Eye of the storm: Contemplations on disasters

It is kind of strange. We are currently in the middle of a natural disaster reported by global media outlets. The drone of helicopters and planes buzz back and forth overhead when the clouds and rain lift momentarily. Flying from the nearest airport at Dehradun, approximately half hour weaving through winding mountain roads away from Rishikesh, the helicopters fly low seemingly just over the yoga hall on the way deep into the mountains. They bring food and supplies up to stranded people or people in relief camps up in the mountains on the way up and bring people back to camps nearby Rishikesh, Dehradun and Hardiwar. I try not to look too closely at any debris floating down the water for fear of what it is.

The death toll is now over 1000 people and more rain has delayed rescue efforts for remaining people who are lacking food, water and shelter. Good news however is that most people have been relocated in relief camps, where they still may be stranded but at least they are in safer locations with access to supplies. Not so good news is that recent heavy rains have also delayed mass cremations at the shrine sites, such as Kedarnath, where decomposing bodies are apparently piling up. The yoga teacher from the other school that we met expressed concerns about a longer effect of water contamination as the Ganges River water is consumed in holy rituals and an important source of water for many people across India.

Though Roshan, our teacher, gives us news updates and the drone of helicopters is unmistakable, I find it strange that I get most of my news about the event from global media (some recent reports: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2013/06/201362562341480260.html; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-23042438). It’s like we’re in the eye of the storm – people keep on living and working, the shops and restaurants are open, streets are still crowded with people, motorbikes, cows and playing children and we’re still doing yoga. In contrast to rescue efforts, our concerns seem rather small: the periodic disconnection of electricity and consequently internet, debating the pros and cons of the rains, including cooler temperatures but harder to explore the city in, the invasions of flies which is annoying but mirrored in the beautiful proliferation of these small yellow butterflies that are everywhere right now, if we’re going to get the much loved chocolate balls for dinner and a reality of group travelling where a remarkable amount of conversation is devoted to bowel movements.

Looking at global media, you would never guess these moments of peace, where life moves on though rescue efforts swirl around us. We are basically in the middle of it but also removed. Eye of the storm indeed.

A part of me feels very helpless and every time it starts raining, I worry about people stranded in the mountains.

A part of me feels like a hypocrite contemplating the nature of reality, self-realization and of the underlying bliss and contentment in oneness with the universe while people are struggling to survive.

A part of me feels frustrated that I can’t help out more.

Though he was commenting on something else, a story that Roshan told us today spoke a lot to me.

The world can seem like a dark place, he said. It can seem overwhelming and inner AND outer peace seems like a distant dream. However, you have to find your own way and it is your intention and effort that’s important. Roshan told the story of the sun and the small candle. The sun had worked for thousands of years and desperately wanted a vacation. The sun went to the moon and the moon said that the sun’s role was too big and the moon was not up for the job. The sun went to the other stars and planets and with each got the same response – the job was too big and there was no way that they could accomplish what the sun did. Finally, the sun went to a small candle as a last resort. The candle replied that its small flame could not fulfill the large role of the sun, but it could keep the light going in the small area around it. In the sunset rituals where a small candle is held up to the fading light, it is an affirmation that devotees will keep the light going in the darkness and that small candles can become a brilliant field of stars in the hands of many people.

Intentions and effort are good but feeling overwhelmed in any situation does not help anyone. Stress is good when you choose it to motivate you for a task but unhealthy if it consumes your life.

In my experience, those hardest hit by any situation are those who were the most vulnerable and in hard situations before the event. I may not be able to directly help the people stranded in the mountains or in relief camps and the number of helicopters that fly over us seems to suggest that the Indian government have a system working to get people out as much as possible (the air force is apparently flying an average of 115 flights a day currently). Where I can help is the people in the village around me – including supporting the small cafes and shops more often than the more popular expat restaurant.

Like practicing yoga poses, good intentions and efforts are needed but also needed is a focus on the present. Do your best in a situation and as Roshan says, that is perfect. Obsessing and worrying about what you cannot do just stresses you out, which helps nobody…least of all, yourself.

We can always be in the eye of the storm; we can always cultivate that small flame of inner peace. From that place of awareness and calmness, we are then in the best space to rationally consider our actions to best help in a situation rather than succumbing to feelings of apathy if overwhelmed.

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