A psychiatrist friend tells me that there is a term for the way the mind tilts off its axis with anxiety in the small hours of the morning, when the rest of the world seems peacefully asleep. It is called spinning out. My mind has been spinning out all day long since I began following the news of the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan. But in the middle of the night, my imagination drags itself into the full horror posed by the nuclear reactors perched at the edge of the sea.

I spin out further than I have thought possible.

Why did government officials allow those plants to carry on even though several were in violation of safety standards? What does a nuclear meltdown look like? What happens to the people, the birds and beasts? The prevailing winds are eastward, out to sea--and over to California. How far does nuclear fallout carry? When do I call my son, my brother in a panic? Evacuate California? Where to, exactly? What will happen to the poor souls in Japan who managed to survive flooding, drowning? It is possible that what humans have wrought--the peril we have put ourselves in--seems infinitely worse than anything nature could do to us.

I wake to find that my nocturnal spin out doesn't seem to have been so lunatic. I was momentarily confused about the time, having lost an hour to daylight savings--only to learn that the entire earth has lost a fraction of its daily spin through the sky. Scientists calculate that the length of day on earth has been shortened by the trauma of the quake. The coast of Japan has moved eight feet. Its shockwaves will continue to rocket through our days and nights. My thoughts for comfort go out to Japan, and to all who are in harm's way.

We await further developments about the perilous state of the nuclear reactors. Our minds, our hearts, our souls, cannot help but spin out. How far is safe, in this day and age? Is there any such thing as safe anymore? Why must we learn to escape ourselves? How will we do such a thing?

I don't think "women have cornered the market on worry", as one commenter has put it quite well. I think this worry is part of feeling compassionate. This is a time to pause, to offer prayer, wishes, thoughts--and to discover in ourselves, and honor, a new dimension of heartsickness.


Anonymous said...

I use to worry about everything and just couldn't do it anymore so with the help of medication my days are filled with hope rather than despair. I do what I can to help others everyday and more when a disaster hits. I try and focus on the resilience of people in helping themselves as well as others and organizations that really make a difference. Natural disasters unfortunately are a way of life. It seems around the first trimester of the year all hell breaks lose to show us and humble us about nature and what we can control and what we can't. I most fear the nuclear issues as you do and only hope all their fail safe measures "work" this time. Why we still build them and leave 40 year old ones still functioning I have no answers, I hope that those smarter than I have solutions and answers. I only watch the human interest stories or read about them on Facebook. How many times can one look at an entire village of 9000 go missing. It is too terrible to contemplate the ripple effect of it all. Off to take my "happy" pill for today. Might double it.

SweetRetreat said...

I am sure women have cornered the market on worry. The Japan situation has me thinking (worrying) about where is the best place to go during an earthquake, under something, outside ...? Do we have emergency supplies? Must get some good bikes ... water purifier pills ... the list is long. Nuclear power is frightening and one gets the impression that even the experts are not 'exactly' sure what to expect during a disaster. All too much.

We can recycle our little hearts our - Mother Nature is powerful and unpredictable. Which is a worry.

Time to take the dog for a walk.

Anonymous said...

I am a reader in Japan who finds the picture you posted of the tsunami rather disturbing. I'm sure you don't have to be so worried about the nuclear situation. This power station is not the same kind as chernobyl. I think somewhere in the future a stay in a zen monastery might most beneficial for you.

Tree said...

What are all these earth-made and human-made crisis teaching us?

Maybe it is the deepening recognition of our interconnected human vulnerablity, and maybe this recognition will lead the way to new types of societies for better caretaking of all life.

Sharen said...

My feelings concur exactly with yours. "...a new dimension in heartsickness."
"Fall seven times, stand up eight." This Japanese proverb of stoic courage is one which has always inspired. Still, we stand as helpless bystanders, watching in horror as the people of Chile, New Zealand, and Japan are being hurled about by the forces of nature, feeling their terror, and powerless to prevent them from harm. Throughout history, people have faced natural disasters with incredible fortitude. Would that we could show the same determination to cease our wasteful and criminal man-made conflicts and our ongoing destruction of our most precious Earth. At least that is something we are capable of doing.

Marianne said...

Dominique - if it's any comfort to you (in those wakeful wee hours), your thoughtful posts bring comfort to me! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The Swedes have another term for spinning out: The Hour of the Wolf. Ingmar Bergman made a film about it, steeped in haunting liminal madness.

I once worked with a woman who had been a little girl in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb detonated. Needless to say it informed her world view. As part of that she married a towering broody man prone to rages.

