Sudden Storms: Navigating Whirlwinds of Change with Daily Practice July 28, 2023 17:10
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
“O, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer.”
Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest
This summer has been a whirlwind of activity—literally and figuratively. In late June, a pop-up tornado ripped through our neighborhood. It uprooted giant trees, tore off roofs, obliterated detached garages, barns, and fences.
We weren’t given much warning that it was coming. Storm sirens in our area had sounded earlier in the afternoon, but had stopped. It wasn’t raining or hailing at the time, and television meteorologists were focusing on areas to the north and south of us.
The first indication that something wasn’t quite right was our cable went out, and our TVs were blasting loud static on snowy screens. I was going upstairs to turn off the TV when Jim yelled from downstairs, “Get down here, NOW!”
I looked up at the skylight in time to see limbs of trees blowing sideways.
I hurried downstairs, closed the front door, and headed toward the bathroom in the interior hall. By the time I’d reached the bathroom, the storm had already blown past us, and we stepped outside to assess the damage.
Fortunately, our damage was minimal. We lost a cherry tree that had fallen across our driveway and some large limbs from a walnut tree in the backyard. We also had debris from various neighbors’ properties strewn all over our yard. Our house was intact; our barn was not damaged; our two big oak trees had not fallen over (and I was very grateful for that).
However, nearby telephone poles and lines were down. One pole had broken in half and was lying across a two-lane street at an odd, unstable angle. I thought it would be days before our power would be restored, but within eighteen hours, the power was back up and running.
Our neighbors behind us lost three vehicles due to fallen trees. Our neighbor to the south of us lost every single tree standing in his backyard. The damage all around us was devastating, and our community sustained a tremendous amount of damage in the span of 90 seconds. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, thank goodness.
Jim cut up the cherry tree that had fallen across our driveway with a chainsaw, and then he went to our neighbor’s house to help with their roof.
Neighbors helped us pull their mangled trampoline out of our pine trees, and all of us spent hours picking up limbs, sticks, and branches, carting them into burn piles or dragging them to the ends of driveways for pickup.
This storm was so unexpected and fast-moving, we didn’t have time to be scared.
Neighbors did make time to come out and help each other, asking if everyone was OK.
While Jim was helping out our neighbor with his roof, I picked up sticks, branches, and debris in our yard, and used it as an opportunity for practice.
I chanted, “Om Mani Padme Hum” for hours while I worked. I thought about our neighbors who has sustained far more damage than we had—who lost beautiful trees, who sustained roof damage, broken windows, crushed vehicles, mangled fences, garages, and barns.
I picked up sticks and branches, whispering, “Om Mani Padme Hum.”
Coiled springs from our neighbor’s trampoline—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”
Shingles from a nearby barn—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”
A book cover (Love Story) from someone’s patio table—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”
Arm floaties and bits of pool noodles—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”
Pieces of plastic and siding scraps—“Om Mani Padme Hum.”
We worked for hours, each of us doing our part to clean up the debris and patch things up in the best way we knew how.
We eventually settled into our dark, quiet homes, some of us with candles and flashlights, a few of us with generators.
We rested…and waited for morning.
I’m not going to lie, I had trouble sleeping that night. My body was tired and sore, and my mind was racing with “what if” scenarios—a post traumatic response and an indication of a dysregulated nervous system.
Another opportunity to practice had presented itself. This time, I mentally recited “The Heart Sutra” in Sanskrit (see below for video link).* It’s something I practice daily, whether there’s a tornado or not. It took me three years to memorize it, and about seven minutes to recite it each day. It’s an important part of my practice, and I’m really glad I took the time to commit it to memory. In this instance, it really helped me to calm down and relax the tight muscles in my jaw, shoulders, back, and legs.
I was also able to steady my restless thoughts and drift off to sleep. Our house was so dark and quiet. The stillness and this practice helped me find much-needed relief.
This is one of the most useful benefits of a daily mantra practice, and I don’t have to be sitting on a cushion or holding a mala for it to be effective. In this case, I was moving slowly around the yard, sweaty, dirty, and sticky from picking up sticks and debris in the heat. I had been focused on what was right in front of me—this stick—this branch—this broken board, etc. On a daily basis, these recitations keep me grounded and prevent me from spiraling into my own storm clouds of “what if” and worry. This practice offers the comfort of “do what you can…from right where you are.”
As I’m writing this today, it has been a month since this storm blew through our neighborhood.
Today, I can hear the sounds of cicada songs, lawn mowers, along with the echoes of hammering from roofers replacing shingles on nearby homes.
Trees have been cut down and cleared away. Small, brightly-colored flags in yards mark where new fence posts will be installed. Many of us have very different views from our porches, patios, and driveways. We can see more of the sky and more of each other’s homes.
I still pick up small bits of debris—pieces of tarp or scraps of shingles—as I walk down our long driveway to get the mail.
Each piece is a reminder of what we endured—and they are also reminders for us to be kind, to be tender with each other.
We all weather storms of various kinds and with varying degrees of severity. Some are visible and create tangible damage; others are hidden and create emotional chaos.
Regardless, this experience has reinforced that finding time to practice daily (before an emergency strikes) not only helps me to regulate my nervous system when obstacles do arise, it also reminds me of the importance to be compassionate toward others--to be aware of the suffering of others—to offer empathy and aid whenever possible—and to be grateful for this precious life.
I hope you are happy and well—and staying cool in this blistering summer heat. If you haven’t viewed the current collection of malas and quarter malas in a while, I invite you to click the Middle Moon Malas link here to see what’s new or what might speak to you in order to support and inspire your own practice.
* Here's the link to "The Heart Sutra" video that I listened to many, many times until I finally memorized it. Vidhya Rao has a lovely voice, and listening to it may benefit your practice, too.
Photo credit: Egor Yakushkin courtesy of Unsplash