The Lessons of a Hurricane

By Mary Boutieller

Things are settling down in my town after Hurricane Irma, with piles of brush lining the streets of Sarasota. People in Southwest Florida are starting to get back to “normal,” catching up on rest, returning to routines, and feeling the soothing of frazzled nerves. Elsewhere, there are still many people struggling to return to normalcy, those whose losses I can only imagine. In the Keys, Puerto Rico and elsewhere, we keep all of those people in our hearts as they recover from the storms.

While Hurricane Irma was heading toward Florida, I was in Tennessee—on vacation.

We had planned a beautiful hike across the balds, getting up over 6,000 feet elevation, a hike we’ve done twice before. It was supposed to be a blissful, nature-saturated, “get away from it all” kind of hike. That was before I knew about Irma John and I had just finished a four-day hike with friends and, after exiting the woods, learned about the approaching storm. We arrived at the inn we were planning to stay at for a couple of days and turned on the news. Frantic phone calls to loved ones confirmed that the news we were seeing was correct. The hurricane was heading toward Sarasota; heading toward family and friends and all that we cared about in our daily lives.

I’m not proud to say I had a meltdown; but the truth is I really did have an honest to goodness totally out of control meltdown.

I wanted to get in the car, rush home, protect those I love through the strength of my wits and my convictions and my superior planning skills, etc. I wanted to do what I had done for almost 23 years as a firefighter/paramedic—rush in while others ran in the other direction. I wanted to save those I loved, even if it meant risking my own life and John’s too. It took no small amount of effort and reason and compassionate convincing on John’s part (plus a small anchor) to keep me in Tennessee. So instead of rushing home against all reason, we went on our planned hike—four days and 51 miles across some of the most beautiful landscape around. At times, I could appreciate and see and marvel at how beautiful it was. At other times I was consumed with worry and grief for what might happen and openly cried as I looked out at the expanse of mountains.

You see, I’ve always been a get in there and fix it kind of person. I have almost ALWAYS remained calm in the face of adversity and been able to hold it all together—at least until whatever it was, was over. But this time, I felt helpless. There was nothing to do but walk and hope and pray and trust that it would all be okay. I said the metta prayer often as I walked through the woods—wishing that all in the hurricane’s path would be safe and healthy. I focused on each step—one foot and then the other, as a walking meditation and a way to bring my mind and heart back from the brink. I focused on my breath, the simple inhale and exhale that we can all come back to in times of stress.

And out there, in the rawness of nature, I peeled a few more layers off the old “onion” of my façade—my ego—the cataract that covers the lens of my soul. Here is some of what I learned (or remembered).

I learned that my family and friends are perfectly capable, smart, resourceful, caring, competent, courageous adults who can take care of themselves without me hovering and coordinating and thinking that I know best. I already knew this, of course. This was not about them or their abilities; it was about me and the identity and labels that I had placed on myself.

I learned that I don’t always have to take care of everything and everybody all the time to be of value and to be loved. This is an old lesson that reared its head once again.

I learned that worry is a ridiculous waste of time and energy that sapped the life out of me and took away what joy was in front of me. I learned that worrying about what hasn’t yet occurred is a fruitless activity that took me out of the present moment, and that if I could just feel my feet touching the earth, I could come back to what was real, to what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.

I was reminded of what a remarkable husband I have and how much I love him and my family and those who are dear to me.

I was reminded that everything I own could be wiped out and I would be okay, as long as those I loved were safe.

I learned that a cell phone battery doesn’t last that long out in the woods.

I also learned that I could laugh and cry, trust and fear, be calm and crazy, all within minutes of each other and that is what it feels like to be human. I also learned that sometimes I can’t keep myself from falling apart, I can’t control everything, that I can be both strong and a big bag of mush—and that I am still okay and people still love me and the world is going to keep spinning—even as I unfold another layer in this life.

And I realized that the lessons we learn on the yoga mat can be taken out into the world, as we breathe and walk and focus and love.

It was a powerful little storm, indeed!

As lessons go, I am hoping that these weren’t too painful. We now have more resonance to the suffering and plight of others (as if we needed more), and that through this resonance our compassion rises. I am reminded once again that we have so much more in common with each other than not as we witnessed everyone pulling together to help one another. A storefront sign in Tennessee read: “We are praying for Florida”. Those we encountered on the hike and on our way home all showed their concern and expressed their wishes for a safe outcome. And as we arrived home, we received help from neighbors, friends and family as we, too, tried to find normal again.

I am reminded of a quote by Brene Brown, who said:

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness—it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”

I am filled with unending gratitude.

With love and light always.

Mary Boutieller has lived in Florida since 1970 (almost a native), and is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at:


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