I was in a state of witless shock, as though flames
had suddenly enwrapped and paralyzed me so that for a moment
I had no mind, no memory.
(Aleksander Solzhenitsyn)

The summer I was sixteen, I went to gymnastics camp for two weeks. One night, a furious thunderstorm tore over the camp and lightning struck a utility pole near my cabin. What I recall now is a shattering window, a sound that I can't describe except to say that it could have been a bomb going off, and a screaming huddle of girls piled into the farthest corner. The next winter, I was caught under a winter storm while crossing the football field behind my high school; who knew that a blizzard could hurl fire? I ran for my life into the building and collapsed on a bathroom floor. Asthma nearly killed me that night.

I became phobic; I'd scrunch my body into a knot on the lowest ground I could scuttle to whenever a storm roared through my neighborhood sky. Thirty-three (!!) years later, I prudently respect storms; I no longer yelp, wheeze, and contort my body into the tiniest space I can squash myself into. What has released me from panic, other than my 49-year-old joints that kvetch at the slightest crick?

Strangely enough, the storms themselves. I used to be sure that every bolt of lightning around the planet knew exactly where I was, and I'd be blasted to cinders, flash-fried out of existence -- a holocaust of one. Sometimes, still, I tear off to hide -- in our bathroom, which has no window -- if thunder chops overhead. I sit on the edge of the bathtub with one candle burning -- in case the power goes out -- and I fixate on the electrical box high up a curbside utility pole right outside my bedroom window, knowing that cramming myself into the bathroom is futile; the lightning will sight me, lock on, and BAM!

I can't help but smile now at my quivering and quaking, as my gentle husband does if I bolt for the loo. Before a storm gets too close for my comfort, we'll stand at our balcony door and listen to what a camp counsellor named Heather once told me and my cabinmates was "the angels bowling and getting a strike." I was six at the time, and through the roaring rain, Heather led us through a chorus of cheers for the ten-pin seraphim.

Thunder -- the sound of lightning -- rolls on ... and on ... to the threshold of sky, then cascades into rumbles that could be dragons, sighing ... I read recently that a stroke of lightning completes its circuit in 0.2 seconds (or less), that it's more than twice as hot as our sun (up to 30,000 degrees C), and can travel at 60,000 miles per second.

A placid, alert, weather-wise farmer once told me, "If it's gonna hit, it's gonna hit" -- he's lost his share of animals and trees to skyfire ... My beloved friend L, a few months after being up and left for another by his mate of nine years (and after a few glasses of wine), announced at a party that "Shock is what you feel the morning after too many martinis, darling: You're shaken, stirred, spewed and spent!"

There was an instant of absolute stoppage; everyone in the room froze. We all knew of the rupture in L's heart; and who, by their late thirties, hasn't been left? But L was a zany man whose broken heart was open, and he doubled over at his own wit. We laughed until we were gasping on our knees or prone and twitching. Three boxes of kleenex made the rounds; after everyone wiped and dabbed and coughed and sputtered with leftover guffaws, we began to look at one another; quietly. A few sighs; a tear or two; a thought that seemed to weave through everyone's mind: We're all in this together. A few more breaths and gazes, then somebody sneezed. Kleenex boxes were tossed or whizzed across the floor; two boxes collided; everyone laughed. Wobbly bodies started rising to their feet, and soon we were hugging, a tribe of friends and all survivors of shock.

I wonder if there's one person in this world who isn't a survivor of some kind of shock. The opportunities for trauma to body, mind and soul are countless. Wise elders in the medical and midwifery professions know that childbirth itself is extremely stressful on the one being born; from a baby's perspective, birth is being crushed, mauled, expelled. And taken away, in some cultures, from its matrix, its source of life; taken away and then left alone.

If our lives begin this way, then what can we do later in life as shocks continue to come?

First, we do our best to survive. Then, we rise and revive; restore and live on.

Shock throws us chaos ; events are beyond our control. The I Ching knows that "shock terrifies for a hundred miles" and that its harsh touch brings "fear and trembling." Bodies react to threatening change with a surge for survival, and minds, at their best, maintain their composure. (Who do you know who is calm in a storm? How do they flow in the midst of a shock?)

We can't help but wake up and stay awake during a shock. The oracle invites us to awaken ourselves before any shock, by containing and cultivating our minds through continual immersion in mindfulness practice ... to study, revere and respect natural elements, cycles and signs ... to pay lucid attention to hazards, reducing them when we can. Jack Balkin, in his commentary of SHOCK's changing lines, notes that "the advice in all of the lines is to maintain composure and emotional balance ... by changing with the change, [an enlightened person] eventually masters it." (The Laws of Change: I Ching and the Philosophy of Life)

During my early encounters with Hexagram 51, the oracle seemed to offer weird counsel to a person with a brontophobia (phobia of lightning). To laugh in a storm? -- Yes! The oracle knows the fear and awe that rake our bones when a storm bears down: Shock comes -- oh, oh! (Wilhelm) -- and the oracle sees ahead to the mirth and relief that flood us when danger has passed and left us limp, shaking, alive: Laughing words -- ha, ha!

The I Ching, in one of its marvelous quirks of paradox, seems to be telling us to hold to the sacred -- with open hands; to relinquish our puny notions of power when the gods announce themselves with primal force. There are times when it is wise to cower in a basement -- the urge to survive trumps reason. When we do survive a thrashing, we cling to what is closest to our souls, even as we let fall our muted hands to fate. What can we do but live on?

It is then that we can smile, gently laugh, and bow to the gods. As a Zen master once said, "Sometimes there is nothing to do but have a good laugh." Then we get to work, restoring what we can, grateful that we can bend to the task, and scanning the sky for rainbows...

Singing so soon after hard rain:
grass and birds spectacular
in their resilience.

(Di Brandt)


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