Ask Parvati 3: Awakening to Disaster

BY Parvati

Awakening to Disaster

March 13, 2011

As I write, I am feeling raw and vulnerable. The power of the earthquake in Japan and the tsunami that followed shook me deeply and leaves me focused on prayers for those who were struck by the disasters and for all beings, including our living planet.

The questions I received this week were powerful, mirroring the intensity of the natural disaster that also came. The question answered here is in response to dealing with family tragedy. Both this tragedy and the planetary disaster to me are a call to enlightened action and to learn to truly love.

(If you would like your question to be in a draw to be answered next Sunday, please send it to me by Thursday, March 17th at

May you feel inspired this week to be the light you are.


Dear Parvati,
My husband’s niece was killed by her husband last week, leaving four small children behind. I have always believed that we choose our experiences in this birth, that we choose our birthplace and parents/siblings and, to a certain extent, our death and time of death. Given the horrific way this woman’s life ended, I have a hard time believing that we would actually choose to die in such a way and also leave four children behind having to deal with this traumatic experience. Can you explain more about the cycle of birth and death?


Thank you for this question. I found it arresting, painful, tragic and so very sad for everyone. What is this human experience, when such painful things occur? Man is capable of such magnificence, yet does choose this kind of darkness. It is a very big question. Here are some thoughts I felt moved to share:

Our lives offer us a perfect environment for our evolution and growth. To say that “we choose” it to me sounds too harsh. I would say that our soul patterns our life before we are born. Our life reflects our attachments, our resistance and our openness. The experiences and people in our life are an expression of these. As such, our life offers us a perfect place to awaken to who we truly are and to what truly is.

I don’t believe that painful things happen as a sign of being a bad person. I don’t believe that people who seem to have it all together are so because they are being rewarded. I don’t believe in that kind of punishment and praise. I believe we can completely miss the lessons we are here to learn, whether we seem to have it all together or have a life that is a mess. How we respond in any given situation is what shows us who we truly are.

We are each an essential part of a vast, multidimensional whole. What we put out comes back to us for us to see. There is an intelligence that is constantly teaching us, if we are willing to open, see and listen. There is no such thing as “a man is an island”. He may believe himself to be, but in essence, he is connected to everything, whether he sees it or not. As such, all we think, do, feel, believe and act affects not just our selves, but everyone we know and don’t know.

Life is not happening “to” me. I am not a victim in any situation. I have free will. Being an essential part of a vast whole, what I think, feel and do is continually reflected back to me in my life. As such, I know that life is not happening “to” anyone. What exists today on our planet is a reflection of who we are as a species at this time. There is no one to blame. We are all equally responsible to switch on and serve.

In the process of awakening, we begin to realize the power of free will. We can choose at any moment to act in ignorance or in love. Until we embody pure consciousness, there will be a tendency to resist what is and experience suffering. All that occurs in our life is an opportunity to awaken to see patterns of our resistance and let them go.


We live in a dark time. The Earth is agitated. People are agitated. There is mass suffering. But just because it is so, does not does not mean we need to be in the dark. We can see it as a reflection of our possibility to be dark.

How much we embody suffering is up to us. Because we have free will, we have the potential to embody that murkiness and perpetuate more suffering, or use this moment as an opportunity to purify our psyches and live soul-directed, spiritually inspired lives to serve all beings.

In each moment, we can choose to expand and meet the moment or we can choose to constrict and resist it. When we resist, suffering persists, until we embrace what is. Through resistance, we experience pain, and cause pain. Through expansion, we offer healing and support evolution.

I believe that, because we are all connected, what happens to another affects all beings. The pain the now motherless children feel is my pain. The pain the Japanese feel is my pain. Of course, that can quickly seem theoretical because the actual incident is not “happening” to me. But is it?

The night I was sleeping during the quake and tsunami, I had unusual, restless dreams. I woke up to my morning meditation practice and had unusual difficulty meditating. Usually I “drop in” to stillness quite quickly. Instead, I felt the atmosphere agitated, murky, painful. I felt pain in my whole body, like my body was lead. Instead of my usual sitting meditation practice, I lay down and did deep breathing. In that, tears just started to flow. I felt deep pain and sadness but had no particular cause. Later that afternoon I heard the news about the trauma in Japan. 

It is easy to become judgmental, angry or self-righteous when we hear about tragic situations like the murdered mother or what is happening in Japan. Though it is natural to feel these things, those feelings do not ultimately express how we truly feel nor do they serve healing. Instead, they sidestep our own feeling of pain, helplessness and continue the notion of feeling divided, isolated islands rather than interconnected beings.

I believe situations like these disasters ask us to question what is going on in our lives and find healthier ways to co-exist with each other and with Nature. The family tragedy brings to light the way in which we live personally disconnected with our truest magnificence and offers us an opportunity to develop that more deeply. Can we feel compassion for everyone in that situation, including the murderer? Can we see the potential for violence within ourselves, no matter how big or small? How loving are we really? How do we serve others? Are we listeners, co-creators, open to others; or are we judgmental, righteous know-it-alls, controlling, angry and ultimately afraid? What are we choosing to evolve?

The natural disaster offers us opportunity to feel part of our human family. Not only do these disasters call us to serve with selfless, compassionate action, but once the immediate trauma is healed, they ask us to look deeper into the cause of the disasters. The nuclear threat in Japan obviously brings to light
the ultimate question of using nuclear power. Do we really need it? The earthquakes show us that our planet is agitated and overtaxed. The tsunami shows how interconnected we are, how one thing leads to another like a domino effect. What are we doing to ease the stress and suffering in ourselves and on the planet? Are we willing to see the interconnection?

We are left with a raw, powerful opportunity to go within and grow. As I say, a heart can break open or closed. The choice is ours. We learn to love ourselves better, which leads to being able to love all beings better. We can learn to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.


If you know peace prayers in your spiritual tradition, please practice them daily, as often as you can. If you don’t have any, here are some suggestions:

A Buddhist peace prayer starts with sending loving kindness to oneself, then expand that offering to others and eventually the world:

May all beings be at peace.

May all beings be well.

May all beings be at ease.

May all beings be happy.

A Hindu peace prayer in Sanskrit translates to “May all beings in all the worlds be happy”:

Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu.

The Christian St Francis of Assisi peace prayer is a personal favorite of mine and of many:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.


Next time you feel that the problem is “out there” and you feel disconnected from it, as though you are somehow either a broken and forgotten or a perfect and self-righteous island in the midst of the world, pull out this poem as a sobering reality check to bring you back to balance:

This poem by Thich Nhat Hanh embodies what he calls “interbeing,” the inner connectedness of all things. This excerpt is from his book: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.

“In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps…. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged….

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees…

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other?…

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.


I leave this blog entry with these points of contemplation, questions you may ask yourself to support your evolution and compassionate action:

  1. In which way do I resist this moment?
  2. What is this resistance showing me about what I fear?
  3. What do I need to do to release my attachment to that fear?
  4. In which way is the fear an obstacle to my growth?
  5. What does loving myself look like?
  6. What does loving others look like?
  7. What simple, self-compassionate action can I do today that would help my life feel more fulfilled?
  8. What simple, compassionate action can I do today to ease suffering in another’s life?

    If you are not already actively volunteering in your local community, do so. We learn to truly love by living a life rooted in serving others. We are all connected, as one human Earth family.