Santa Rosa Fire 5: The Moment Everything Changed

The first 48 hours after the fire I was dazed and confused. I couldn’t figure out what to do next. Rumors abounded and hard information about what was going on in Sonoma County was scarce. People around me were fearful and anxious, and so was I.

Then something happened, and everything was different.

My wife, Christine, and I woke up in Fort Ross, at the hotel we’d moved to after our house had burned down and the home of the friends to whom we’d fled was evacuated. The night before, the sun had set in a red sky colored by ash and fire. We spent an uneasy night, haunted by dreams of driving through flames.

That morning, I knew the most important thing we could do was meditate. It wasn’t an intellectual idea, it was visceral longing. Christine and I sat up in the bed and tuned in to the Universe, that great eternal radio station broadcasting peace and serenity 24/7.

As I settled in to meditation, I realized how off-base my energy was. The fire had burned through the rope tying the boat of my life to the anchor of my spiritual practice. I had been drifting in fear and uncertainty for hours on end. It was time to connect up again.

As we breathed and centered ourselves, the familiar energy of peace and calm washed over us. We were back in the heart of Great Spirit, the home that can never be damaged or destroyed.

We sat for the best part of an hour enjoying the depth of connection. We then turned to each other and began sharing our thoughts. Yes, there had been a fire. Yes, it had burned down our house. But here we were, safe and centered in the core of being.

We began to think about the possessions we’d lost. But now, sitting in the Heart of Spirit, we saw them differently. I remembered the four boxes of my mother’s photographs stored in the garage. When she died 20 years before, she’d left mountains of possessions to sort through.

The bigger ones had been steadily disposed of. But who has time to sift through thousands of snapshots from the 1960s, most of them blurry and featuring people we didn’t know? The four boxes had occupied an entire shelf in the garage.

Photos are heavy, and they pressed against the sides of the boxes. The cardboard sagged a bit more every year. The soggy shape of the disintegrating boxes mirrored the joylessness of the unappealing chore of sorting through them.

Now those four boxes were no longer there to reproach me with their misery every time I walked by. They were ash. What a relief!

In another of our garages was a massage chair. We’d purchased a new one the year before, and stored the old one in the garage. On my To Do list was: Sell old massage chair on Craigslist.

But a year had gone by and I’d never found the time. Now the chair was ash, and my obligation miraculously removed.

I owned a beautiful classic Rolls Royce Silver Spirit. But I had so much money tied up in it I could not afford a practical new car. I had made the occasional attempt to sell it, but now it was burnt to a crisp. The insurance money would now pay for that new vehicle.

Christine and I had been talking about moving for a few years. But with our life savings tied up in our house, it was a pipe dream. Now, with nothing to go back to, a move was inevitable.

We began to list the blessings of the fire.

In psychology this is called a cognitive shift. Same picture, different frame. Same fire, different meaning.

As we recited our blessings after meditating, our mood shifted. We celebrated being alive, with infinite possibilities opening up to us. We began to feel cheerful and happy. We joked with one another. Just 48 hours after we’d “lost” everything!

After meditation, the fire meant freedom, not loss. It meant the burning away of the old, not the loss of a lifetime of treasures. It meant an opening to a new and better life, not sinking into the tragedy of the old one.

Meditation made the difference.

As a researcher, I’ve played a role in around 100 scientific studies. Several of these examined the effects of EcoMeditation, a simple technique I developed a decade back (EcoMeditation.com). My colleagues and I have found that meditation lowers stress hormones such as cortisol and boosts immune markers such as immunoglobulin. It lowers blood pressure, inflammation, anxiety, and depression while increasing happiness. It even regulates stress genes.

That day, less than 48 hours after the fire, meditation changed my whole outlook on life. I went from lost and confused to confident and happy. I went from purposeless and fearful to balanced and joyful. I reconnected with the vibrant, resourceful version of myself.

A few days later I wrote in my journal: “I feel incredibly happy. Loved and protected by Spirit in each moment. Blessed with my community, friends, kids, and Christine. The fire seems like no loss at all—the house and possessions seem trivial by comparison.

“We don’t know how everything will turn out. But we don’t need to. We can just go with the flow. When you’re anchored in Spirit, you’re secure. You aren’t tethered by material possessions; they’re not what gives your life meaning.

“Meaning comes from connection with Spirit. Spirit is not a vague metaphysical abstraction, it’s the foundation of reality! I choose to live there every day. It’s profound to realize that NOTHING can take your happiness away.”

(Thank you to TotallyMeditation.com for this picture of the couple meditating.)

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