boston.  I was born in Boston, and have friends and family living in the city.  In addition, I had a few friends running the marathon.  For a few hours I was frantic making sure that all my loved ones were ok.  The events yesterday, as well as recent events in Newtown, Aurora, etc. can really shake our equilibrium and state of mind.  I wanted to share some of my tips for dealing with disasters and other of life’s most trying moments.

Do something: When faced with tragedy of this magnitude, some choose to ignore it. What’s more amazing is that so many act to help.  Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying:

When I was a little boy, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

As Patton Oswalt, the comedian who’s message about the Boston Marathon went viral, pointed out: “[y]ou watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out.”  Also, within hours thousands of Bostonians had offered their place to stay to people displaced by the bombs.  This generosity and helping spirit has not been unique to this situation… people have showed the enormity of the human spirit in response to Hurricane Sandy, Katrina, the Earthquake in Haiti, 9/11, the tsunami in Asia, etc. When faced with tragedy and human suffering, most people want to help however they can. And this giving feels good, makes you feel as if you have some control over your world, and helps you to regain your sense of equilibrium and peace.  Here is a link to an article on ways you can help out in this Boston Marathon situation:

Turn off the news: I felt a bit guilty when I turned off CNN and decided to stop watching news of the disaster, but I know that it is one of the healthiest things to do. Staring at the pictures of destruction and suffering does not help anyone. It’s paralyzing and it keeps attention focused on how bad things are. The news cameras focus on the worst of the worst (it makes for better television). It is not necessarily (and more often is not) an accurate portrayal of the situation on the ground.

I know personally that whenever there are fires or mudslides in Los Angeles, I get frantic phone calls from friends and family around the country and the world asking if I’m ok. Based on the news coverage, they all imagine that I have flames lapping at my heels and I and all my fellow Angelenos are all running in terror from the flames. While a small percentage of the city does deal with these issues, the vast majority of us are fine and going about our lives as if nothing were happening.

Instead of watching the news, turn your thoughts to positive intentions or prayers for the betterment of Boston and those affected by this tragedy. Visualize the next year’s race bigger and better than ever before.  See those harmed by the bombs returning safely to their loved ones.  Envision an epidemic of peace and love coming forth as result of this episode.  There, isn’t that better to think of than that parade of horrors you see on the news shows?

Meditate: Meditation helps quiet your mind and tune you into the peace that surpasses all understanding. In meditation you can tune in to that still small voice that lies beyond the hysteria and despair, the voice who knows that in all, all is well. This calm stillness lies within you, and when you tune into it you know that you can handle anything.

Realize That “Disasters” Have Blessings Too: Disasters may and often are blessings in disguise. It is hard to imagine the blessings arising from this situation in Boston, but as Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, tells us, humans are notoriously bad at predicting what situations will make us happy. We suffer from impact bias — we think that different outcomes are more different than they actually are. In fact, studies have shown that major life traumas have zero significant impact on happiness 3 months later. A happy person, tends to remain a happy person even after losing her home or the use of her legs. An unhappy person tends to remain unhappy even after winning the lottery or getting that coveted job.

Can disasters have blessings? I have a friend who was sent to war in Iraq… not something she was thrilled about. There, she met the love of her life, who would eventually become her husband. I know of a young man who lost his legs in a boating accident. From his hospital bed he started a foundation to make sure that all children in this country have access to prosthetics. He feels lucky to have had this situation. He won a CNN Heroes award and he found his life’s calling. For me, getting fired when I was five months pregnant led me to coaching and a career much more in alignment with who I am.

When I think of Boston I try to think about the hidden blessings. The loves and friendships to be formed, the opportunities for growth and healing, the people finding their life’s calling, the coming together of a community and a nation in shared humanity.

How do you find peace when faced with disasters? Please share in the comments.


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