The Storm Before the Calm

landscape-695137_1280No matter how many times I experience The Storm Before the Calm, it always sneaks up on me. I never recognize it until I’m fully lost in it; bruised, drowning, desperate for relief. Storms are devilishly clever at disguising themselves. “I’m Hurricane Bob!” “I’m Tropical Storm Betty Sue!” “I’m Low Pressure System Barry Manilow!” Don’t let them fool you. No two storms have the same name, but they all wreak the same kinds of havoc.

Of course I don’t mean literal storms. I’m talking about periods of intense disturbance we go through prior to deep and lasting personal growth. I suspect we all have these Storms Before the Calm. But I don’t think most people recognize them. So it’s about to get unbearably metaphorically meteorological up in here.

A Storm Before the Calm begins long before we see it. It’s born in deep wanting—maybe a subtle itch, maybe a yearning so strong it rattles our teeth. It begins down in our guts, and eventually we begin burping it up, asking God (or Whatever) for resolution. Maybe we consult priests and offer formal prayers; maybe we gag out strangled cries that never even make it to language. Either way, we’re begging for change, for fulfillment, for something better.

We want this to happen smoothly and prettily, a sunrise illuminating a perfect summer morning. We expect it to happen this way.

And Whatever says, “Mmm-hmm.”

We forget that to give us more than we currently have, life must make us more than we currently are. And that the first act of every creative change is the destruction of the existing order.

Make no mistake: when we ask for better lives, we are calling the whirlwind.

When the Storm hits, we don’t connect it with our wanting, with our calls for help. We feel blindsided by misfortune, attacked by circumstances, drowned in agony we can’t control.

Loss of control is the essence of the Storm. We may lose control of our emotions, our actions, our work, our relationships, our bodies, everything. It all devolves into chaos—not just the normal inconveniences of daily life, but disruptive, preoccupying chaos, events and feelings we can’t ignore. Plans fall through. Efforts fail. Jobs disappear. Relationships end, or become fractious and impossible. Controllable? Ha! A Storm Before the Calm barely feels survivable.

I tend to recognize the Storm Before the Calm just after I become convinced that I’m cursed. During some of my worst Storms, I’ve felt like a cockroach that God (or Whatever) was trying to kill, first with a rolled-up newspaper, then with a shoe, then with a ton of bricks. After every mammoth blow, I’d be dismayed to find myself hideously alive, missing my head and most of my thorax, but still able to creep forward on my single remaining leg. While, I imagined, God rushed off to deploy the nuclear warheads.

That’s when I remember.

Wait, I think with my tiny, headless-cockroach mind. There’s something about this feeling, this horrible, horrible feeling…it’s not like ever before, but yes, it’s that bad. I think it may be the Storm Before the Calm!

And God (or Whatever) whispers, Bingo.

That dim flicker of recognition is the moment I feel the sea change. I’ve done it enough to know roughly how it’s going to play out. I relax into the belief that Storms Before the Calm come to destroy us, as quickly and thoroughly as possible. And that this is grace unfolding. I know that the greater the gift we’ve requested, the wilder and more violent the storm will be, and the deeper the grace.

Contemplating this—that the Storm isn’t a curse, but preparation for the blessing—ushers me into the Calm. Right then, just like that, I feel the pain ease. Before the wind dies down. Before the argument is resolved. Before the disease heals. Before the rent is paid. The Calm doesn’t come because the Storm is over. It comes because I’ve moved into the truth.

Truth is always calm. Still. Gentle. Quietly and intensely alive.

I think almost everyone goes through this pattern. If we look, you can probably remember breaking through a few Storms into the Calm yourself: “Oh, right! After my nervous breakdown I discovered meditation and Klonipin, and things got so much better,” or “True, it was after Jack left that I finally got the nerve to quit my job slaughtering cattle.”

Right then, just with that tentative step toward a different interpretation of ill fortune, the Calm begins. It feels faint at first, but dropping attention deeply into it—focus more on it than on the Storm—begins to reveal that it’s VAST. So huge a million hurricanes could rage inside it and never disturb its peace. That Calm itself is what we really are. Every single pathetic-looking little human is bigger inside, far bigger, than any storm ever seen on earth.

Sometimes, when I can’t reach the Calm, I’ll just stomp into the Storm, betting wildly that it’s more benevolent than it seems. With a sort of inner Viking war scream, I’ll open the grim and complicated spreadsheets from the bank, or go get the painful medical test, or initiate the conversation I’m way too afraid to have. If there’s nothing else to do, I’ll sit in a silent room, refuse to distract myself, and face the tempest in my mind.

If I do this bravely enough, a weird thing happens. Right at the center of every Storm I find its eye—the one part of my flailing self that can see clearly.

From that still place right inside the storm, all the horrible luck, the stress, the pain, the shame, the loss, begins to reveal itself to me as an incomprehensibly perfect, intricately choreographed rearrangement of the universe, meant specifically to do one thing: Fulfill my longing.

“Oh,” I notice. “The illness came to teach me to relax.” Or, “Oh. The job loss came to teach me that people will help.” Or, “Oh. I failed because I had to discover that I’m worthy of love, no matter what.”

Oh. I called the Storm. It came because I asked. And it’s exactly—exactly—what I needed.

At that moment, I realize what my favorite yogi Nisargadatta Maharaj meant when he said, “Don’t you see? God is doing this all for me.”

Not to me.

For me.

Oh.

22 replies
  1. Donna Nelson
    Donna Nelson says:

    Love love love this! As a recovered alcoholic whose storms got worse and worse over the years, I can now see how all the heartache was meant to get me to the spiritually awakened place I am today and I'm here to help and teach other struggling women. I love and identify to immensely with Martha and her teachings

    Reply
  2. Linda
    Linda says:

    Ever listen to people after a storm or other disaster? The ones who do best are the ones who focus on what they learned about what was truly important and see the storm as a tool, maybe even a blessing.

