Saturday, June 27, 2020

Taking Refuge in the Storm

[I encourage you to listen rather than just read ~ the ambient rain and thunder are worthwhile.]

Last night I was planning to take this post in another direction, but the afternoon’s circumstances doubled-down … and now maybe that direction has proven more true.

I remember when I was younger, maybe 40 or so years ago, listening to the weather reports on the radio as a hurricane bore down upon our location. We were inland and out-of-the-way enough that hurricane season ordinarily brought at best some tired rain, maybe enough wind to fly a kite, and certainly washes of swampy humidity. That’s what made this one an event: This one, against all odds, persisted as it crawled up the coast and finally turned inward for its kamikaze run.

The weather radios buzzing with warnings to take shelter were suddenly overpowered by the intensifying wind. The skies turned dark as tall pines and hardwoods alike contorted in a macabre dance. Whether it was at my family’s prodding or due to a delayed re-acquisition of my senses, I don’t know ~ but I withdrew from my windowed overwatch and moved to the interior. I listened ~ and I felt ~ the storm washing through me with such power…

But there was no crescendo ~ no wild climax of nature. What followed was far more intriguing ~ something that I don’t know if I’d experienced prior. Years later in martial arts studies I’d learn the Japanese word zanshin ~ a certain residual, relaxed, and heightened awareness following the perfect execution of a technique. To an observer, it is done ~ but really it is not. The scene is still, yes ~ your opponent is down, but maybe not yet subdued. You remain connected to this moment and to your opponent until the energy is dissipated and the encounter finally resolved.

There was a sudden stillness and, upon opening the door, I saw there was sunlight as well. I wandered into the yard. .. and I wandered down the block. I wandered up and down the avenue, surveying uprooted trees and a few damaged roofs, the debris scattered indiscriminately. For maybe twenty minutes I wandered, appearing imperceptibly still on the scale of what passed, until the roar resumed and the darkness followed, the trees dancing in reverse as the scene unwound. The eye had passed ~ the stillness broken ~ as the storm retook control.

Yesterday I sat at the table’s head for an impromptu family lunch. It was loud and it was spirited ~ right until it wasn’t. There was an internal wind… and there was sudden darkness… and then there was a cold stillness. My wife was restrained in horror, my son looked for an escape from the table, and my daughter was in tears wondering what she had done wrong ~ and how she might resolve it. As her emotions railed, my own were absent; and as she lashed out, my verbal grip tightened. There was only zanshin ~ a very cold ~ and a very cruel ~ zanshin…

It took some time for us to sit down again and for her to ask ~ and for me to acknowledge ~ what repressed feelings ~ justified or not ~ that I may have brought to that encounter. In some reality, though, the awareness was there ~ and at any time, with that clarity, I could have released the grip ~ but I didn’t. Somehow, the energy was not yet dissipated ~ the encounter was not complete. To see it in any other light, I would have to ask whether I enjoyed the encounter as sport ~ or as prey… that somehow I used practices I’d honed for peace in some dark fashion.

The other night, I sat on the front porch beneath the overhang with an evening cup of coffee as a strong summer storm passed. I always find some peace in the power of lightning crackling and feeling waves of thunder washing through my core. Where others may sensibly retreat, I am routinely drawn to it. Maybe it takes me outside of myself for a moment. Maybe I feel the heightened awareness and the lingering connection ~ the zanshin. Maybe I see some hidden part of me, just below the surface, externalized, revealing itself to be recognized. Who knows? But whatever it is, it passes ~ and with it goes whatever dark part of me that I attached ~ at least for now. Or so I hope.

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