February 7, 2023

The Buddhist Quote I Can’t Stop Thinking about Since the Turkey-Syria Earthquake.

At 3:20 a.m. on Monday, it felt like the bed was shaking.

At first, I thought it was my husband turning around, but then I realized it wasn’t him.

Could it be an earthquake? “No way,” I had thought. I’m almost 34 and I’ve never experienced an earthquake in Lebanon.

During my Buddhist studies in Dharamshala, India, we were warned about earthquakes. The nun advised us to keep a glass or bottle of water next to us; we would hide in the Gompa only if the water was moving.

The nun’s advice suddenly came into my mind and I instantly looked at the bottle of water next to me. Unfortunately, it was too dark and I couldn’t see through it. Instead, I looked at the ceiling, and to my surprise, the pendant light was swinging wildly.

I woke my husband up and said, “I think there’s an earthquake.”

As the entire house started shaking, he looked at me and said, “That’s definitely an earthquake.”

Mentally, I didn’t get scared, but physically, well, my body certainly didn’t take my permission to go into fight-or-flight mode. My heart was beating fast, and my legs were weak and shaky. I felt cold—so cold. I looked at my hands and they were sweating like never before.

Instead of thinking about the “drop, cover, and hold on” method, I ran to the living room to check up on our three dogs. They usually sleep on the couch right below our wooden shelves (that are full of things), so I wanted to make sure that nothing heavy had fallen on them.

It wasn’t long before I realized that walking during an earthquake wasn’t the best decision. I almost fell twice, but I eventually reached them; they were okay.

The earthquake lasted for 40 seconds. It hit Turkey and Syria, and we obviously felt the tremors in Lebanon since we share borders with Syria. Around 13.5 million people have been affected by the quake and thousands of homes have been destroyed. There were some material damage in Lebanon, but no injuries or fatalities have been reported yet.

I couldn’t bring myself to sleep on Monday morning as aftershocks were still being felt in Lebanon. I couldn’t even sleep properly yesterday. Whenever I wake up, I look at the pendant light to make sure it’s not moving. When I’m working during the day, I look at my bottle of water to assess its stillness. I keep checking for tsunami alerts since I live by the beach and the earthquake could trigger big, unwanted waves.

I have high-functioning anxiety, so waiting for the worst to happen and overthinking it is already a great specialty of mine. I’m not in the “here and now,” and I can’t bring myself to let things be. I keep thinking about those who have lost members of their families or their entire homes.

Although I’m a ball of emotions right now, there’s one Buddhist quote by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse I can’t stop thinking about:

“This planet Earth you are sitting on right now as you read this book will eventually become as lifeless as Mars—if it’s not shattered by a meteor first. Or a supervolcano might obscure the sun’s light, extinguishing all life on Earth. Many of the stars that we romantically gaze at in the night sky are already long gone; we are enjoying the rays from stars that expired a million light-years ago. On the surface of the fragile Earth, the continents are still shifting. Three hundred million years ago the American continents that we now know were part of a single supercontinent that geologists call Pangaea.

But we don’t have to wait 300 million years to see change. […] Things might last for the duration of your experience of this existence, or even into the next generation; but then again, they may dissolve sooner than you expect. Either way, eventual change is inevitable. There is no degree of probability or chance involved. If you feel hopeless, remember this and you will no longer have a reason to be hopeless, because whatever is causing you to despair will also change. Everything must change.”

Two hours before the earthquake struck Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon, I woke up for an hour or so. We’re currently renovating our house, so I spent nearly an hour thinking about the kitchen’s cabinets. I was worried, lost, and even opened Pinterest briefly to check for some ideas. Funnily enough, I slept angry because I couldn’t decide what color to get.

At 5:00 a.m. when I was sitting in the living room with my dogs, I looked at the kitchen and chuckled. My body was still recovering from the fight-or-flight response, and I couldn’t give a damn about the kitchen. I had just hung up with my parents who were worried about me, and I was exchanging messages with my friends to make sure they were okay.

That earthquake somehow reminded me that things always change. That that kitchen I was so damn worried about could be destroyed in 40 seconds or less. My entire house is the least of my worries right now.

I want to worry about what truly matters: others and their safety, my family, my loved ones, my present moment. I need to stop wasting energy on what’s transient and focus on what brings me joy and peace.

Always check in on your loved ones. Be kind. Be patient. Be loving. Raise awareness. Help each other. Take care of each other. Be safe. Anything can (and will) change at any given moment. Please be thankful for what you have.



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