November 2012


How richly important it is to appreciate the ways in which we bring our stories forward into the present of our daily lives.  We carry the history of who we are in days, months and years past in the cellular memory throughout our body-mind.  These form the narrative of who we believe ourselves to be today.  Undoubtedly this ongoing story line shapes the way we negotiate life, helping us to categorize experiences and recognize similarities in new situations as we move into future moments.  It forms the basis of learning and supports the foundation of our growth into adulthood and in life.

Yet, while it is essential to our survival as a species, we are prone to add elements to the story, extra details, emotional overtones, alternate endings (or beginnings), hidden meanings or agendas.  It sometimes seems as if we judge the original screenplay too simple, begging us to embellish the bare bones to make it more of whatever we want it to be.  Another way in which we create a more fuller narrative about who we are is by surrounding ourselves with objects.  Each object carried forward becomes a repository for additional aspects of the story of who we are, who we have been, who we will be going forward or who we want to be in the eyes of others.

Object acquisition may seem like a foreign concept since the way we grasp onto things is so much a part of our routine pattern of behavior that it seems beyond normal.  It fulfills a need; it’s part of the everyday.  Maybe, if we are so inclined, we can, through the practice of mindfulness meditation or yoga, come to see how we become attached to the objects we have.  And we might even create an intention to let go of objects not needed any longer or develop a different perspective on the items we keep.  This shift requires that we interrupt the connective threads that bind us to these things, changing the way we see or understand the meaning or purpose of an object.  In this manner, we might feel that we have taken a few more steps along the path of wisdom.

Or, so it seems, until some great event befalls us where many of the possessions we have are destroyed.  Hurricane Sandy has resulted in just such a huge emptying out, all at once, in a manner that felt more like a physical wrenching and breaking apart.  And, as much as we hold the sense of what has happened as a mere letting go of objects and not a greater loss, attention must be paid to the personal stories that are woven amongst the wreckage.  In the pile of refuse  are things that had some meaning for us, and herein lie the narrative of our lives.  There may be treasures, utilitarian items, even some that were long ago forgotten in a box, others in the process of being let go, given away or thrown out.  Memories of some sort are associated with all of them.  In the moments of clearing out these remnants of destruction, we are asked to let go of these parts of our history.

It’s important to realize that we have choices about how we let these objects go.  Some carry memories that need to be loved as we release them.  Some that deserve acknowledgment of the purpose they served.  Some are simply reminders, placeholders of an earlier time – or perhaps not so simple in that they stir emotions as they lie there, tangled in the past and present.  I wonder if the biggest choice that faces us is in the understanding that these objects and the history that they represent are not who we really are.  It can be okay to let them go, coming back to what’s happening now and the fullness of who we are in this moment.

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Amazing how what is real for you in the day-to-day of your life can shift over the course of one single day to become a very different reality.  The ground of what has been real can be wiped away and turned upside down.  And when it is more than your private experience, when it happens to your whole community, it’s not simply your inner ground that is affected – it’s the entire landscape of your life.

Hurricane Sandy has recently presented us with just such a new reality.  What is generally an isolative experience – that of a major life crisis or tragedy – is, for us, a shared new way of living.  Both the inner and outer landscape has shifted dramatically.  Familiar structures are gone – ripped apart and broken pieces strewn about the neighborhood.  Sections of boardwalk in the front yard of a house down the block, mud and muck rising six feet in so many houses, blocks of burnt remnants of what was recently home to friends and neighbors.

You’ve seen the look on peoples’ faces – you know it from photos or the news footage showing people in locations following a disaster (natural or otherwise).  It’s the vacant stare, the paralysis of movement, the bare initiation of taking a step towards something or someone and then the loss of direction.  It’s shock – we all know what that is, or do we?  From the inside it feels like an overload of information that cannot be processed, because it doesn’t quite fit the reality we have known up until that point.  There is no way to create an opening to let it in, to understand what it means, since the meaning carries with it a felt sense of being too much, too different, too upsetting, too disturbing a reality to accept.  This is the sense before emotions even surface or become clear.  This is the preverbal experience of one’s whole body having lost the sense of ground beneath one’s feet.

What happens next is a check in – verifying the inner reality of who and what you are.  Reverting to survival mode is a way to find the new ground, establish new parameters of this new reality.  Breathing?  Body intact?  Family alive?  The level of awareness contracts around the immediate reality and then moves outward.  From that changed perspective, it is easier to take a look around and begin to bring forth words like “devastation” and “catastrophe” to describe the scene before you.

Then the questions emerge, because there is, after all, a sense of forward momentum stirring even in the midst of not knowing where to begin.  How do you start when you are still processing what it is that’s finished, ended and no longer present.  But it does begin, the next step taken because you experience a shared feeling, connection to a community of people that moves you forward – that doesn’t allow for stasis.

Maybe that’s the moment of remembering that nothing is permanent, that you’ve been fooled again into expecting that it would be.  The moment of knowing once more that this is the way things are – shifting, changing, never staying the same.  Perhaps it means it’s time to take in a deeper breath and appreciate that we are in it – not apart – from the momentum of being alive.  We have what we have right now and that “now” has already become a new reality, and sometimes that change shows up in a bigger way, on a much bigger screen, louder and more intense than what we’ve experienced before.  Comforting then to realize that we have the shared connection of community to support our own ground of being in taking whatever next step we need to take.

This post is dedicated to all those affected by Hurricane Sandy and offered in gratitude for the many who have shown up to provide real, hands-on assistance.  Blessings on all of you.