Each time I heard an ambulance speed past, I said to myself, “It’s a little like a mindfulness bell, tuning us in to what is essential
One Day, it Wasn’t Enough
Where I live in Brooklyn, near Fort Hamilton Parkway, there was much less traffic. Except for the ambulances. On that Friday, I lost count. There were often two at a time, the sirens layered in an unsettling melody. The stress of the day compounded with the sirens. I became overwhelmed. Again.
Relentless Empathy Was Triggering Past Trauma
I turned toward self-inquiry.
I asked, "What’s here?" Grief. Tenderness.
"What am I trying not to feel right now?"
Hopelessness, helplessness. Worry and vulnerability...
They all belong. These feelings are uncomfortable, but appropriate to the moment. So, I made space for them. Then, the sadness was still there, but the suffering reduced.
Cognitive Dissonance is a Protective Response
I would find my mind elsewhere, suddenly. Detached from my body, arguing with reality. This dissonance is a normal, protective response to the trauma we're going through right now. Still, it wasn't something I was used to or comfortable with.We need anchors to maintain a connection to reality. Resistance to what’s true will only cause more suffering. We can toggle towards the present moment and away, taking breaks when it is just too much. I do this through my yoga practice.
Reframing and Allowing
I couldn't control any of it, but I could reframe. I could choose what to focus on. I could choose to expand and pay attention to the positive, without bypassing the very appropriate uncomfortable feelings. Instead I allowed them to wash over me in waves.
"I can hold space for all of it," I said to myself.
"This belongs... Look for the helpers."
The Sound of Hope and Courage
I asked myself, "What does the sound mean?"
It means we have a functioning society. It means people are receiving care and giving care. It is the sound of hope and courage, as well as compassion. The first responders in the ambulances are saving lives. It means there are people acting heroically all around us, all day and night.
A Visceral Reminder of the Helpers
In our own way, we’re all helpers in this crisis. For those of us who are being asked to practice non-doing, we can get stuck in a freeze response to stress, with no outlet. The threat is real, and still, we can choose how to be with it.
By now we know, no matter how dire the news, we have to move. We have to connect. We have to act and we have to live! Helping in some way can benefit the situation as well as your stress levels.Helping. Like the pigeon...
Metabolizing Long-Term Stress
Recognizing that stress is here is the first step towards managing it. You might need to dance and shake every day.
You might need to discharge your tension in other ways:
- Progressively squeeze and release each muscle
- Laugh out loud
- Take a cold shower or hot bath
- Do self-massage by rolling on a ball
- Vigorous exercise
- Challenge your kid to a plank or jumping jack contest…?
What's your go-to way to metabolize your tension so it doesn't build up and cause more suffering?
My Ambulance Meditation Has Evolved
I'm breathing in gratitude for the helpers through the back of my heart... Breathing out lovingkindness through the front of my heart.
- Sending wellbeing out,
- Receiving courage in.
- A long, even inhale,
- A long, even exhale.
I'm toggling between one very true feeling… and another, equally true:
- Helplessness… hope.
- Fear… courage.
- Grief… gratitude.
Expanding Courage and Compassion
I’m no longer trying to avoid the sound, I’m receiving it into my body. I’m expanding the courage and compassion that's already there within me.
Next time you hear the sirens, please give it a try. Let’s hold hope and trust together. Let's support each other.
Soon, the birds will be adding their song again.
At night, when you're trying to sleep, I recommend white noise or earplugs. Sometimes, we just need a break.
This meditation was originally published on the Accessible Yoga Blog
, April 8, 2020. May it be of service.