Friday, January 15, 2010


Being in the middle of a natural disaster can feel not only frightening, but also paradoxical. I think, particularly in Western culture, there is a tendency to view nature as benign and loving; however, nature can also be highly dangerous, unpredictable, and seemingly cruel.

I say seemingly because ascribing human emotion to natural phenomena seems somewhat counterproductive. Maybe it's helpful to have someone or something to lash out against... fight can be a form of survival, and sometimes manufacturing a fight can provide the catalyst we need for decisive response. But, ultimately, the motives of the natural world cannot truly be divined and most likely have nothing to do with us on an individual or ego-based level.

But disasters do sometimes feel cruel, or unfair. Natural disasters, like any crisis, are what psychologists or counselors would call an unanticipated (or unexpected) adverse event. We didn't plan for it, didn't see it coming, and don't want it in our lives. It creates stress, engenders fear, and may shake our resolve because it challenges the religious, spiritual, or other meaning we have made of our lives.

Our safety and stability are questioned; the truth of our lack of control is brought into stark and startling focus. And often, in the midst of so much emotional, physical, and mental difficulty... we are left to question everything we knew before the crisis occurred.

I have been through only one natural disaster in my life, and it was rather minor compared to the many disasters experienced by so many others. We lost power, but it was restored in less than a week. There were downed trees, blocked roadways, flooded areas, and exposed power lines everywhere, but our house was untouched and still inhabitable. We had no cooking gas, but we had running water, plenty of ice, and access to grocery stores and restaurants scrambling to stay open and provide resources. There were few deaths or injuries, and everyone in the region rallied together to provide assistance, food, shelter, friendship, and compassion in the aftermath of the storm.

It is difficult to fully comprehend the devastation those in Haiti are now facing. The images and stories being shared via international news agencies provides an opportunity to show compassion and provide assistance in whatever way we are able, while also taking stock of our blessings and practicing gratitude.

To suggest the earthquake is anything other than a natural disaster - an unanticipated adverse event that took place in the natural course of life - seems to me both unjustified and inhumane. It's akin to seeing someone suffering before you and choosing to increase their pain rather than seeking to relieve it. In essence, "kicking someone while they're down" - both cowardly and malevolent.

Perhaps you have already found ways to offer assistance. Perhaps you are already holding those affected in your prayers and meditations. Should you be seeking information on how to help, CNN has an excellent site with multiple links.

If you feel uncomfortable sending money, perhaps you can consider others ways to show compassion and be a source of assistance, comfort, or peace. I encourage you to reach out, to empathize, and to consider the words of Thich Nhat Hahn: "Compassion is a verb."

May you ease the suffering of others as you are able. May you practice gratitude, compassion, and love with mindful awareness.

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