The typical response of how people respond to major events…
The news reel is on repeat:
Men in army coats pulling limp bodies out of rubble.
Victims with gaping wounds, broken limbs in crowded hospital tents or rooms.
The dirty, tear streaked faces of refugees huddled together looking blankly at the cameras.
The before and after pictures of the historical buildings and homes that are now DESTROYED.
The reporters trying to keep it together as they relay the same details over and over again.
As you watch, you begin to feel the terror and the pain of the people in Nepal. “How horrible!” you say, “It’s already such a poor country. These people already have so little.” You sit there feeling their pain for awhile before you turn off the TV. “I’m glad I’m not in Nepal.”
You get in your car and drive to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or if you don’t support the corporate chains, your favorite local coffee shop. As you sip your skinny mocha latte with two spelindas, it hits you like a bomb, “YOU KNOW SOMEONE IN NEPAL”.
You quickly pull out your iPhone to get on Facebook to see that she’s okay. You scroll through your news feed and all the ‘prayers to Nepal posts’ to find hers. Luckily because even third world countries have some form of a 3G network, you see that she has done a safety check, status update, is alive, and… is enjoying the earthquake?
Transition into Narrative
When ever a “disaster” happens, everyone tells you exactly where they were when they experienced it or got news of it. Soon this big event turns into our own personal epic tale. And when we know people who were ACTUALLY there, their story becomes our story (especially if it’s one we find interesting). It isn’t long before you begin to tell your own version of their story.
Here’s mine, and yours too (if you so chose).
Two weeks ago, I landed in Kathmandu, Nepal. I stayed in the city for two days, then headed to a smaller city, Pokhara, which is seated near a lake at the foothills of the Himalayas. But, I didn’t stop there either. One day later, I took a very crowded bus ride up into the hills.
It was originally intended that I head back to Kathmandu on the 20th of April for a Vipassana meditation retreat (ten days of silence). However, I started feeling a bit of discomfort around going to this retreat. So after doing some light reading, it seemed that most of the benefits/breakthroughs of this practice were already integrated into my livelihood. I decided that these hills could facilitate my own version of a Vipassana…
After just a couple of days, I felt very at home in these small Himalayan hamlets, primarily in a village called Damdame. My host family gave me a new name, Heema. I felt loved and cared for. It felt nice to be still after my six month magical whirlwind in India. And although I speak very little Nepali (none), we found other ways to communicate. My days filled with adventure or creation. Sometimes I take solo meditative walks. Sometimes I make friends along the way and am taken to swimming holes or goat farms to drink home brewed Nepali rice beer.
The earthquake first shook while I was on a walk with a bunch of village boys (and by boys, I mean males my own age). We were all standing together, when suddenly there was the sound of what I thought to be rain falling on the tin roof beside me. But it wasn’t raining. Simultaneously, I was transfixed by a small squatting woman on the hill holding onto a wooden pole that appeared to be a support for her house. She was holding on so tightly, expressionless… Why was she doing that? I watched one of the boys remain stationary instead of continuing the action of going into his house, slight smirk… Why did everyone seem frozen? Why did everything suddenly get so surreal?
The boys were all casually talking in Nepali, but their communication was more direct that usual, but other than that it seemed normal. I looked at the boy closest to me, and then I saw the ground wave. OH! EARTHQUAKE! How exciting! My eyes darted around trying to embrace every moment, every movement of the experience. The ground warped, the hill tops waved, the small shacks shook. Everything was dancing. I was soon paralyzed with a great laughter flowing from the depths of my being. I was literally being moved, lifted. I felt blessed to so intimately share this experience with the Earth.
This earthquake lasted a long while. Much different than the ones I’ve felt in the past, which have passed a moment or two after I realize it was an earthquake. This one was long enough to process the divinity of the natural process of adjustment. To have clear individual thoughts of what was happening rather than ‘WTF?’.
The boys and I practically shook off the experience, and continued our adventure up the hill to a party (a someone ‘had made a lot of money’ party for the whole village). Along the way, with other villagers, we exchanged just as any other day— by talking about the weather. The English, Nepali, Hindi language fusion is doable in talking about the weather. Back home a conversation about the weather usually means you have nothing to talk about. Here it is a simple experience that we all can share, and today’s weather was certainly more out of the ordinary that pani (rain)!
