A whiff of smoke entered my nose.
Was it just a campfire?
I was galloping on my spirited, white Arabian horse, Magic, up a mountain in California. When I turned around, I saw a wildfire was burning its way rapidly through the dry brush from behind me.
I wasn’t too worried, as I could easily find a way down from the other side. Or, so I thought.
When we arrived at the top with a sweeping view across the valley, to my utter dismay, I realized that a ring of fire below the mountain surrounded us.
We surely only had minutes before we would be consumed by raging flames. It seemed there was no way out.
Magic was shaking and rearing up in a panic. I froze in shock. My heart pounded as loudly as church bells in my tiny chest. Fear grabbed a hold of me and chained me tight. I lost balance and almost fell from my horse.
What to do? I did not want to burn up alive, at least not in this life.
Suddenly, I remembered my powerful initiation when I encountered an anaconda snake in the Amazon jungle, which taught me what to do in terrifying moments such as this one.
The felt sense of knowing arose from deep within:
Get totally present, connect, and root in love. You will find a way.
Easier said than done.
I had no choice left. We were out of time.
I couldn’t turn off the fear, so I acknowledged it, felt the sensation for a full three seconds (which seemed like an eternity) and flooded it with breath. I centered into my larger presence by landing in my body and with my breath. I connected down to my belly, my horse, and the earth all in one go. Magic instantly calmed down, he felt the shift.
There was one more thing that had to happen though.
Awareness just isn’t enough, I had to tap into love—which is not easy when under pressure. I connected into my heart by feeling love for my daughter and let it expand to include the ring of fire as well. Surprisingly, I dropped below duality, into the eye of the hurricane, into stillness, and experienced oneness in my whole being with all creation.
At that very moment, my fear dissipated. I knew what I had to do.
Magic and I were in unspoken resonance. He trusted me to guide us through.
Slowly we rode directly toward the heat and flames. It seemed insane. But I felt I was guided by an invisible hand and had faith in this pure intelligence of life.
I found the small openings where the fire had not yet reached. We wove our way step by step through this humongous fire down the hill, not knowing if we would hit a wall of flames around the next corner. But somehow, we never did.
Drenched in sweat, we finally reached the river. There was only one thing to do: jump in. Tears of relief washed through me as Magic dunked his overheated body in the cooling water and shook himself like a wet dog. Slowly we walked home through this rapidly flowing, lifesaving river.
I was utterly grateful to just be alive.
After that experience, I knew in my very flesh and bones that rooting in presence and love is the way—even during the craziest and most frightening of times.
This is what continuously helps me and is my solid ground upon which I stand, especially during these unprecedented times we are facing now. For none of us is exempt from the pandemic, climate change, or collective and personal traumas. Many of us experience confusion, disorientation, terror, anger, pain, shock, and a sense that the rug has been pulled out, throwing us into a whirlwind of emotions and relentless thoughts of worry.
We might wonder what is true in the midst of conflicting messages that are being shouted through the media channels and in our own minds. We may feel overwhelmed, lost as our ship is being tossed mercilessly in this hurricane.
And we may question, “Where is the way home to peace in the midst of all what is happening at once, events over which we have no control?” It is certainly challenging to navigate intense storms when the shores of familiarity and normality are nowhere in sight.
What else helps in times of turbulence and crisis?
Spiritual practice is a goldmine—so are nature and friends. Building emotional resilience, strong navigation, and life skills, plus taking courageous action strengthen those internal muscles, and a good dose of love—every day.
But, let’s not tell others or ourselves not to panic. It only makes it worse. I don’t know how it is for you, but when someone says, “Calm down, relax,” I only tighten up.
We don’t have to react from fear or build a shrine to it, however, we do need to grow capacities to navigate tough situations. This means feeling our fears and meeting them instead of living from our basic survival brain—to fight, freeze or flee.
Resilience grows when we do not grab onto nor reject any experience and be present with what arises, as the Buddha already taught ages ago.
We practice radically welcoming it all, as resisting what is through denial or disassociating never helps. That would have surely gotten me kicked off my horse.
And then it’s just a matter of taking conscious rides through the smaller fires in life.
>> Turn toward a conflict, the triggers, and the fears until courage bursts through our hearts and our feet stand more and more rooted in loving presence.
>> Practice anchoring in that safe ground when storms and fires are raging in ourselves and our world.
This is how we blaze a new trail together for the sake of all beings when the world as we have known it is ending and a new one hasn’t been born yet.
“Seek not the fleeting safety of this world my friend, but take refuge in the only safety there is. Your heart. The truth itself or call it love.” ~ N. Amadora