A Letter to Your Heart: Three Practices for Times of Tragedy

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 · Leave a comment

It’s almost unbelievable.

The death tolls continue to rise and people’s lives continue to be turned inside out and upside down from historic recent earthquakes, hurricanes, massive fires and the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States in Las Vegas.

These disasters are real and at the same time it brings people together, taps our hearts and creates an outpouring of compassionate action that unveils the best of our humanity.

At the same time, we can get quickly swept up in the stories in our minds that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Our brains are designed to project into the future and attempt to predict the worst case scenarios so we can be prepared.

It doesn’t do us any good to continue in a state of auto-pilot with a hyperaroused nervous system, spreading worry, negativity and catastrophe throughout our social circle. Not only are our storylines a source of suffering, but spreading these catastrophic stories through our social networks creates an emotional contagious of emotional suffering.

We already get enough of that through the news. The news knows that our eyeballs get fused to the screen at signs of danger and plays on it so it can sell more soap. It’s a business and the bottom line is truly to make more money and it knows how to play on our concerns. This is the same for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox news – money has no party loyalty.

But there’s a few practices in times of tragedy to work to balance our minds, soothe our nervous systems and inspire connection.

Step 1: Neutralize the Negativity Bias

One way to work with this negativity bias we all have and one that can grow into a strength – when your mind races, notice the storylines it’s creating and remember, thought’s aren’t facts, not even the ones that say they are.

Step 2: Soothe Grief and Overwhelm

If you’re impacted emotionally by world events (as many of us are) and are facing a lot of grief (as many of us are), first recognize the difficulty of it all – this step can help you wake up. Then practice self-compassion to soothe your own nervous system,  and then you can choose what the next wise action can be.

Here’s a practice called Nourishing Breath to explore:

Step 3: Practice Compassion and Connection

If you feel so pulled practice compassion – get involved in a way that betters the world if you can. Even getting on the internet to research ways you can be a support of whatever cause is impacting you is action of compassion.

You can also practice a Growing Compassion meditation:

To me, the serenity prayer of “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, have courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” helps me wake up to focusing on what matters.

For me, mindfulness helps create the space for the wisdom within to know the difference between reality and story and take action for a better world.

Getting space from our stories is an imperfect practice, but one that’s worthwhile getting into.


Elisha Goldstein

Author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

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