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How To Cope When Disaster Strikes

30/04/2015 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Family members break down during the cremation of an earthquake victim in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, April 26, 2015. A strong magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

As the Earth shook Nepal, we all got a reminder of how fragile we actually are. But that is not the only time we get reminded: plane crashes, car accidents, hate crimes, riots, wars - all of these tell us in horrifying terms that there are no guarantees.

But until we are thus jolted, we remain caught up in the illusion of control, planning, goal-setting, running, rushing, chasing our dreams. More often than not, we forget to stop and truly enjoy the moment, to love and appreciate ourselves and those around us.

As ominous as this may sound, the truth is that any moment in time, life as we know it may change completely without any warning. When a disaster strikes, we tend to ask questions: Why has this happened to me? Why am I being punished?

" The art is in finding the balance of living each day as if it were your last, but at the same time leaving the space that it may not be so."

We scramble for answers in the cold precision of physics. Doesn't Newton's Third Law of Motion state, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". Pretty much, what goes around comes around principle, right? So logically, if we have done something wrong (action), something bad is going to happen to us and those around us (reaction). The main problem with this is that we can lead the saintliest life and still be struck by tragedy. This is where the concept of god gets challenged. If god is all-powerful and almighty, how can s/he allow all these horrific events? Without going into a theological discussion of whether or not there is a god or not, what if we pause for a moment and consider the possibility that life is random and events and circumstances are thrown at us with (or without) a reason (we can debate this too)?

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What if we make our peace with the probable truth that regardless on how we live our lives that there is always a possibility that the very next moment may bring with it the end - of us or our loved ones? That regardless of how carefully we plan things in life, there is always a possibility of something completely random changing our lives forever and that there is nothing actually we can do about it? How would we want to live our lives if we were acutely aware all the time that everything can change in an instant? This is the first part of the ancient wisdom of living in the moment -- knowing that everything can change and that we do not really have control over anything.

The second and the harder part is accepting and embracing this possibility, not questioning it, nor anticipating it, but living the life to the fullest, achieving things, planning things, while at the same time knowing that future may turn out to be different.

"We may not be able to change the way things have happened but through love we find acceptance, we embrace the pain and ultimately transform it into something positive and meaningful. "

The third part is that our actions are actually the choices we make all the time. They are the way we deal with whatever cards life has thrown at us. As we act on our choices, we shape our future. We cause reactions in people, we cause circumstances to alter. This places both action and reaction within us and not outside us. Things happen randomly all the time, some to us, some to our dear ones, and beyond the point we cannot do anything about it. One and, in all probability, the only thing we actually have a control over is the way we deal with them and the way we act when it happens. This is that defining moment which takes us on one path or the other, which in turn presents itself with new situations, new events and new choices, which ultimately shapes our lives and creates our reality.

The art is in finding the balance of living each day as if it were your last, but at the same time leaving the space that it may not be so. Strive for excellence but don't forget to treat yourself and others with respect and care. Practice daily random acts of kindness, while having your eyes on the big goal. Chase your dream but don't forget to stop and smell the flowers. Enjoy the moment but embrace serious responsibility. Yes, I know, this is much easier said than done. Most of the time we get stuck and sucked in into our daily living, we get emotionally invested and attached to the people and things around us.

When our plans are disrupted, sadness, anger, disappointment and despair cloud our judgment. In such cases we sometimes react rather than act in a considered way. We are propelled by a negative energy and before we know it, we are on a path that feels wrong but we seem unable to change course.

So, what to do when disaster strikes? The very first thing to do is to respond to the situation at hand. Deal with it in the most pragmatic way. This will postpone the period of pain and grief. This phase, though, whenever it takes place, is unavoidable. It is important to face this process and not try to push it away. This is the time when your actions, which will determine your future, should take shape. This is the choice you have. Whatever has happened cannot be changed, but your actions can change things. This is when you need to take a deep breath, look at your life, feel all the love you have ever received and have given and let it be your guiding light in all you do. Love has transformative power. Experiencing it, sharing it and letting it guide us is the only choice we have if we want to live life without regrets and with our hearts and souls full. We may not be able to change the way things have happened but through love we find acceptance, we embrace the pain and ultimately transform it into something positive and meaningful.

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