Flourishing in the Madness

I’ve been anxious lately, finding it hard to concentrate and stay present. A low-level depression follows me around like a faithful dog, nipping at my heels. The sad fact is this. Our collective survival circuits are in a perpetual state of alarm these days, and that’s the new normal we are all learning to adapt to.

I want to share a recent difficult experience with you…and no worries…all is well now. Hopefully, my story will help you navigate these highly threatening and uncertain times with a little more grace and hope. Together we can flourish in the madness.

On August 17, one of the ridges behind our little adobe home in the Sangre de Christo mountains of Santa Fe burst into flame. We were warned to pack for evacuation, an activity that my husband Gordon and I have practice in. Our last home in Boulder, CO was at the epicenter of what was, in 2010, the worst wildfire in Colorado history. Our mountain aerie was burned, and it took 4 years to rehabilitate. 169 other homes were burned to the ground. Some 450 additional homes went down in the floods and mudslides that followed.

Ten years later, facing a blaze in our new Santa Fe home, scenes from the prior fire triggered our body’s alarm systems. Thankfully, we know how to breathe slowly in through the nose and out through pursed lips, calming down body and brain so that we can think rationally. Fortunately, firefighters were on the scene immediately, risking their lives for us all for weeks on end. Almost 300 brave men and women battled our ferocious Medio fire through extreme drought and unseasonably high, record setting temperatures.

The smoke was intense, as was the uncertainty of whether the fire could be contained before it burned down our little village of Rio En Medio. For two weeks it was hard to sleep, wondering whether we’d be awakened and have to evacuate down our long, winding, one lane county road. The Santa Fe National Forest briefed us on their Facebook page live, for one hour every night for weeks. They were heroic, efficient, inspiring, and did a tremendous job educating us about our fire and all fires.

Having reliable information, and trusting that experienced people have your back, is critical in times of uncertainty. I wish our country could say the same about the Covid epidemic.

But lest I get ahead of myself, we were not the only people fighting fire in these past few weeks of August and September 2020. What a year! The southwest and west of our country are in the midst of a historic conflagration. My heart goes out to California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and many other hot spots. On August 18, when we were first poised to evacuate, my son Dre’s home in the mountains of Santa Cruz burned to the ground in a horrific firestorm- the CZU lightning complex fire. Fortunately, thank God, the family is safe.

Dre is a survivor, as is his wife Nadia. They are both grieving, but coping well in the aftermath of the fire, even though they have lost their home and all their treasures…even the collection of baby clothes that my 11-year old grandson Henry Bodhi was saving for his own children. Staying in touch with them, and my former husband who lived in an apartment in their home, has been both a heartbreak and a lifeline.

Meanwhile, I had two cataract surgeries in August, weighing the risk of smoke to my eyesight daily. The smoke has been insanely intense…covering the inside of our home with soot despite 4 HEPA filters going 24 hours a day.

We would have evacuated from the smoke to the home of friends, but for our two big standard poodles- 8-year old Mitzi and 11-month old Lola- Destroyer of Shoes and Digger of Holes. “Don’t worry about our garden,” our friend Heidi assured us…but I imagined standing guard 24 hours a day lest Lola devour Heidi’s beautiful sanctuary.

So, we waited it out at home in the apocalyptic gloom. Meanwhile, we had an unremitting and totally ridiculous string of phone failures, Internet failures, plumbing emergencies, car emergencies, crumbling stucco, dental crises, and unimaginable numbers of daily frustrations. What next? Is this a test from the Universe? Can I learn to keep my center no matter what is happening? At least that’s a positive higher perspective. It has helped.

All the small frustrations of life get magnified when they are happening against the backdrop of a serious pandemic, home schooling kids while working at the same time, climate change disasters, racism, and the unbelievably insane political debacle unfolding moment by moment.

I’m sorry to kvetch. Other people, of course, have it a lot worse. So many of us have lost loved ones to Covid, lost their own health, homes, jobs, income, or dignity. Too many of us don’t have enough food for ourselves or, most terribly, for our children. Thousands upon thousands of people are refugees from the fires- a tribe of dispossessed wanderers. But whatever smaller troubles you or I may be experiencing also matter.

We can’t compare ourselves to others. Whatever your own experience may be, give yourself permission to name it, grieve it, and learn from it.

My mother used to say that when it rains, it pours. Happily, we just had 24 hours of decent rainfall- the first significant rain in a very long time. As a result, our Medio fire is now 95% contained. That feels like a miracle. The sun just came out! The sun. And the air is fresh and clean.

Flourishing in times of madness doesn’t mean being a Pollyanna. It means looking for signs of goodness when and where you can, cutting yourself a little slack when you’re too exhausted to be your best self, and taking refuge in loving relationship- with people, pets, or nature. As the old teaching story goes, “What do the monks up in the monastery do all day?…Fall and get up again. Fall and get up again. Fall and get up again.”

I am so grateful to have you, my community, many of whom are old friends and students, to help me get up again. You truly light up my life. Here are a few things that have helped me get through this difficult time. I hope they will be helpful to you and yours as well:

1. Gratitude for things taken for granted. Fresh air. Water. Green plants. Flowers. Nature’s largesse. I am beyond grateful to still have a home. What are you grateful for?

2. The shelter of others. When I can’t hold it together, family and friends lend me their courage and love until I find myself again. I do the same for them. We need each other to get through hard times.

3. Allowing emotions to be what they are, knowing they will eventually blow over. All things arise and pass away again. Nothing is forever.

4. Resting and taking refuge in moments of calm, beauty, and support. By noticing and savoring even the smallest moments of goodness, we continue to build neural circuits of positivity.

5. Music helps when I’m too tired to exercise, meditate, cook, practice lovingkindness, or take care of myself in other active ways. Music allows us to let go and receive. Thanks to dear friend Karen Drucker (https://www.karendrucker.com), whose music is an oasis of hope, love and humanity.

6. A sense of humor. When that fails, I’ll sign up for a funny bone replacement. One day, while obsessing about what shoe would drop next, the image of a fashionably dressed centipede leaving a long trail of tiny slippers came to mind. That image saved the day!

7. A little self-compassion goes a long way. We are all doing the best we can. Refuse to denigrate yourself for being vulnerable.

8. It helps to help others. I’ve been contributing to relief agencies, food banks, and political campaigns. I wish there was more time to volunteer. There isn’t right now, and that’s okay, too.

9. Continue to do what you love- right now that’s teaching online for me. Authentic connection, soul-to-soul, helps us thrive, create, and come out of hard times stronger than before. I never thought Zoom could provide that kind of intimate connection, but it does. (BTW, to read about my programs go to https://joanborysenko.com )

10. Keep the faith. We are on an archetypal Hero’s Journey together: the old order has crumbled; we are in liminal time – the time between no longer and not yet; in the last act of this cosmic drama we will emerge into a more beautiful world of social justice, kindness, and a world that works for all.

Hold that thought! Together we can do it!

Love from Santa Fe,


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