I was able to teach them all the word earthquake or earth shake (which seemed to be easier to say). I still felt limited in the exchange of language. So instead of talking, I would do an earthquake dance, expressing how the earth moved, how I adjusted to it’s shake, and then how the earth and I danced together. Physical storytelling and movement give us common ground. I’m becoming very famous in the village for dancing. “Heema dance!” people command. I feel like the Billy Elliot of Nepal.
Just as any other party, there was lots of eating, drinking, dancing, singing. Good fun! No one really talked about the earthquake. I broke away for a bit to check in with my other friends in Nepal. And let my family know that I was in what felt to be a big earthquake and all was great. I had many messages checking in from my India friends. I received a message from Raj that said, ‘Are you even alive, cunt?’ Which guided me to the realization of the intensity of the shake.
At five am, we all woke to another light shake. As we had several cups of morning chai and watched the radiate beauty of the sun rising and illuminating the mountain peaks, someone turned on the news.
(This whole conversation was very light hearted.)
The owner of the home said, “Why listen to the stinkin’ news?”
The man continued listening intently, while the owner gazed over the mountains with a clear yearning for sitting only with the stillness of nature.
Soon, the man turned it off. And I thanked him, as it was just noise to me!
“Big earthquake, I felt the ground move all night long,” he said.
“Well… I think that wasn’t so much the earth as all the raski (millet wine/moonshine) you drank,” I joke.
“900 people died,” he replied.
I shrug, “People come, people go.” (a phrase I have taken from a swami in the Indian himalayas). “It’s the natural way of life.”
Both the men look at me and begin to laugh…
“True,” they say.
Narrative break. Perspective switch.
After a natural event, the news goes directly to the heart of the suffering. By doing this, an exaggeration of the truth develops. And the all the other perspectives are forgotten. During intense times, it’s important to not only check in with the singular perspective, but also to jump into a view of the bigger picture. The moment isn’t all there is, things are always changing. Mass destruction leads to mass creation.
A major earthquake is transformed into a “NATURAL DISASTER: MANY PEOPLE DEAD”. This natural, beautiful event in nature mutated into a horror story. Those ‘tuned in’ to the mass media, begin to inhabit the fear and sadness of the present. Thus losing their natural ability to tune in with bright possibilities that are to follow.
This is rarely a productive use of our energy as humans sharing this planet together.
Break over. Narrative continued.
Sunday morning and afternoon completely chill. People happy and bright. I shared my earthquake dance and many people laughed. Another aftershock shook the village, this one long, but more mild than the first experience. I came out of the house and watched everything shook and danced while it happened. Some villagers thought this to be funnier than others. I felt no fear, only joy. And most of the smiles of my village family didn’t appear to be too much of the mask.
As the day continued, many of the village adults became glued to the television, which constantly showed the death and destruction (paired with epic breaking news musical over score). In stillness, the fear and sadness gleaming from in their eyes. The interactions with each other increasingly becoming short with each other. I watched the house toddler who is usually very good, become purposely destructive (you can tell when a toddler is being evil). The adults having no tolerance for this, yelling at the baby, who is only manifestation of their uneasiness.
Ama, the grandmother of the household, became very distraught. Her wise, loving nature shifting dramatically. Dinner was burnt and rushed. After we ate, I was pushed in to also watch the TV. After about three minutes, blankets were frantically being gathered. “We are sleeping outside tonight,” I am told by the very quiet, only English speaker of the house. I was rushed to grab my headlamp, hat, and scarf. Baba (basically my grandpa) and I laughed (I think) at urgentness of the situation. Safety as precaution is one thing, but acting out of stress and fear is another.
Under the glow of a lantern, my village family and I ventured through the dark patty fields. We soon arrived at what appeared to be a village sleepover. Many mattresses and straw mats were laid on the ground. We laughed and danced a bit, and then went to sleep. I was put next to my village Auntie, to did a prayer for us, told me I was her daughter, and then spooned me as I fell asleep (which was both odd and sweet). I didn’t stay asleep for long, as the stars called for my attention, as did the blaring a radio Nepali news, that I eventually got up and turned off.
