Meditation Helps You Navigate Crises

It can help reduce psychological distress even when you are dealing with a fire

Sweta Vikram

A couple of weeks ago, just as I was about to log into our video call for the team meeting, I heard a woman scream, “Fire! FIRE! FIRREEE!” I could tell that the sound came from one of the apartments, not the streets. When you live in a New York City high rise, you hear a lot more than you’d like to on some days. A few minutes later, fire trucks showed up. I have never seen so many firemen. I saw at least a half a dozen stretchers, and EMTs rushing around them. Cop cars and blocked streets. Traffic rerouted, sirens blazing. It was a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie.

I told my team that I’d be five minutes late as I needed to figure out what was going on. Was it our building on fire? Did we need to evacuate? I tried calling the reception and my husband texted the staff in the building. But nothing… They were busy ensuring the building and its residents were safe. I took a deep breath and continued with my day because to me no news was good news in this scenario.

Finally, at around 3 p.m., a neighbor shared a picture: the apartment three floors above us was in flames. I had probably heard the female occupant of the apartment scream “Fire” earlier in the day. I don’t know for sure. The building sent out a newsletter updating us on what had transpired and what was being done to restore safety and sanity.

After work, I had school that evening, and that included a complicated quiz. Because the elevators were not operational, and the stairwells flooded, I couldn’t step out of the apartment. So, I exercised at home, cooked dinner, and then sat in my classes. My sleep didn’t get affected. Our friends and family asked, “How are you so calm? How do you remain focused when your building is on fire?”

Over the course of the week, I chatted with our neighbors and the person who lived next door to the woman whose apartment went up in flames. I listened to all of them vent and asked if they were OK. It was interesting to hear how everyone had collected, accumulated, processed, and manufactured stories differently. Some couldn’t sleep, while others couldn’t eat. The emotional intensity and confusion spoke volumes. People confessed, “I am a mess. This place is dangerous. How do you not seem affected?”

By now, you might be wondering if I was in denial about the crisis and the building being on fire. The answer is no. Throughout the day, I made time to recalibrate, pause, breathe, and meditate. While most assume that meditation increases self-awareness; it can also reduce psychological distress in times like the crisis where our building was on fire. Studies have shown mindfulness meditation can positively impact your health from reducing stress, controlling anxiety, improving sleep, lowering blood pressure and much more.

The only thing I can control are my thoughts: When it comes to a crisis, we can’t always control what’s happening in the world around us, but we can change how we react to it. It’s easy to get into a reactive mode, want to blame someone, and make up stories because that distracts us from what’s really going on. Bringing the attention back to your breath helps.

People owe you nothing: Everyone wanted answers right away as soon as residents heard the emergency response team was in place. But the reality is that the building can either ensure your safety or the staff can answer your questions. It’s important to accept that you might not get all the answers right away. Don’t let your mind create fictional stories about feeling ignored and abandoned.

Tomorrow isn’t a given: Despite the trauma from the pandemic, most people have forgotten that no one knows what tomorrow holds. Live in the moment, and for the moment, because resistance to it creates suffering. All we have is today. For instance, stressing out about if the building will catch fire again in the future is meaningless. People die in their sleep. You can’t allow mindless fear to paralyze you.

You go where your energy goes: It’s all too easy to be caught up in the stressful energy. But how does that help? Instead of obsessing about “Why is this happening to me,” try focusing on being alive and how you are going to make that count.

Reconnect with what really matters: Every crisis teaches us a lesson if we choose to see it. We had so many people reach out, pray for us, offer us their homes to stay and much more. I felt so loved and protected. The relationships we have built and nurtured over the years…that also helped me feel centered. Find what grounds you.

Take crises as an opportunity to grow. Nothing lasts. And since change is unavoidable, we can remind ourselves of this and repeat, “This too shall pass.” Meditation can help you in this journey of transformation.

When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace” ~ Anonymous