After the Storm

This photograph is a hoax – a manipulation of two separate pictures perhaps passed off as real. However, to me it’s a work of art – a powerful image that is both an evocation and a metaphor.

I live in New York City. I am fortunate to live on high ground, in upper Manhattan. We didn’t lose power. The fierce rain and howling winds last Monday night, and the downed trees I saw the next day are tiny compared to the extreme and protracted suffering of so many of my fellow New Yorkers who live in more afflicted areas.

The storm wasn’t the only blow I’ve had recently, either. In completely unrelated events, I learned of the deaths of three people I have been close to, just within the past two months.

Now, I’m a firm believer in the continuance of life – vibrant life at that – after a person sheds their physical body. Yet I not only grieve my personal loss, but notice the pulling away of some of the underpinnings of my seemingly “solid” world.

By that I mean the familiar, the unquestioned conditions I’ve simply taken for granted – can you relate?

When things change it disturbs our equilibrium. We lose some of the foundations of our sense of safety and well being – which we didn’t even know we were relying on. The loss of these “unconscious supports” can make us feel strangely destabilized.

The supports I’m talking about could be my assumption that I can always pick up the phone and call someone – that they’ll always be there. Or my feeling of invulnerability because I think I live in a region that does not get dangerous weather.

That picture of the storm over the Statue of Liberty suggests to me the unexpected, threatening the security and freedom we take for granted – whether the threat comes as a storm, as a personal loss, or even in the form of political events that could radically  change our landscape.

I think it’s universal that we humans crave security, and so project permanence onto what is by nature going to change. I see myself doing that again and again, whether it’s with a relationship or even my own moods (go figure!).

How do you see yourself doing that? Have you suffered when you lost some form of unquestioned support? Can you think of conditions you “project permanence” onto now?

It is hard to hold the perspective of impermanence that the Buddhists prize so highly. The longing for stability lulls us. Our desire for that security goes back to being an infant in our mother’s arms – it is that instinctual and basic. We really can’t help it!

And yet, Buddhism also tells us that this is one of the chief sources of suffering. What can we do?

What I take away from this contemplation are two main lessons:

  1. Savor and cherish the fleeting, changing, sparkling, impermanent world, and allow the poignance of knowing it must pass increase its sweetness for you.
  2. Seek and find that which is not fleeting, that which is eternally present, from which all life and movement continually arise. Spend time abiding  there, in meditation and awareness.

The more deeply we are anchored in the ground of our being, the more joyfully can we surrender to the dance.