Storm Reflections

By Nancy Coker and Sally Dougherty

We would redirect the sun if we could to avoid suffering life’s troubles, and hurry the very seasons: hastening summer’s warmth during winter, or fall’s crispness during summer. We so long for things to be comfortably "our way" that we’re inclined to forget that there are larger systems at play. There is a continual need to find our inner balance within the grand cycles of life.

We passed the autumn equinox on September 22 — a time when day and night are of equal length — and are reminded and reassured that on planetary as well as personal levels balance and harmony are always reestablishing themselves. The orderliness in the procession of the planets and seasons can help center us, help us stabilize as we come to grips with horrendous and chaotic events. We take comfort that the universe works.

Life’s storms are regular, normal, cyclical, and occur on every level. Can we find the inner strength to face forward and not turn away from their destruction? Those of us glued for hours to television coverage of recent hurricanes, even while watching the misery unfold, may have realized that we were not really dealing with it, and clearly not helping. We tend to distance ourselves from suffering even while watching it — or worse, use its emotionality for our own purposes. But as Robert Sardello wrote of the possible effects within us:

If there is no reflection, if these tragic events happen without working them inwardly, we experience only the destruction, not . . . the creating of a new form of consciousness. We can be completely overwhelmed, overcome, like a tidal surge has hit. — School of Spiritual Psychology eLetter, September 2005

Initially, images of a human tragedy tug at our hearts and stimulate generosity that often proves crucial. Such donations also relieve our feelings of powerlessness and distress; all too often, however, scratching the itch of personal discomfort in this way allows us to return to our "normal" lives where we are apt to ignore the needy outside the media spotlight. The question, then, is: what really helps? Perhaps taking a longer-term interest in those affected by a disaster would ensure that recovery efforts do in fact benefit the people most in need, rather than enriching other interests. Another response might be looking in our own communities for worthy causes, which often see donations fall sharply after well-publicized disasters. Or, universalizing our feelings, we might be moved to become more involved with specific ways of ending suffering wherever it occurs.

Along these lines, Bill Grace was struck, while watching hurricane coverage from the Gulf states, by overwhelmed officials’ comparisons of Katrina to the December 2004 tsunami or even Hiroshima. Writing to an American audience, he said:

When we borrow global images to understand and explain our own pain, once the shock abates, we are morally responsible to see the comparisons in their fullness. Integrity and moral maturity ask us, at some point, to let our pain . . . be a window onto the world’s pain.
I heard one news anchor say to a reporter on the ground in New Orleans, "Have you ever seen such horror and devastation?" The reporter responded, "Yes, most recently in Darfur." The anchor responded, "No, I meant have you ever seen such destruction in America?"
. . . We have accepted as normal — to be expected — that there will be suffering and human misery on this planet. It only becomes intolerable and morally repugnant when it lands on [our home] soil.
In Darfur, the horror is constant. It is not three days without food and water, but two years of thirst, hunger and the threat of genocide. Thirst is thirst, hunger is hunger, and human suffering is repugnant no matter where or when. — The Seattle Times, September 15, 2005, B9

There’s so much each of us could do to help bring about workable solutions to world suffering. Experiencing tragedy, he concludes, gives us the choice of being ruled by fear or by the global perspective of "miracle-making compassion."

Although we sometimes get lost in the confusion of the small picture, we are rooted firmly in the large one. Stretching towards those expansive roots, we find the vital flow which energizes us to unflinchingly accept today’s challenges. In the spiritual practice of working towards brotherhood, we are learning to see past the superficial towards the divinity shining within each and every one. The overwhelming forces of nature may be blind, but we shouldn’t be. We need to be strong and kind enough to not avert our eyes, but to really see. Remembering that even a hurricane has a calm eye, let us draw quiet serenity from our own inner center so that our vision may be unclouded and caring. Robert Sardello suggests the larger opportunities within current conditions:

Inwardly coming to the eye of the Tempest, trying to be present to what is spiritually happening . . . We are being called to create, from the place of the heart, in conjunction with others, for the sake of the world — a new heaven and a new earth.

Let any wounds we’ve received help our hearts grow increasingly strong and wise. And let us ally ourselves in heart and mind with all those who suffer, that they may draw from our strength.

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)

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What is this faithful process of spirit and seed that touches empty ground and makes it rich again? Its greater workings I cannot claim to understand. I only know that in its care, what has seemed dead is dead no longer, what has seemed lost, is no longer lost, that which some have claimed impossible, is made clearly possible, and what ground is fallow is only resting — resting and waiting for the blessed seed to arrive on the wind with all Godspeed. And it will. — Clarissa Pinkola Estés