I have stared death in the face. I have been in hospital intensive care units and watched as my loved ones were taken off life support and nature was left to do what nature is going to do to all of us eventually.
Going through stressful and traumatic times is difficult by definition. Our minds and bodies react to feelings of insecurity by pulling in and constricting in preparation of fight, flight or flee. Our defenses are up, we find ourselves full of fear, sadness and – often times for me – anger and rage.
I have been through unsettling times before and it never is easy. The best way I have found to settle myself in unsettling times is to take my refuge in the timeless. The “timeless” are those things in my life that have stood the test of time and endured. They have continued through the human difficulties of old age, sickness and death. They help generate a sense of safety when the world feels unsafe, threatening and scary.
I remember there was a small green space in the hospital where my brother died. It seemed almost forgotten, maybe somewhat abandoned. I never saw anyone else there. We were only at the hospital for a few days but the place felt like a pressure cooker. The reality I was living was too heavy and hard to accept. So, I would go to that green space and simply look at the tree there in the center of it. That tree felt timeless, outside of the situation I was living. It had been there before I came and would be there after I left. It wasn’t broken or shattered. It wasn’t full of fear and grief. It simply stood.
Nature is perhaps my greatest source of that sense of timelessness in my life: forests of old growth trees, the mountains, red rock canyon formations and the oceans have all been places of refuge for me in difficult times.
Ancient wisdom can also help when times seem too hard to bear now. I was a history minor in college; it may seem like a odd partner to my aerospace engineering degree but I’ve always loved history and often find my peace and refuge in historical writings. The Dhammapada, the Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching and The Bible have all given me solace through the years.
Tradition can feel so comforting when life is uncertain. Lighting incense and taking a bow in the same way that monks have done for thousands of years can help you feel stable and safe. Reading and chanting the verses of a holy text can transport your mind out of all the things that you fear today and connect you to generations before you who read these same verses and sang these same chants.
I am writing this post in an extremely uncertain time for my family. I live at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. My job has told me to telecommute, my children have school canceled for six weeks and my husband is a health care worker who can’t telecommute and has to help doctors deal with the wave of patients coming in.
In this uncertain time, I turn to the nearby forest path often. I look to the sky and the clouds as they pass overhead. Then I turn my eyes to the writings of those who’ve gone before me and I find a few moments refuge and safety in the timeless.