Control (or lack thereof)

Hurricane Sandy has thrown me for one heckuva loopdeedo. I can’t stop thinking about all of my friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and quite frankly the thousands of people I don’t know who are still without power, gas, shelter and left in the cold — literally.  I am reminded over and over and over again how quickly life can change. On a dime and in an instant.

What I am (seemingly constantly) reminded of is how little control over earthrocking (& sometimes earth shattering) events we really have in life. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or hurricane, these events will continue to happen. There’s no doubt about that. In fact it seems as if “storms of the century” are becoming the norm. New York Governor Cuomo even said, “These 100 year storms are happening every 2 years.” Goosebumps. And not the good kind.

What I do realize, however, is that we do have the ability to control how we respond to (inevitable) catastrophe. Here are some things that help me.

Focus on what you can control: Attitude and Perception. If you can’t change the stressor directly, then the next best thing is to change your reaction to it. For example, we can choose to be patient rather than impatient. Kind rather than unkind. I know. I know. When you are facing a catastrophe, this is exceptionally difficult, especially when people are impatient and doing unimaginable things; however, I believe that disaster also happens to bring out the best in people (e.g., the nurses carrying oxygen-deprived babies out of the NYU hospital).

Believe that every experience is a life lesson (sometimes at the level of a PhD dissertation!) and consider how it will help you grow. This philosophy has helped me become wiser, emotionally stronger, and acquire some newfound knowledge and skills in an area that I knew nothing about before. It is easy (at least it was for me!) to take life and the people we love for granted. My FBC diagnosis was a LOUD and clear reminder that I needed to appreciate everyone in my life, including myself.

Recover from Stress. There are lots of Silver Lining ways to cope with the effects of stress. I especially admire the folks who, instead of wallowing in disappointment from the NYC Marathon cancellation, turned the 26.2 miles that they would have run into traveling to help the people on Staten Island who so desperately need it. So awesome. On a more personal note, when I was sick, I used restorative yoga, mindful meditation and (I tried) breathing techniques to help recover from the stress of treatment. Now, I use exercise (to release any pent up aggravations) and a healthy diet to reduce and recover from stress.

Another humongous factor that helps me contend with my (out of)control issues came in the form of a book by Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Pema Chödrön is an (extraordinary!) American Buddhist nun and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery in North America established for Westerners. From page 1, her words danced on the pages of the book and gave me the most incredible sense of peace. Here are a few other of her books that I just looooooove.

So, while I fully acknowledge the fact that I can’t control what is going to happen and when, what I am going to do is continue to look for (and find!) the Silver Linings in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.



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  1. Anne says

    Wow – What a gift! I just spent the past hour reading through pema chodron's website, her articles and her serene photos. It slowed me down in a very busy world. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recommendation.

  2. says

    For myself, a former "control freak", I have learned that so many life events, situations, circumstances, etc. are beyond my control. But what I can control, with practice, is my internal reactions to the outside event, and my perceptions as to how these events impact me. Since we can't control, e.g. our getting FBC, we can decide how to perceive it, approach it, and get through it.
    Nicole expressed how NYC and Staten Island residents decided to pull together. They chose to take a positive attitude and step forward to help each other. They bonded in this mutual effort of support and action.
    Also I did check out Sarah Wilson's blog as Nicole suggested. I especially want to read the Mindful Meditation book about walking and meditating; something to do on those mindless miles on the treadmill.
    Hollye, I think your three points really cover the topic of control. 1) Focus on what you can control: attitude and perception of the situation. 2) Believe that every experience is a life lesson and will help you grow. 3) Recover from stress and learn how to cope with the effects of stress. Very timely blog.
    A+ Hollye !!

  3. Nicole says

    I recently read another blog post on a similar topic (well, not completely similar – but a list of favorite spiritual books from another of my favorite bloggers). Thought you might like to check this out;

    As an Australian who is temporarily calling NYC home, I can say the last ten days has bought out the best in people (occasionally occasionally the worst in people). I had an appt at Sloan Kettering the Wednesday after Sandy, my heart went out to those that missed Chemo or Radiation on their regular schedule (or a scheduled surgery). It's a tough enough time to endure without additional complications.

    Thanks Hollye for another great blog, managing what we control, and releasing the things that we can't – a reminder I need daily 🙂


    • says

      Dear Nicole,
      Many thanks for your comment. Wow, what a time to live in NYC! I'm so glad that you saw the best in people…and focused on that. I also thought (continue to think about) the folks who are contending with illness on top of everything. Wowsy. T
      Thanks for sharing Sarah's blog. Look forward to seeing it.
      Please take good care!

      • Kim C says

        Thank you for your lovely lists! My prayers go out to all of those who've been affected by the storm and especially those who are also sick. I've heard the reports of how people are reaching out and caring for one another and that's a silver lining. It brings people together.