Saturday, November 3, 2012

Love in the Aftermath

Jersey City waterfront preparing for Hurricane Sandy. 

In the wake of hurricane sandy, I find myself feeling simultaneously grateful and guilty for how lucky I was to have survived unscathed. Besides some flooding in our basement and 48 hours without electricity, the only victims in my life were the containers of stock and soup and other frozen memories from cooking school that I had to heave because of the power outage. During our brief stint in the dark I was able to shower at my sisters' place in Brooklyn, where my brother-in-law made us a hot spaghetti dinner. Our power came back on just in time for my birthday and I celebrated (both momentous events) by baking a brownie pudding and an apple tart.

Just three blocks away, the sidewalks are littered with the contents of peoples' homes—furniture, clothes, and personal effects—and the owners are wrapped up in coats and scarfs to try and stay warm in their beds at night. Hoboken suffered considerable water damage. The Jersey Shore was completely destroyed; Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and on and on are on their knees. Staten Island is a war zone. Thousands of people are now homeless and my heart hurts so much I don't know what to do. As I write this post from the comforts of my home, with the Food Network buzzing in the background and a warm meal in my belly, I feel completely removed from the magnitude of this collective pain.

My street.

My yoga practice reminds me that distance is an illusion; we are all connected because we share in this experience of being human and in the painful truth that pain is part of life. Hiding from pain (dvesha) is an obstacle (klesha) because it prevents us from experiencing the totality of our existence. Like the current gas shortage, perhaps there is a fear that if we get too close to the suffering of others we risk losing our precious (and perceived) commodity of happiness. To roll up one's sleeves and voluntarily wade through the flood waters of someone else's life takes courage, plain and simple. Inaction feels like the safer option, but it only perpetuates separateness.

Aftermath at Liberty Landing Marina. They've made an amazing recovery in the past few days.

The yoga of action/service (karma yoga) asks us to open our hearts to those who are experiencing the kind of loss that many of us may never know but, through acts of love, can hope to understand. The easiest way to help is to reach out to your friends, family, and community. For those of us in the hard hit areas, we need only to step outside and ask neighbors "What can I do?" Paulus Hook has been an inspiring place to call home: restaurants are offering free food, coffee, and internet; friends are cooking meals and hosting impromptu block parties; folks are stopping one another in the street to offer a hot shower or a warm bed. (Check out ways you can help Jersey City or Hoboken.) On the other side of the Hudson, fellow NYC YogaWorks' teachers Jeanmarie Paolillo and Paula Liberis are leading a huge donation effort at the Upper Westside studio to deliver necessities to devastated areas. Their actions are so inspiring to me and I'm very proud to be their friend. "Whatever a great man does ordinary people will do; whatever standard he sets everyone will follow" (Bhagavad Gita). One of my girlfriends asked me to donate clothes/home goods/anything to someone she knows in NYC who lost all of her belongings when her apartment flooded. And that's just a tiny snapshot of my own personal network.

Those of you who are farther away, get in touch with those you know who live in Sandy's path to find out how you can make a difference. Financial donations do help. For everyone, near and far, here are just a few options and resources I've found to help you get started.

Occupy Sandy Relief - This is a fantastic online resource of relief/volunteer information in our area. You can sign up for texts or emails to stay informed. There's also a volunteer update page that tells you what's happening on the ground and how you can help. - An online community that allows neighborhoods to efficiently come together to help those in need. There are pages for Red Hook, Astoria, the Lower East Side, and Staten Island.

Red Cross - You can text REDCROSS to 90999 and instantly donate $10 to Disaster Relief. Or you can donate online. For other ways to make a financial donation, click here.

NYC Service - An amazing resource for up-to-date opportunities to help.

The Salvation Army - To make a monetary donation. There are also separate websites specific for NY and NJ.

The Humane Society - It's totally inconceivable to me that many people were rescued from their homes but were not allowed to take their pets. You can make a donation to help the Humane Society's efforts in recovering animals after the storm.

Benefit Yoga Classes - Many of the NYC/NJ studios are offering benefit classes to support relief efforts. Check your local studio.

"God is attained by all those who see God in every action." - Bhagavad Gita

Ellie, doing her part to help clean up.

I find this metta (loving kindness) meditation to be helpful during painful times when I feel powerless. Repeating this mantra, with my whole heart at the wheel, helps me connect to myself and others in a positive way.

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be content.

May (________) be filled with loving kindness.
May (________) be well.
May (________) be peaceful and at ease.
May (________) be content.

For those of you feeling the effects of anxiety, hopelessness, and fear, here are some yoga practices that can help.

Prone Savasana - Lie down on your abdomen, place a rolled blanket or bolster under your ankles. Turn your head to one side (switching half-way though) and cover yourself with a blanket.

Restorative Yoga - Supporting your body with props allows your nervous system to relax. Sand bags/eye pillows are extremely helpful in easing anxiety.

Exhale-based Breathing - Lengthening your exhalations has a calming effect on your entire system.

Forward Bends - These postures are cooling and calming. Seated forward bends can be held with the help of bolsters and chairs (or, in my case, with the help of a golden retriever).

Restorative Upavistha Konasana.

This experience is giving us the opportunity to practice yoga when it matters most. Taking action to help others is a powerful form of yoga and one we can practice in both little and big ways, everyday. As we come together—neighbors and strangers—to seek solace and support in our respective communities, I hope we can all remember the power of union. May we all be flooded with gratitude, compassion, and love in the worst and best of times.

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