How to Help Others During Disasters: Loving-Kindness Meditation

Charleston floodUnless you haven’t been paying much attention to the news lately (no judgments, here), you’ve probably heard that most of my beloved adopted hometown, Charleston, SC, is pretty much under water right now. We’ve had so much rain dumped on us that it’s been scary—streets look like rivers and in some places are collapsing, people are being evacuated from their homes, destruction and loss everywhere.

Meanwhile, I’m safe and cozy in my house with my family and pets. Somehow, thankfully, our neighborhood, which is in a suburb outside of Charleston, is soggy but there’s not much standing water. It’s still raining. I’ve been inside for three days straight, but I am incredibly thankful for our good luck when there’s so much destruction just miles away from where I sit typing right now. (And, I think other parts of our state are going to be hit just as badly, if not worse.)

We’ve had a rough few months here in the Lowcountry. First, there was the tragic shooting of 9 innocent churchgoers at the Charleston Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church back in June. Now, this. Two very different tragedies, to be sure, but both making a very big impact on the community here.

Charleston Emmanuel AME

In my life, I’ve seen other big, unthinkable catastrophes strike from afar. I’ve always felt sad for the people affected, but it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the magnitude of these events because they seemed far away. This is different, of course, and yet somehow I still feel removed. Authorities are asking people in safe, dry homes to stay off the roads, so I’m seeing the worst of it through my social media feed. I know it’s bad out there. I know there are people losing everything. But I haven’t seen it first hand yet.

I feel paralyzed. I want to help the community heal from both tragedies, but I don’t know how yet.

I have friends and colleagues who have taken up the issue to rally for gun control in the months since the shooting. I have neighbors who have had to drive through the flood waters to get to their jobs at local hospitals. There are police officers and fire fighters who live just up the road who are putting their lives on the line to help people who were stranded in their cars and homes. There’s a church on the other side of town has taken in evacuees and has asked people in the community to pitch in to help serve meals. I want to volunteer, but I’m not sure if the roads between here and there are safe, and I have my 3-year-old. So I’m just waiting it out. I’ll have to find my own way of contributing that makes sense for me, my circumstances, and the issues I care most about (How does one choose a cause when there is so much injustice, so many people suffering?).

Syrian refugee childIn the meantime, all I know to do to is this: I’ve been practicing metta (or loving-kindness) meditation twice a day, sending as much love, compassion, peace, and blessings as I can toward others in the hopes that it will make a small difference (even if that difference only starts within me). Whether you’re here in Charleston or across the world, I invite you to do the same.


Here’s how to practice Metta meditation (Loving-Kindness Meditation):

Take a comfortable seat and feel your breath move in and out. Bring your attention to your heart center and feel the breath move there. Then, begin the practice of metta toward yourself, sending love, peace, and goodness toward yourself because you must first love yourself before you can love others.

Take a moment to repeat to yourself something to the effect of,

May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be at peace. May I be free.

Move on to those who are closest to you. Your loved ones, your family, your best friends. Repeat the same blessings toward them, feeling them coming from your heart directly to theirs.

May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be at peace. May you be free.

You’ll continue the meditation in this manner, broadening the scope slowly. Include your acquaintances, strangers, your enemies, all people everywhere, and finally all sentient beings.



Erica Rodefer Winters is a writer, yoga teacher,and an interim editor at Gather. Read more of her writing at




Photo credit (flood): DJ and Zoya at creative commons

Syrian child: Global Panorama