This morning there was an earthquake with an epicenter in Takatsukishi, Osaka, which is about 32 kilometers (19 miles) from my home. This is the closest I have been to an epicenter in the almost 10 years of living in Kyoto.
I was in the studio, on the second floor. First I felt a slight tremor that grew, like a heavy truck getting closer. That vibration then felt like it grew into a rising wave from the west of me. As the vibration steadily and rapidly increased, that wave of sound vibration seemed to swell and rise, as if the ground itself was physically being pushed upward and outward toward where I sat. The studio began to tremble and that quickly morphed into an all out shaking back and forth, south to north. It felt like the building itself had become elastic and the floor I was seated on seemed to effortlessly slide side to side. My body of course followed this flow, and I was firmly shaken back and forth, but at the same time it all seemed so languid. My body did not tense. My mind did not panic. My emotions settled and quieted. The whole thing seemed to last about 20 seconds from beginning to end.
After it stopped, I immediately went to the house to check on my wife and son, who were both fine.
Our studio has zero damage. Not even one of the many vases that decorate the interior fell. However, at our home a beautiful full length mirror made by my wife’s grandmother took a dive off its perch and shattered. And, since our home is a machiya, dust and dirt from the walls and ceiling rained down in several sections of the house, most notably in the kitchen and my second floor puja room. My altar was quite shaken as you can see in the photo. The large Shivanataraja even moved a bit, as if the Lord of the Cosmic Dance decided it was time to initiate a few steps of a mild Dance of Destruction to mirror the spontaneous movement of nature that had occurred. The smaller Nataraja, also in the photo, wound up face down.
As I looked at the two statues, I was reminded of a beautiful version of the myth of Shivanataraja. In this version, when the Lord of the Cosmic Dance faces the final dark force of the demon dwarf called Apasmara-Purusha – the figure beneath Shivanataraja’s right foot – he both defeats the demon and loses to him. When he loses the story indicates that Lord Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer falls into a deep slumber, and forgets he is Shiva because Apasmara is the demon of Forgetfulness. In Shiva’s sleep, he has a beautiful succession of dreams, which culminate in a dream of him existing as a human being. And during this dream, in his sleep the lips of the Lord of The Cosmos gently curl into a small smile.
Being human means getting shaken up. Sometimes a bit. Sometimes much more. When we are shaken, how do we respond? Can we stand and flow with the dance? And when we fall, can we still maintain some kind of invitation to ourselves to see the loveliness of the disaster? And can we rise again to begin the dance anew?
Yes, the earthquake was not bad at all. The clean up was quite easy. But what if it had been not so subdued? What if it had been a fiercer form of nature’s dance? Each day is a day to ready myself to face my own mortality head on. Not with overblown fanfare and bluster, but with a quiet smile and invitation to myself to maintain some sense of calm because each of us, like Shiva, are creators in the magnificent Dance of Life. We each have a myth to unfold, and it can have many outcomes. May we flow with graceful intention when we can, and settle with graceful surrender when we find that the wave of life has come to our door unexpected and with an intention of its own that may or may not coincide with ours.
To the spontaneous movement of nature, I welcome with open arms and bow with great respect and gratitude for what it can teach me each day.