We all face situations when we feel we have no control, feel trapped, and are sure we are powerless. Our emotions and negative thinking predict failure, and we can doubt our ability to carry on.
How do we respond to those situations? For the most part, we strive to face them with courage. But often the hardest part of those situations is knowing how to deal with our painful thoughts and feelings. Fear is so powerful. It can be paralyzing. Is there something stronger with which we can subdue it?
Amanda Lindhout, author of “A House In the Sky”, is a true survivor. At age 27, Amanda, a reporter, was kidnapped in Somalia and spent 460 days in captivity, in unthinkably cruel conditions. While in this situation, her survival literally depended on being able to re-frame her thoughts and feelings, since she had absolutely zero control of her own environment. Her account, while harrowing to read, points to two fundamental survival skills: counting her blessings with gratitude, and learning to self-soothe.
She writes that she would daily review small things to be grateful for: “my family at home, the oxygen in my lungs,” the fact that one of her captors “set my food down on the floor instead of throwing it at me.”
Starving, feverish from multiple infections due to injuries, and in total darkness, she still managed to harness the power of her mind.
She would imagine a “house in the sky,” in which “the voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking.” This voice, the voice of her true self, her unflinching spirit, asks, “In this exact moment, are you O.K.?” Her answer? “Yes, right now I am still O.K.”
These two practices allowed her to withstand her fear and isolation. Soothing herself with the fact that she was still O.K., despite the trauma, meant that she was surviving everything her captors threw at her. Gratitude for small blessings allowed her to feel peace.
In the privacy of her own brain, once she accessed her true spirit and will to live, nothing could touch her.
What a beautiful example for all of us: in spite of our circumstances, we can re-direct emotions and beliefs that are not serving us, and by reminding ourselves that we, too, are O.K., we can nourish our human spirit .