How do we stay balanced in storm conditions?

Reflecting on Hurricane Sandy, Kyo Maclear wonders how we can stay rooted and awake, even as everything around us sways.

Last night I watched and listened to the storm from my attic bedroom window. It was high-octane drama: from the insane lashing of tree branches to the whoosh and howl of gale force winds to the abrupt wail of sirens rushing to a west-end fire. Last night, my double-glazed windows suddenly seemed very, very thin.

My usually-unflappable friend had called earlier in the evening to say that she was worried about the construction debris outside her house. It looked grounded and solid but was it really? Would it end up flying through the air, a mad and lethal swirl of lumber?

There are moments when our fortifications seem scarily tentative, when we realize how vulnerable we are in the face of nature. It’s humbling and terrifying to realize that the things we thought were steady are not so.

This morning as I headed to a yoga class, the streets of Toronto were littered with fallen branches and rogue pieces of brick. Thousands of homes in my city were without power. For the record, I do heaps of yoga in the hope of becoming more pliable, as in less rigid, fearful and insecure. (I don’t mean to perpetuate the stereotype of the writer as neurotic but, well, what can I say?) I do not do yoga in hopes of reaching some immutable state of “balance.” To my mind, there is something intrinsically askew and politically naive about striving for balance in a world that is so deeply topsy-turvy (our extreme weather being one manifestation of our global disequilibrium). And yet this morning I was grateful that my teacher* decided to use balance as a theme for the class. “Steadiness is an illusion,” he said.  Suddenly, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it didn’t sound like a hollow platitude. As we stood in tree pose, he continued: “How do we stay balanced in storm conditions? How do we maintain a state of grounded flexibility?”

Balance and sway. Control and surrender. The ability to bend without breaking. These are basic existential challenges that we all face from time to time, if not on a regular basis. This becomes especially apparent when things go wrong with our normal lives, when something challenges our comfortable reality or upends our expectations, which is generally the moment when we open up and grow.

How tippy can we get before we fall? I have yet to meet a writer who believes writing is good for his/her emotional balance. Most writers will tell you that writing is a wrestle and anguish. It can be petty vanity one moment and crushing doubt the next. Lately I’ve begun to look at homeostasis differently. Maybe we’re lucky if, as we work and live far from equilibrium, we can find moments of wobbly poise.

If we’re lucky, maybe we can remain rooted and nimble and awake, while everything sways.

Please feel free to share your responses and thoughts about Sandy here. How are you staying rooted and awake?

To help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, text ‘REDCROSS’ to 90999 to donate $10, or visit redcross.org.

*Thanks to Scott Davis of Octopus Garden.

Kyo Maclear is a visual arts writer and author of two novels, Stray Love and The Letter Opener. She lives in Toronto. For more from Kyo on Shambhala SunSpace, see her previous posts,Too Much Information” and “We Need Action and Reflection,” about last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

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