Sometimes you light the fire of transformation, and sometimes it lights you. Either way, that is how transformation takes place.
When the eruptions in Leilani Estates began, I grew quiet. This was not on purpose. Few insights came, and most of them died out in the notebook. Words were inadequate to describe what was going on. It’s been nearly a month of feeling the earthquakes, hearing distant blasts like cannon fire, watching red clouds light the sky at night. I've felt the heat.
As the ground shook and cracked open, I let my home (and myself) be a still point. What do you do, what do you say when people are in the process of losing everything? Stress and worry and loss hang in the air like heavy clouds. I ask, I listen, I offer assistance. I've housed friends and their possessions. Mostly, I lie low. I give space, just like I give space to those volcanic clouds.
Finally, today words emerge like a pahoehoe flow, slow and steady.
Sometimes you light the fire of transformation, and sometimes it lights you. Either way, that is how transformation takes place. Change is creation and destruction in the same moment, and life is change.
It’s hard, so so hard sometimes, to weather change – especially when it’s not by choice. My heart goes out to those who are having this major life change thrust upon them right now. Their lives are being put through the fire of transformation. Letting go is especially painful if you were comfortable where you were, if you didn't see it coming, if you had no choice. In that case, it just plain sucks for a while. There is a period – the end of which is unknowable while you are in it – of absence and of grief. The saving grace is the open space that absence creates. What’s going to take its place? The new life. The shift in perspective. The new understanding.
As homes and land are lost, new land forms. As the course of people’s lives is abruptly interrupted, new directions emerge. Locals say that Pele's fire is a purification not just of the land but of our hearts.
I think of yoga itself. The process, not the result.
"You can’t change and stay the same at the same time," says senior teacher Manouso Manos. Of course, he is right. Tapas, the holy fire of disciplined effort, burns away physical and mental impurities. What’s left is the radiant truth underneath. But first you have to burn away whatever is obscuring it.
I think of the phoenix. Some say the phoenix's fire is lit by God; others say it self-immolates. I think it’s both. I got a phoenix tattoo in 2005 to memorialize this very thing: the old life ends so that the new life can begin. Homes. Cities. Jobs. Open-ended travels…and their closure. Relationships. Some of these changes were of my own making, others not. Ay, there's the rub.
When I moved to Hawaii, I let go of a lot. Routines and habits, my communities, a beautiful apartment in the heart of the city (with the best neighbors ever), proximity to my teachers and their guidance, the vast majority of my possessions. So many things were let go in order to step into the flow of change. I told myself again and again:
"If you want your life to change, you have to allow yourself to change."
"If you want yourself to change, you have to allow your life to change."
(At the time, I thought I had come up with these mantras myself. I later realized that it was Manouso who teaches that "you can't stay the same and change at the same time." Thank you, Manouso. It seems I have learned something.)
Since the move and throughout this major life change, bittersweetness and excitement have merged in the singular intensity of new growth. Transformation took, is taking, will continue to take place. Any strength and equanimity I feel, I credit to the yoga itself.
When I think of the destruction and loss now taking place in Puna, it helps me to look to the past and think of what was gained. Black sand beaches are made when a large lava flow hits the ocean. Kehena, the beloved black sand beach of Lower Puna, was formed in the 1955 flow. In geological time, that’s the blink of an eye. Look closely at the helicopter videos and you may even see new black sand beaches forming. The house I live in sits atop a blob of lava that (so I’ve been told) flowed during an eruption in the 1850s.
If you are losing something now, rest assured you will gain something too. You may not know what or when, but it’s coming. From the death of the old, new life will grow.
P.S. Right as I finished that last sentence, my phone went off. It was a text from my dad: “Official start to the Lake County Fire Season. Hardester’s Middletown [the town grocery store] goes up in smoke.”