My phone the next day had messages from Indian friends such as, “Kathmandu is practically destroyed” or “Nepal is very unsafe, get out now.”
Village people walking around, who were perfectly happy twenty four hours ago, now crying or super stressed.
“Very sad time. Many people die.”
Narrative over. Village Update (five days later)
People are dancing. Calm and at peace. Simple life.
Many months ago, I inquired about those vulnerable Himalayan mountain cows, who wander about grazing when at any moment they could be brutally MURDERED and eaten by leopards, tigers, or bears (oh my)! What’s going on in the minds of these cows? Do these they simply enjoy grazing? Or are they living in constant fear of being eaten? Now, it’s possible they’re not even having conscious thoughts, they are just being a cow. And even if we came to an understanding of what a cow is thinking, it might not be fair to make the generalization that all cows would think the same thing.
So for human beings… earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, murder, rape, plane crashes, animal attacks, icebergs, car wrecks, disease, cancer, fire, flood,equipment malfunctions, volcanic eruptions, trips, falls, freak accidents, etc…
These are all things that can evoke serious pain or death, they could happen over time or in an instant No matter what precautions we take, lifestyle changes we make, places we move, ETC.
You can try to ‘be safe’, but safety is not a preventative measure (not tell Sue). It is a precaution, and there is no way to assure that anyone or everyone will be safe all the time. You can’t prevent anything, you can only be prepared for it.
The fate is that we will all die eventually. We cannot escape of our ultimate fate (which for everyone includes Death). Death is as common as birth. Death need not be a tragedy.
I think of the man, trapped in rubble of of his own home. Does he sit in pain only thinking about his death? Does he surrender to the fact that it is here that he could die? Now, instead of suffering, does his mind takes him to recall the wonder of all that has been his existence? There is much grace in being able to accept the loss, while embracing the change that follows.
You have the choice to live in your own personal hell or create your own heaven. We have the ability to alter our own mind to have the experience we most desire. Like perhaps, the cow or the man, we can all exist in the peace and beauty of knowing that any moment can be our last. You can make the choice of how to perceive it.
Which will you choice?
It is always my intent write, create, and joke from a place of love, understanding, and/or playful inquiry… All things are love and love is expressed in many different ways. Sometimes we have trouble understanding love in its many forms.
I am aware that many people in Nepal (and all over the world), are in deep emotional loss and/or physical pain right now, in this very moment. Human existence, man, it can be an intense one.
But, you are not helpless. You do not have to fall victim to anything. You have the choice to not suffer. Simply by changing you relationship to pain, and releasing the concept of suffering. You can release your feeling of having ‘problems’ or feeling of being ‘offended’. You don’t have to feel those things.
You can make the choice of how you want your life to be, regardless of circumstance. Many people do not ‘enjoy’ being unhappy (or in a less favorable state). I’m about to offer you the tools that help you recognize those unfavorable feelings, and into a more sustainable way of being.
A Note on Nepali People
Overall, Nepali people are the richest people I’ve ever met, especially here in the mountains. They are generally pretty laid back. They give without expectation of return. They love and accept people for who they are and what they do. If someone does something uncaring, they remind them, “That is not who we are! We are Nepali!” … And most of the villages (and small cities) are self sustaining. If they have electricity, very good! If they don’t, no big deal.
For the people who lost their “homes”, home is where the heart is and that’s where ever you are. Many of these city people have close connections with the nearby villages. Many things come and go; when all is lost, new things appear.
If everyone could humbly go back to the basics, your naturally begin to develop more gratitude for all things. The extra stuff becomes a treat, a nice surprise, something to celebrate. This creates more internal balance in the self, external balance on the earth, thus creating eternal balance in the universe.
Less is always more. More is always less. All life is equal.
For the doctors, I’m not sure if I have a fever, but I sure do feel shakey.
For the shrinks, the last couple of days have left me feeling a little unstable.
For the hippies, Did someone put some acid in my water, again?
For the religious crowd, I thought the primary practice here was Hindu, not Quaker!
For the Nepali people, Be careful, after just one glass of homemade nepali moonshine (raski), the ground starts moving.
I wish you all laughter, ease, and bliss as you move with the changes in your life, where ever and whatever they might be, if that’s what you want.