How can we help others find peace during trauma? Santa Barbara, California resident Barbara Gaughen-Muller learned the answer to this question a few weeks before Christmas of 2017.
Barbara lives about 10 miles from where the dual natural disasters of the Montecito wildfires and Santa Barbara mudslides occurred. Barbara shares with us how she sought peace—for herself and others—while helping victims of the fires and mudslide.
Barbara describes the scene: “First the fires came, raging through Ventura County. The ash was two inches thick on my patio. I began to pray, ‘What can I do?’ And then it came to me: go buy safety masks. My dad was a fire fighter and he taught me about the dangers of toxic smoke. My heart was sad but my prayers were strong. So I went and bought a shopping bag full of masks because at some point, I knew someone was going to need one.”
The masks were really just the starting point for her caregiving, explains Barbara. As she walked around her community, Barbara would strike up conversations with people traumatized by the events in their neighborhoods. “I would say to someone, ‘Are you affected by the fire? Would you like a mask?’ And then we would start to chat” says Barbara. She would follow up with, “What can I do to help?” Most of the time, people just needed someone to lend a caring ear. “I stood there in stores, in parking lots and just listened” recalls Barbara.
What did she learn from this experience? “It reminded me of the power of presence when somebody is suffering. The power of being the peace they need,” she told us.
Sadly, that peace was to be sorely tested just a few weeks later. Shortly after the fires were contained, “People went home and put their masks on their Christmas trees because they thought [the disaster] was over.” However, the suffering was just starting. A couple of weeks after the devastating fires, the floods came. As with the fires, Barbara felt called to serve. “I listened to my intuition, got in my car and drove to the Hilton in Goleta where many of the evacuees were,” Barbara recounts.
Once again, she offered a small measure of peace by just being there and listening. She sat in the hotel lobby for hours and said, “I’m here.” As she sat with the mudslide victims, she listened with compassion. And Barbara silently prayed, “Let this moment bring peace to this person.”
In addition to prayer, Barbara asked (as she did with the victims of the fires) “What can I do to help?” This time, many people had lost everything, with their homes being swept away by the mudslides. So Barbara asked, “What do you need?” She made shopping lists, went to the local Kmart and bought supplies—“toothbrushes, pajamas, whatever they needed,” she recalls.
Barbara did this for hours. Was she exhausted? No, not at all, Barbara replies, because she maintained the prayer for peace inside of her. “Peace is an inside job,” she says with a smile.
Barbara offers this take-away for the readers of Wisdom of the Wounded: “Trust your intuition. If you feel you should help out when you hear about a natural disaster, go and do it.” She believes that victims of traumatic situations need a listening ear as much as they need specific disaster relief. And in the process of helping others find peace, your acts of giving will reward you with the same.
About Barbara: Barbara Gaughen-Muller has a long history of serving others. She is the President of the United Nations Association, Santa Barbara Tri-County chapter and won the Spirit of the U.N. award in 2015. She is the author of Revolutionary Conversations: The Tools You Need for the Success You Want and is a columnist for Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global site.