March 1, 2016

When an Earthquake Strikes: Impermanence & Change.

author's photo - not for re-use (Mary Tilson)

I woke up at four o’clock this morning to my bed shaking.

It was the second earthquake we had experienced in the last 24 hours on Sumba Island. My phone immediately started buzzing with anxious messages from my neighbors, confirming that there was no major damage.

In the back of my mind, I had been dreading my first natural disaster in Southeast Asia, with all of the news over the past couple years about tsunamis, volcanoes erupting and earthquakes shifting the ground around me.

Fortunately, in this case, the earthquakes were quite anti-climatic, coming in around six and four on the Richter scale respectively. Still, the excitement was enough to get many of us on the island up and moving a bit earlier.

Once the sun started coming up, I made my way to a platform at the top of the hill, where I teach the morning yoga class. What I found was nothing short of a miracle—a perfect rainbow, stretching from one end of the Indian Ocean across two and a half kilometers of pristine beach, leading straight into rows of green paddy fields known as Rice Island.

I completely lost myself in a state of awe.

After finishing the morning class, I was still buzzing with adrenaline from the earthquakes and rainbow, when one of my co-workers suggested that I make my way down to the beach—a whole nest of turtle eggs had hatched, and the babies were making their way to the ocean.

Seriously?! After joking that I truly couldn’t handle much more, I quickly made my way down.

I smiled as I approached the group of wide-eyed onlookers, bursting with excitement as they watched the baby turtles scurry towards the ocean.

As I grew nearer and crouched down to get a closer look, my heart sank as I gained a new perspective. What a traumatic situation these little guys had found themselves in! Their whole lives had been spent in a shaded nest, until the moment their shells begin to crack, exposing them to sunlight for the first time. Now, as their tiny bodies scurried across the hot sand, they were up against the clock to make it to the ocean before being baked by the sun.

How can a single event be experienced so differently? Well, for the same reason it’s okay to laugh watching a baby tumble over in its first attempts to walk. We can appreciate as adults—or in the case of turtles, as human spectators—that these challenges are all part of the growth process. It seems quite simple in this context, but how easily do we lose sight of the bigger picture when confronted with our own hardships?

courtesy of the author, via nala_rinaldo (not for re-use.)

There are invaluable lessons expressed by the natural world in every moment pointing to the law of impermanence. Everything is in a constant state of change. For some, this leads to a great sense of instability.

We become attached to things that bring us comfort—and fear the day they are taken away. However, change can also be seen as a source of great liberation. It is our ability to persevere through difficult times that determines our fate.

The fact is, change is inevitable—whether an earthquake, a shell-cracking or losing a loved one causes it.  How we respond however, is entirely our choice.

Do we continue to suffer under the illusion that our world is inherently cracked—or do we appreciate that every crack is an opening for a new light to shine through?

The message I received—loud and clear this morning—is that there is no hope of witnessing a rainbow, without first enduring the storm.


Author: Mary Tilson

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own; Nala Rinaldo, used with permission.

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