Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal; receiving raw treatment from his friends.


I was up early this morning, planning to get some work done before heading out for the usual Friday morning assist/teach routine. The first suggestion that something might be unusual about this day was an old friend's admonition to "Get out of low-lying areas and head for high land!"

I thought: what the f@$k?

The Chron quickly filled me in on the latest. Holy Japanese earthquake. 8.9. Incomprehensible, even to those of us in regions accustomed to talking seismology. The photos and video, even moreso.

It was a strange juxtaposition, this melding of disaster and early morning, because the day here in SF broke clear and bright, fresh, new, March in all her blooming glory. I sat at my desk and looked out into the garden and everything was yet pristine, silent, untouched. Knowing we were due to see tsunami waves in about an hour (landfall was estimated at 8am our time, this being 7 or so), I watched with curiosity, weirdly detached, making my coffee, reading my email, knowing this huge wave was barreling toward us across the Pacific, and knowing at the same time that there was nothing at all we could do about it.

I followed with interest the sporadic updates from an old high school classmate now living in Japan, who'd walked the many miles home after the trains stopped running, scavenged for some water and soy milk, and slept restlessly in the wake of aftershocks. This veritable stranger, he who I have not seen since we were, oh, 17 (thank you, strange and ambiguous Facebook), was an eye unto the world the rest of us were only reading about in dauntingly tragic news stories. His hastily tapped-out reports lent everything a much more intimate feel, from his wishing he'd worn better sneakers to endure the 20km walk, to his gratitude for wearing a few layers and having remembered to stock up on water at the convenience store before the shelves were emptied by scavenging locals.

Survival's a funny thing. How small and vulnerable, impermanent and transient, disasters like this make us feel - and yet, at the same time, completely, falsely impervious.

I dried my hair and threw some apples in my bag and tied on my sweater and rolled out the door per usual, like any other Friday morning, heading down Polk St. for my weekly morning amble through the awakening Tenderloin, and the awnings were wet with water from the street cleaners, and the homeless guys were curled up on the sidewalk yet asleep, and City Hall was shining as its sunlit gilt facade welcomed power-suit-clad dudes rolling in for the workday.

And it was all very much blasé, and all completely different, at once.

Walking south, I was reminded of the clear blue sky that Tuesday morning in September 2001 when I stepped out of the University of Delaware library onto the sunny, magnolia-lined Mall, having spent the morning with my nose deep in The Sexual Politics of Meat, unaware that anything out of the ordinary had occurred; the day was so purely, eerily peaceful and perfect and bright and hopeful and cerulean blue that it hardly seemed possible that just a few hours north, disaster had struck, the twin towers were falling, and mass casualties were littering the streets of Manhattan.

There's a weird guilt that comes of feeling quite safe and peaceful and "normal" and at ease when one knows of the great tragedy, pain, dis-ease being felt across an ocean. We saw echoes of that tumult in the tiny tsunami waves that touched our Pacific coastline, in the undulating rhythms that wrought unusual crests to this morning's low tide, but they were only hints, watered-down memories, remnants, souvenirs of the real action.

It was a sobering reminder, this, that it could just as easily have been us, and likely will be, one of these days. And I'll admittedly not be ready, in the expected ways; I don't have an earthquake kit in the cabinet, in spite of all good advice; I sleep well, without fear of the earth shaking; most of us locals take pleasure in the roiling and rolling earth, sharing wide-eyed stories of where we were when the last one hit, disappointment at not feeling the latest, gruesome thrills in the unsteady reminders of our own mortality that come at the most unexpected of times.

Kind and warm and wonderful, yes, to have caring thoughts sent westward from those in the rest of the country, and yet this Friday feels very much like any other, here; we buy Claritin and go to the bank and teach a few sun salutations and come home to our routines, and yet in the midst of all these, we feel how deeply our brothers and sisters elsewhere wretch and twist and weep in the midst of great sorrow and destruction.

This is where the Buddhist - Tantric - Christian (yes, even Christian, if we talk Process and Ecofeminist theologies) teachings of interrelatedness really hit home for me. How easy it is to go on with our perceived normalcy, saying, "Oh, whatevs, the sky's blue and taxes are due and oh shit, there's that article deadline, too," and on and on, ad infinitum, getting lost in our own own little daily to-dos, and yet then, there, you have moments like this, when the fact that your suffering is mine becomes so very very clear, transcendent, really, and so you sit at your desk and you walk through the Tenderloin and you go to the studio and you soften a few shoulders and sing a few words in Sanskrit and yet all of those mundane activities are charged with the awareness that a) they are fleeting, and b) they are extraordinary in their very mundanity, and c) they are not to be taken for granted, because d) you do not have to be here, the universe does not owe you anything, it has not promised you one extra breath and will never promise you more, so e) you'd sure as hell better be right here, right now, and breathe it in and feel it and see it and give a soft bow of the head to this body, this moment, this breath, this life. Because it does not have to be.

The studio today, heaving with over a hundred sweating stretching beautiful yogis breathing in and out to the rhythm of a heartbeat, swelled the song of 3 shared Oms offered with the intent that all might be free from suffering, that all might find peace. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. It was a rare and precious privilege to be in that space at the moment, eyes open, wandering from person to person as the waft of a simple stick of incense filled the air. The beauty, the intention, the furrowed brows, the sorrow felt so empathetically; all of it was clear, embodied, real, true, felt, sung, breathed, and my heart swelled and broke a bit in joy and great aching in seeing this small effort, this really just attempting to be present and awake and aware, and to do what we can with what little we have, here, from thousands of miles away, in a sunlit room at 10 in the morning wearing stretchy pants on fraying mats with sore muscles and sweat dripping down our brows and a bright-eyed toddler giggling to himself along the far wall.

It made me feel human, and connected, and small, and vast, at once. Those voices. That chanting. We do what we can. Even if it is ostensibly small. Because it ripples out. As the earth ripples. As the sea ripples. As our metta meditation ripples.

If there was ever a time to practice metta meditation - that offering of hope for peace and non-suffering for all, be they strangers, beloveds, or those for whom we feel little at all but dispassion - this is it. Come into the metta. Let it drive you. Let it release you from your own small dramas and remind you that the heart of this practice - any spiritual practice - lies in our efforts at compassion, lovingkindness, peace, at that getting outside of ourselves and into the shared suffering that is the only true constant of being alive.

People of Japan, and those who love you, and those who are near, and those who are far, and those who are touched by this disaster, and even (especially) those who think they are untouched, untouchable, immortal, superhuman:

May you be free from suffering. May you find peace.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

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