“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I had a great chat with Rachel Langer on my IC show this week. One of the many things we talked about was how, when we first came across the Inside-Out Understanding, it made complete sense to us. We were able to see that it wasn’t our outer experiences or the people in our lives that were causing us to feel a certain way; but instead, it was our “Thinking” about our experiences and the people in our lives, that was causing us to feel the way we were feeling.
Having said that, we both agreed that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been around this understanding; some situations have us second-guessing what we know to be true. They appear to be the Exceptions to the Rule. Rachel’s exceptions ranged from her aversion to eating vegetables to her aversion to her husband leaving his dirty socks and shirts all around the house!
As fires once again rage in California, I am reminded of a painful time in my life which felt very much like an Exception to the Rule. It was during the devastating Woolsey fire that destroyed most of my community back on November 9th, 2018. We lost close to 1,000 homes within the immediate vicinity of my house. The fire destroyed my partner’s home and many of my friends. It stopped just 15ft short of taking mine, thanks to some brave members of my community who stayed behind to help fight the fire. It was a truly harrowing experience for us all. No one escaped unscathed.
It took ten days before we were allowed back into the area to inspect the devastation left by the Woolsey Fire. Downed power lines were strewn across the landscape. Chimney stacks and shells of burnt-out cars let us know where our homes had once stood. Giant Oak and Sycamore trees that had withstood fires in the past, were no match for the strength and intensity of this one. The smell of smoke hung in the air and our nostrils, while soot covered everything we touched. My emotions during this time definitely felt more Outside-In than Inside-Out.
The one thing I love about the community I have called home for the last twenty-five years is that we are family. Within days we had a donation center set up, where we all came together to support each other — racks of donated clothing for men, women, and children, plus toys and household items. Anything you could think of was there. We even had a small room in the back where we offered emotional support to people struggling to cope with the magnitude of the loss.
I volunteered at the donation center until it closed. What I observed during my time there was amazing to me. The people that were the most affected emotionally and psychologically were not necessarily the ones that had lost their homes and all their worldly possessions. There was such a vast array of responses to what every one of us had gone through. Some people who had lost everything saw it as a chance to start fresh. A clean canvas. Nothing to hold them back. One young man I know saw it as an opportunity to move to Hawaii, something he’d dreamed of for years, but felt too encumbered to do so. Others experienced a more profound gratitude for what matters most in life: the love of family and friends. Some just wanted to come and sit in the little room in the back. They still had their homes but were suffering from survivors-guilt. They felt they weren’t entitled to grieve the loss of our community as we knew it.
This experience proved to me that it isn’t our circumstances that dictate how we feel; it’s how we respond to those circumstances that determine how we feel. As harsh as it might sound, especially when life is pushing hard against us, leaving us feeling battered and bruised, there are no exceptions. Our experience of life is always created via thought in the moment.
I’m not suggesting that losing one’s home to fire isn’t devastating, and my heart goes out to all those in my community who are still trying to navigate the red-tape and bureaucracy of rebuilding their homes. And to those facing fear and uncertainty, due to the fires that are currently raging, I am holding you in my thoughts and prayer. Please stay safe and well and know that you are resilient no matter what life brings you.
With love and appreciation, Del 💕