Shelter from the storm–Bob Dylan sang about it and the sirens with their beautiful voices lured sailors toward it. When life deals you one heavy blow after another with no end in sight, seeking shelter may seem like the right thing to do. Here in California with the massive fires overlaid on top of the COVID pandemic, escaping the fires is a necessary act of survival for those in the path of the fire storm and its destruction. Some people have lost their homes and their lives.
On the Monterey Bay, we will soon have winter storms and ocean swell arriving. Ocean-connected birds like brown pelicans come closer to shore and seek protected lagoons to ride out the storm. In the mountains of the American west, elk come down from higher altitudes where the snow is deep and the temperature cold, to find food and more forgiving terrain.
In obvious times such as escaping fire or isolating for a period of time related to COVID-19, seeking shelter is an act of survival. Most of the time, however, when hardship comes, it will be necessary to put on your psychological “armor” and bravely go into the hardship of your life in whichever way it appears—entering the hardship will be a true act of courage. Not to do so will come at a cost to your soul and may prevent you from discovering the next phase of your life.
Avoidance behavior is generally not good for the soul or for the development of character and living your life to its fullest. Avoidance behavior ranges from debilitating addictions to excessive procrastination. Both of these things have destroyed lives or stopped development in ways more impactful than entering and enduring the hardship, and learning lessons that can be discovered there.
Sometimes, seeking shelter is not so much literal (like taking a vacation to a relaxing tropical destination or seeking seclusion in a mountain valley) but it is attitudinal. The shelter that is necessary at these moments is your approach to the metaphorical storm in your life with its inherent darkness, difficulties and risk. At such times, it is important to enter the storm with an attitude of acceptance, fortitude and wariness.
Dreams can provide guidance in this area—knowing when to stand firm and endure versus knowing when to seek shelter. A dreamer dreamt:
I am being threatened and traumatized at work. I wasn’t sure whether to report this, or to endure it. I woke up very afraid.
For this thirty-something year old man, his decision was to stay in his job for the time being and to endure the hardship and tension of “reporting vs. not reporting” the trauma. The dream helped him to acknowledge that he was in fact in such a situation, but that he had a choice. The dream, in presenting the situation in this way, was very valuable and affirming for him, and his changed attitude toward the work situation provided a type of inner shelter, in a way. His fear dissipated.
The mountains around Santa Cruz, California have been on fire for the past one month or so and the fires are only recently contained. A few weeks ago there was one day in particular that was otherworldly–dark black skies tinged with orange in the middle of the day. It was apocalyptic. During this time, firefighters were heading into the burning mountains with axe and shovel, and most importantly the psychological armor needed to battle the flames. The risks of doing this for these men and women are in equal proportion to the flames that they are fighting.
The struggle and weight in the big decisions around entering the metaphorical storms in your life–enduring the heat, plays out time and again in dreams and in life. The choices are not easy, and the right decision for you may come only with great effort, perhaps, but such an effort will prevent a one-sided response that will miss the mark and could even come with great costs.
The mountains ablaze
Men and women dance with flames
Fighting a good fight
© 2020, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.