How do seabirds survive the impact of a violent hurricane? Recently a friend sent me an interesting article about this. The birds use a simple technique: they fly in the same direction as the winds, which spiral inward toward the center of the hurricane. In this way, they are drawn into the calm eye of the storm where the winds are relatively still, and can wait it out until the hurricane finally dissipates.
There’s a lot we can learn from these wise little birds. At some point in our life (usually more than once), each of us is beset by the winds of karmic storms. We have the choice of several ways to react:
1. We can be in denial and live in the fantasyland of “This isn’t really happening.” If we take this course, we end up getting battered anyway, and are unable to protect ourselves until it’s too late. We may never learn the lessons that this karmic test was meant to teach us.
2. We can blame others for our misfortune, and adopt the attitude “This is all other people’s fault.” Our thinking then moves along these lines: “I was doing just fine, and if they hadn’t acted wrongly, none of this would have happened.” We lose the opportunity to learn what our part was in creating the difficult karma, and the storm lasts longer than it might have.
3. We can begin wallowing in self-pity: “Why is this happening to me?” Can you imagine a seabird flying in the thick of a storm thinking, “Why me?” If we keep things in perspective, we begin to realize that our suffering is a mere droplet in the vast sea of human life. It’s better to rise to the occasion and think, “I myself created the karma that’s bringing me this suffering. By my right action now, I can destroy its power over me.”
4. Another option is resistance: “I will fly against these winds no matter what.” While the use of will power is certainly important in overcoming obstacles, it’s also necessary to use discrimination, gauge the strength of our opponent, and know when it’s time to take another tack. Sister Gyanamata, Paramhansa Yogananda’s most advanced woman disciple, told of a time when she knew that an unavoidable karmic test was coming to her. She prayed for guidance, and the prayer that immediately came into her mind was: “Change no circumstance of my life. Change me.” She didn’t resist the test, but asked to see what within herself drew it, and to change that pattern.
5. Finally, we can follow the example of the seabirds in the hurricane. We can use will power to fly with the buffeting winds, not against them, so that we are brought to rest in the calm eye of the storm. With this approach, we think: “I will use a power greater than my own to overcome this test.”
In Swami Kriyananda’s Festival of Light ceremony, he wrote a beautiful allegory about a little bird flying through a storm, symbolizing the soul’s journey to freedom:
“When afternoon came, it [the little bird] entered a storm cloud, and soon found itself struggling for its life. Wind and rain lashed at its wings. The more it fought back, the weaker it became.
“ ‘Give yourself into my hands!’ cried the wind. ‘To your strength I can then add my own.’ At last, the little bird heeded this counsel. Then, suddenly, it found itself soaring joyously, high above the clouds.”
The bird asked where he could find the source of this great strength to conquer fear and weakness. And all nature answered: “Seek it in the farthest depths of Being, in your own Self.”
So how do we find this inner source of strength, this calm center in the midst of life’s storm? Meditation helps us to experience the peace of our inner Self. Humility and self-offering are attitudes that show us how to transcend the limitations and pride of the ego. Faith in the power of God allows us to release the thought that it is by our own strength alone that we will prevail.
In Master’s beautiful poem, “God! God! God!” we find these words:
When boisterous storms of trials shriek,
And when worries howl at me,
I will drown their noises, loudly chanting:
God! God! God!
The calm at the eye of life’s storm is God. Our job is to go within and find Him.
Your friend on the journey,