“We must all face the fact that we are very precariously suspended in life: we have a very slender foothold on the planet.” - Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
As I sit down and prepare to write this entry, a hawk circles outside against the blue sky. I marvel as it moves slowly, precisely, graciously cruising calmly in the waves of the wind. Unlike us, who stand precariously suspended amid chaos, change, and paradox, the hawk hovers and rides the wind. I get the message. I know that my entry today has something to do with standing still amid chaos, with transforming sorrow into hope and possibility.
I rarely write about a topic while under the influence of strong emotions around it, for fear of losing objectivity, but it is necessary for me to overcome how saddened I am by the tragedy that has embraced the Haitian nation, and to write about our roles as counselors in responding to catastrophic events. Most importantly, I want to retake the focus of last week’s posting and continue talking about spirituality and counseling. The tragedy of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, brings me to reflect on the level of preparedness counselors need to have when tragedy strikes. When faced with issues of great enormity, we ought to pause and question how well prepared we are. How can we promote balance in a time of absolute chaos? How do we reposition our feet so to stand still on the earth as the hawk hovers above it?
As I navigate my way through a tragedy that feels almost insurmountable, I realize that if I can hold on to compassionate understanding, if I can grasp the concept of acceptance, I will attain the gracefulness of the hawk as the opposing forces of nature tear Haiti apart. The indigenous people of the island of Hispaniola (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) believed in multiple gods and goddesses before they were Christianized. One of the divinities of their cosmology is Guabancex, a goddess of great wrath. She is the goddess of destruction and renewal, goddess of the hurricane and other natural phenomenon that bring about destruction. If this is all her doing, then there is hope, as it indicates a major shift for the island, because Guabancex only destroys to create new life. Her doings illuminate the idea of rising from sorrow to embrace the possibilities that change brings.
While acceptance cannot, will not, bring back to life those who perished in the tragedy, it can bring solace to those left extremely vulnerable. Part of how we can help clients and ourselves in the phase of destruction is by coming to terms with what is. Acceptance is about grasping, coming to terms with the depth and width of what has happened and the willingness to examine what is left for us to do. The people of Haiti are giving us a lesson impossible to ignore. As I get in touch with those who have been immediately impacted by the physical manifestation of the earthquake, I invariable hear the voice of resilience, rising like the Phoenix from the ashes. The notion that, when faced with tragedy, we have the choice to stand proud and tall, to not succumb to the sorrow, is life-altering.
Technology is doing away with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, as it brings feedback loops to which we have no choice but to respond. Turning the TV off is no longer an option because the images are present wherever we go. I could not help but notice that every place I have gone since the earthquake shook Haiti, the images of destruction are broadcast widely. At first I took it as a frantic “media hunger” for sensationalism. Then I reflected. The images on TV are holding all of us responsible for what is happening. The moment we become conscious of the magnitude of this tragedy, we are automatically bound to take action. The media is inviting a type of “cosmic consciousness,” the kind of consciousness that makes us one with everything. Cosmic consciousness allows us to see ourselves in the eyes of the other, therefore making both “self” and “other” disappear into unity—a pillar in spiritual counseling.
Haiti is going by what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. I want to believe that the disruptive forces of nature are just at work in building a better Haiti. I want to experience this tragedy as part of a radical change that will transform our consciousness. The gruesome images on TV are humanizing what happened in Haiti; these images are holding us responsible and inviting us to act. This is no different than what we do in counseling, especially counseling that is spiritually minded. We create sympathetic resonance between what is difficult to see and hear and the person who is directly impacted by it so he or she can make the necessary changes. When individuals align their perspective with their actions, we start to see progress.
Becoming conscious of the depth of a tragedy induces empathy. There is something in the tragedy of the “other” that resembles ours and propels us to respond. This does not change the fact that we are “precariously suspended in life,” but like the hawk we will have learned to glide gracefully.
Marianela Medrano-Marra is a counselor and Dominican writer living and practicing in Naugatuck, CT. She writes poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction; with publications including essays and four books of poetry.