Recently here in Los Angeles, our beautiful mountains from Topanga to Big Bear were on fire. Raging wildfires tore through the sage and the wild sumac that go up like firecrackers from this long drought we've been in. I watched from a half mile away as great, chugging helicopters filled to the brim, dumped their loads of ocean water on burning, smoking hillsides. I watched in awe as these great flying machines were pushed around by the hot, dry, wicked winds of Santa Ana that emerge every October like clockwork here in the City of Angels. Our beautiful heroic firemen could barely keep up.

Friends of mine were evacuated and fought the fire with their garden hoses. Fortunately, all of the people I know personally are fine, just beat up emotionally and psychically. But many did not fare as well. Thousands up and down Southern California were displaced, hundreds of homes burned to the ground, and many more were damaged badly.

When we have a crisis, whether natural or personal, how we handle our stress makes a difference in how we move through the experience and also how we remember it.

If stress isn't processed it can become a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome like vets returning from war or natural disaster survivors. The compressed and relentless tension from a long endurance test of worry leaves an indelible impression on our lives. Anxiety and fear, that can range from hope to despair, takes us on an emotional roller-coaster ride that can leave a permanent mark on our psyche and photographic-like imprint in our unconscious minds, where just the smell of smoke from a nearby chimney can produce a panic attack.

This goes for any stress. Whether it be the stress of school exams or job worries, relationship problems or health concerns, stress takes a toll on our health and how we age.

By listening to our bodies we can learn better how to manage stress. We can do this by breathing deeply and consciously. By conscious breathing we can stay present to our experience so that we can process it. As David Viscott, M.D., a wonderful friend and mentor said to me so profoundly when I was seventeen, "Mental health is determined by our ability to stay emotionally current." I never forgot this and it has proved to be true. What we can't feel, we can't heal. It becomes the unconscious material of our life that leaks and spurts out unexpectedly. We wonder, how did this happen to me, because we don't see it coming, because it's unconscious.

A willingness to stay aware, by talking about it, crying about it, feeling about it, are all parts of the various stages of healing. And it all starts with the breath. Holding our breath is a way to feel in control. It stops us from consciously feeling what we are feeling. The feelings are still there, we are just holding them back. How many times have I heard my clients say they are sorry for crying, as if they have done something wrong. Crying is breathing. Crying is feeling. Laughing is feeling. Understanding is feeling. When we feel, we start to heal.

This process of breathing and feeling is a choice to experience our life with our heart's wide open. We are choosing to live largely and fully. We are fully engaged and awake to our experience - come what may!

By breathing, by staying conscious, we are making a choice. It is the opposite of reacting. It is a choice to respond. It is giving ourselves the time to decide how we want to respond. We can than choose how to respond from a world of choices instead of the knee-jerk reaction that just happens. The breath then becomes a catalyst both physically and symbolically of life force. It says, I want to experience my life fully and deeply, and we breathe it all in.

When you find yourself in a stressful situation remember to breathe. It will help you get centered and evaluate what is happening around you better. Your mind will be calmer and you can make the decisions that you need to. You become like a lighthouse in a storm. This lets you stay centered, relaxed and ready, clear and perceptive, so that whatever your next step is, it is taken from a place of connectedness and your inner knowing. You literally light the way for yourself and for others.

11/5/2007 8:00:00 AM
Diana Lang
Written by Diana Lang
I am a spiritual teacher and counselor and the director/owner of LifeWorks - Center for Growth in Los Angeles, California. I’ve been teaching meditation and yoga since 1980 and conducts seminars in the United States and internationally on meditation, body awareness, stress reduction, and relationship development. I brin...
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Hi Blue, Blue skies for BlueCat. All is well in the universe. I'm glad you and your family are all fine. ~Diana
Posted by Diana Lang
Thank you for saying so! Sending you lots of etheric blue dots, Diana Lang
Posted by Diana Lang
Thanks Diana. I appreciate you writing about something I can relate to once again. I still have to get my blue dots though. :)
Posted by Neil

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