What can we learn from an earthquake? Engineers talk of weak constructions and the need for quake-proof structures; politicians talk of disaster-management plans; social organisations talk of relief measures and physical rehabilitation; mental health professionals talk of psychological rehabilitation; medical experts talk of prevention of epidemics; seismologists talk of research into prediction of earthquakes. But we have never considered the spiritual lessons that we—as a human race—can learn from such an event. Every event happens so that we may learn something.
An important lesson for us is redefining certain words such as horrible, terrible, miserable, exhausted, devastated, unbearable and disastrous. The smallest of events in our life are enough to trigger-off feelings of misery and depression. We use exaggerated and catastrophic language almost for any minor happening.
I had to type extra reports in the office, had to have a very lunch late, the train back home was delayed by an hour — “I had a terrible day.”
My husband reached late for our anniversary dinner party — “I was devastated.”
We don’t get water in our taps from 2 pm to 7 pm — “What a disaster.”
Everyone around me has a career and I have to sit at home and watch the baby — “Life is in the pits.”
After observing and listening to the stories of the quake-hit areas, we need to think twice before using such catastrophic language to describe everyday happenings in our life. This therapeutic shift in our expressions while describing events in our life will give rise to greater contentment, and also reduce the risk of hypertension, heart disease and other stress-related diseases, the use of tranquillisers, the number of interpersonal conflicts and the expensive visits to psychiatrists.
Another important lesson is to be grateful for the little things in life — which may seem little when you have them, but seem a lot when they are taken away. Just the fact that you are alive and breathing is enough to feel grateful. After coming out of a catastrophe of this kind where the survivors have literally touched the doors of death and come back, everything seems a bonus; sleep, food, clothing, shelter, family, friends and a job. Now why don’t you count your blessings? I assure you that you will never fall short of things to be grateful for.
One of the survivors when interviewed said in a very matter-of-fact manner, that she had surrendered herself to God in trust. She was rescued from under the rubble after several hours but was positively calm and peaceful. There was a radiance of trust on her face.
Man tries his level best to secure his life and the lives of his beloved from all calamities — both natural and man-made. But a calamity like an earthquake has demonstrated that those that came to rescue were not necessarily family and friends, but strangers who reached out and helped. These strangers came from far and wide, crossing all geographical limits, just responding to their inner calling to help. There have been so many instances of gallantry where strangers have risked their lives to rescue and help those who were trapped in the debris, using every ounce of their strength and determination. So many angels have touched so many lives.
Complete trust in the divine does wonders making the survivors, all living testimonies of his love and might. But don’t wait to meet such calamities to experience his love, instead submit yourself absolutely into his hands and seek his guidance every single day of your life.
Confronting death on such a large scale has a humbling effect on all. There are stories of large scale devastations where entire villages having been flattened and wiped out from the map, interspersed with miraculous rescues of people who have been buried under the rubble for days, with barely more than dehydration and a few bruises, and of course, the pregnant woman who was rescued unscathed from under the debris with both her and the unborn child doing perfectly well. These stories speak loud and clear about the powerlessness of man against nature and the divine will. Witnessing the divine sanction functioning in its fullest glory in a natural calamity of these proportions brings a sense of sacredness to the entire experience. We can merely do our best, but then we are required to leave the rest to the divine sanction. “Thy will be done.”
Being confronted by transitory nature of life in such a stark manner as the earthquake, every individual is challenged with questions concerning the meaning and purpose of his existence. The reality of death puts life in perspective. How would you spend today if you knew that your life was going to end tomorrow? This reminds me of a song, “Where is the time to hate when there is so little time to love?”
Petty quarrels, long drawn out conflicts and resentments, ego clashes; suddenly they all seem so futile and a complete waste of the precious gift of life.
Awareness of death makes you go about quickly accomplishing the purpose for which one was put in this world. Every person must find out and clearly define what his role in life is. And the most important aspect of this role is, to forgive and love one another, to help one another in times of need, to bask in the glory of life, being grateful for every breath and using it in an optimum manner, and furthermore, to connect to our higher selves and help others connect to their higher selves and fulfil their purpose in life.
“An empty book stares at our face,
asking us to fill up the blank pages
by writing on them the poems of love.
As an empty life stares back at us,
urging us to fulfill it
by ‘living’ a life of love.
As the emptiness of the heart
gnaws at us continuously,
crying out to fill the void
with the elixir of Love.”
Every human being is conditioned to assume that the real world is outside, that the way to live life is by contact with an external reality, by seeking input, physical and mental, from without. We would rather explore the far side of the moon or the bottom of the ocean than the hidden depths within ourselves.
Man is subjected to a series of events in his life. Things happen that we do not want; things that we want do not happen; and that is the story of human suffering. Eventually we must all face the suffering of death. Buddha discovered a way to gain insight into the reality of his own nature and to experience true freedom from suffering. He explained that the only way to experience this liberation from all suffering is to look within, to observe the reality within, and thus come out of suffering.
In order to solve our problems, we are required to see our situation as it is and to observe the suffering objectively. If we can learn to observe the pain and the suffering with detachment, like a doctor examining someone else’s pain, we find that the pain no longer overwhelms and controls us. Perhaps it goes away quickly, perhaps not, but it does not matter. We do not suffer from the pain anymore because we can observe it with detachment.
This can be achieved by the systematic development of insight by witnessing in meditation. This reminds me of a story narrated by Osho.
A Zen master was invited as a guest. A few friends had gathered and they were eating and talking when suddenly there was an earthquake. The building that they were sitting in was a seven-storey building and they were on the seventh storey, so life was in danger. Everybody tried to escape. The host, running by, looked to see what had happened to the master. He was there with not even a ripple of anxiety on his face. With closed eyes he was sitting on his chair as he had been sitting before.
The host felt a little guilty, he felt a bit of a coward, and it did not look good that a guest was sitting there and the host was running away. The others, the other twenty guests had already gone down the stairs but he stopped himself although he was trembling with fear, and he sat down by the side of the master.
The earthquake came and went, the master opened the eyes and started his conversation which because of the earthquake he had had to stop. He continued again at exactly the same sentence—as if the earthquake had not happened at all.
The host was now in no mood to listen, he was in no mood to understand because his whole being was so troubled and he was so afraid. He asked the master, “We all tried to escape. What happened to you? What do you say about the earthquake?”
The master said: “I also escaped, but you escaped outwardly, I escaped inwardly. Your escape is useless because wherever you are going there too is an earthquake, so it is meaningless, it makes no sense. You may reach the sixth storey or the fifth or the fourth, but there too is an earthquake. I escaped to a point within me where no earthquake ever reaches, cannot reach. I entered my centre.”
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