As the crisis in Japan, due to the earthquake and Tsunami, continues to develop and unfold, I am reminded of several things: the importance of an open heart, the frustration, anger, and confusion that change can bring, and how easily we seem to move on once a crisis seems to have passed.
For me, an open heart is one that is willing to bear witness to pain and suffering without seeking explanations, excuses, and judgments as a means to avoid one’s own anxieties and fears. When we hear of another’s suffering, whether personal or communal, we can flinch with fear. Fear can masquerade as anything from a “fix-it” mentality (as an attempt to gain a sense of control), some sort of justification for what happens (it’s as it “should” be, they had it coming, etc…), or flat out denial. Why is an open heart so important in times of crisis? Because an open heart allows us to be with what is really happening. Especially in times when it seems like we have little to offer to those in need, an open heart reminds us that there is always something we can do. We can offer our support by shining light and love, genuine intentions for healing, and prayers for suffering to lift along with a knowingness of the interconnectedness of all life. There is no thing, person, place, being, plant, or planet that we are not connected to. When we take the time to be still, open to love and light, and send that into the world, we can, and if I am to believe so many teachers and masters, do make a difference.
Another aspect of crisis is that it is born from change. In many traditions, snake or serpents represent transmutation and transformation. Serpents shed their skin and emerge anew. Yesterday, I was reminded of how prior to a snake’s shedding, its eyes become clouded over with the old layer obstructing its sight. The lack of vision puts the snake on defense creating – what seems to human observation – irritability, frustration, and even anger which can cause the snake to lash out and attack. Once the process of shedding is finished, the snake seems to slither off in peace. Change in any form can be stressful. Certainly, when there is a true crisis and disaster, stressors are at a maximum. Everything is continually evolving regardless of whether there is an ongoing crisis. If we can accept that change is always happening, hopefully even in stressful times, we can remember that life is a process that includes challenging and frustrating experiences. We can seek to heal the pain instead of avoiding it. Genuine healing is a practice of transmutation. Transformation is a process that can frequently be stressful and threatening. When we acknowledge our fears and anxieties honestly, we expand our potential for compassion and loving kindness. We open our hearts, and we create space to share love and light with all of creation.
In times of disaster, the immediate goal is to stabilize the crisis. We watch with anticipation and hope that those who are suffering the most will be tended to and that any threats will be alleviated. Once the situation calms down, it can be easy to lose touch with the remaining reality. The oil spill in the gulf gets capped, and yet the fishermen still cannot earn a living due to polluted waters. New Orleans still struggles to rebuild, Haiti still has 55,000 people living in tents from an earthquake over a year ago, we walk by a homeless person and forget once we are seated comfortably in a restaurant, a person in a domestic violence shelter begins to see a return to an abusive home as an option as the bruises heal and the crisis subsides, and so on. We can too easily be seduced by the familiar as things become constant. But, continuous is not the same as stable. And, stability can become an obstacle to genuine healing. So, as we move through another disaster, I know that healing will prevail. However, I also pray that we will not forget the pain and suffering that exists all over the world, in our own homes and lives, and with creatures of all shapes and sizes.
With an open heart, I say to all: May you be free of suffering, may you know an open heart, may you experience the love and light of knowing that you are not alone, and that you are loved even when you feel invisible. We can and do make a difference simply by caring, bearing witness, and opening our hearts.