    Reply
  3. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    This was so relevant today – I've just spent the whole day in bed, wiped out, just feeling that everything that's been happening is way too much. This was so helpful in restoring my perspective about what is going on.Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Karen Kay
    Karen Kay says:

    Thank you Martha, this is spot on. Since our gobsmackingly magical session in June, I have been doing street performances. I'm going to make this my mantra for that. Here is the storm before the calm: I have experienced people shouting at me ('Oy! I've been paid to tell you to shut up' and a raspberry seller who said ' …yes, and I'm not going to stop shouting until you move'… ) . I have felt vulnerable and shaky and gone out when the wildness says 'go'.

    And (and I respectfully don't care that I shouldn't start a sentence with an 'and'). And… I have sung under a blue sky with fluffy clouds; I have exchanged smiles and chats with strangers, who felt like friends in that moment; I have been given free lunches. Here is the big reveal: On Thursday, after the vulnerable session, I was recovering with a cup of coffee, bought for me by a lovely artist. I saw a man next to me wearing a name badge. He is a theatre manager I had written to about my show. I took the plunge and spoke to him. During our chat, he told me he had been intending to write to me about a possible way forward. A new track to follow… a new day! A calm after a storm. Thank you so much Martha!

    Reply
  5. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    What an amazing way to look at the sometimes horrific challenges we experience.

    Knowing that we are in the throes of the storm before the calm can put a different perspective on the sometimes intolerable fear that is associated with these times and help dissipate the fear.

    Thanks for sharing this. I've forwarded it to a few friends who found it very helpful.

    Reply
  6. Aimee
    Aimee says:

    A fellow blogger shared this talking about her miscarriage and having gone through my own miscarriage 7 weeks ago after 4 rounds of DEIVF, this couldn't have come at a better time to read. My husband and I discussed the storms we've weathered and what's come from them. How my father's untimely death led to the creation of my blog (which is how I first met my husband, then one of my readers). How his father's death led to learning that his mother had lied for decades about who his estranged father really was as a man (he was a much better, warmer, sober man than his narcissistic mother had portrayed him to be, who'd desperately wanted to be part of my husband's life. How our struggle with infertility has shown us what's most important in our lives, the delicate balance of focusing on our marriage while also putting my body through hell, and how it's strengthened and confirmed our desire to have a family. But we have no true answers yet as we are still in the storm, preparing for a fifth FET (and for those who bring up adoption, we were told just before our miscarriage by our adoption agency we've been involved with for a year that it would be another 2-4 years' wait for a child, and to start over would cost another $15-20K which we do not have).

    Thank you, as always, Martha, for your wisdom. We hope the truth reveals itself sooner rather than later. We are breathing in, and out.

    Reply
  7. Kim
    Kim says:

    This has come at a perfect time for me to read. For whatever reason, call it devine intervention if you want, that I clicked on a link in FB and found this profound video about the Storm. I am in the worst storm season I have ever had I my life. My 20 year relationship/marriage with who I thought was my soul mate for life has come to an abrupt halt under horrible circumstances! The worst pain I have ever felt in my life, or at least that's what I thought up until about 2 hours ago.
    I am so ready for the calm to come for me, but I realized while reading this for the fourth time I am hour that I can sit and wait until the cows come home and calm will never find me. I must go find it! That's exactly what I intend on doing. It maybe only for a minute today, but I am going to hunt it down like a I know that tomorrow will never come. Thank you

    Reply
  8. Judy
    Judy says:

    AS a survivor of many storms, I have come out of each one stronger and more determined. This is how my mindset coaching practice came to be. I can help others find their safe place in their learning world of storms.

    Reply
  9. Diane
    Diane says:

    I'm playing with the idea that in reality the Universe (or Whatever) is always gently guiding me in unfolding the realization of my desires-quietly, peacefully, with ease. And when I align with those feelings, my vision improves and I see the unfolding and go with it. However, there are times when I am distracted and miss the cues- I hear rumble strips and say- "oh that was a strange sound, I wonder what that was." And then the tree looms ahead and bingo – smack into it I go and I say- "how did THAT happen?" Listening for the rumble strips, knowing what they indicate and listening for the course correction information – does anyone think it might work like that?

    Reply
  10. Shari Broder
    Shari Broder says:

    This magically showed up on my own facebook life coaching page just when I needed it today. I could have used it on the day it was published, but I was still in the storm, looking for the eye. As usual, perfectly stated! Thanks, Martha!

    Reply
  11. Kati
    Kati says:

    What is it that makes me get these messages just when I most need them? This was such a comforting piece and it arrived just as I was about to sink into despair, yet again. That metaphor of being God`s cockroach was spot on. That´s me! The cockroach! I must remember that this IS the storm before the calm. The calm is there. I must have faith. Thank you so much Martha! Your admirer and promoter in Finland <3

    Reply
  12. Martha
    Martha says:

    The nonverbal part of me is so glad that writers like Martha can find words to describe exactly what it has to say. Music, art, nature, yoga…they all have their place in expressing what doesn't fit inside the logic of language. Still, there is nothing like the soul hit of finding that someone has created a container of words for the truth. LIFE has been training me to become much more than I ever consciously hoped to become. For this I am extremely grateful. And terrified. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

    Reply
  13. Lukas
    Lukas says:

    Thanks Martha, with this knowledge, I will surely navigate to the storm's eye with ease from here on out. I am already looking forward to the next one. It's going to be a walk in the park. Yummy yummy yummy.

    Reply

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