I wonder if an earth spinning faster is something akin to a car shifting to a higher gear. Could it be that we must all shift our consciousness of individuality and dread toward a shared world, compassionate world gear?

Perhaps if freedom can spontaneously organize itself in the midst of tyranny (i.e. in North Africa), so might honesty and authenticity (i.e about corporations, governments, pollution, poverty, education and love) spontaneously self-organize in the midst of profound changes in our very earth.

We are used to leaders and power structures. Perhaps the heart and mind, individual and collective, is not actually a machine or a structure, but an organic, and self-organizing principle.

It is Jung who said that what we cannot be conscious of materializes and meets us as our fate. Perhaps "spinning out" is a way your deep Self is attempting to become more conscious and vibe with your garden and all of the rest of us—a productive sort of suffering. So, thanks for sharing your private dread that key so fully to our collective dread (the same dread in which I marinate, and hope to love today). Namaste

Dominique said...

"Japanese" reader: of course the pictures are disturbing. I have never seen the whirlpool formation taken from the air. I found the drawing of the wave engulfing the coast, which harkens to the tradition of old woodcuts, to be a moving and authentic response.

I don't think a retreat to a Zen monastery is the answer. Instead, I agree with "Anonymous" above, who writes about how "spinning out" might be a way of becoming more conscious of our responsibilities as citizens of the world. I was struck by an article in the NYTimes recently about how important cooperation and willingness to learn from one another was in the evolution of humans.

There does have to be some sort of internal coping mechanism (a natural kind of "happy pill" perhaps?) I am beginning to think of it as "the willing suspension of belief"--some sort of acknowledgement that we must be aware of catastrophe, keep our hearts open and compassionate, and still carry on in the hope that good will come of the horror.

I am fascinated by the depth of the commentary, and grateful, too.

Anonymous said...

Mother Earth is well, it is the people of Earth that need prayer for healing and to bring about awareness and higher consciousness!

mary said...

Hi Dominique, Having spent many years spinning, I am finally reaching the point of knowing my limitations, the power of God, the forces of nature and the love that binds all together. The truth is (as you have written about so gloriously) this precise moment is all that we have; this moment is the one where we choose to be humans of positive or negative impact; the moment where we choose to be human beings true to ourselves and the force that created all of us and the universe. So I have learned not to concern myself with what the future may or may not bring. We are, indeed, powerless when confronted with Hokusai's wave, but we are not powerless when confronted with the daily choice of personal integrity and compassion. Be well. Mary

Ann in SF said...

It is so tempting to give in to despair these days. Yesterday I spoke with my brilliant 37-yr-old daughter when she was feeling so powerless and hopeless about the condition of the world.

She - a midwife, artist and Mom who cares for her family and community with constant emphasis on sustainability at every level, with not a lot of financial resources.

I have grown to understand that within all of existence, all of reality is held shadow and light, creation and destruction.

We see this everywhere, in the garden, in the seasons of nature and in ourselves. When my precious younger brother was dying a few years ago the experience was terribly painful, yet rich and beautiful as well.

The Abrahamic traditions tend to posit a worldview in which we are encouraged to avoid the "negative" elements of life or even to eliminate them. This not possible or even desirable, in my view.

The events in Japan are so painful, ineffable, almost impossible to comprehend.

My daughter's fear that she cannot locate potassium iodide anywhere in California to protect her children from potential radioactive poisoning from the air we breathe here in the west coast of the US is real and new for her.

Terry Tempest Williams has written exquisitely for decades about the nuclear poisoning of her family and neighbors in Utah.

I guess i'm trying to say that despite the fear, the pain, the destruction, which I feel, I find comfort in my understanding that it's all a part of the same process and that I can wake up daily for however long I have and make a practice of choosing hope, combined with action in my own realm.

Karena said...

Dominique I used to have what I called panic attacks very easily the same as spinning out.

Finally realizing I could not always be responsible for others, that all things are better in the light of day, a pen and notebook by my bedside....finding that writing it down could release it from my mind for the time being!

The tragic events will keep occuring Because we live on Earth!

We all simply do what we can do.

Art by Karena

William said...

I heard on a CNN report that Madonna has tweeted that she is "VERY concerned about the earthquake in Japan". We can all rest a little easier now!

sparkletruly said...

I've loved your posts since the day I found your blog, filled with fresh perspectives, happiness in the small things, beauty and, here it is, hope. However, I've noticed that since your return from India - which included extraordinary photos and stories - you have been a bit consumed with the scary things in life. Yes, there is indeed always something to worry about if we let ourselves go there, but one of the keys to survival is balancing the positive with the negative, which is often accomplished by publishing our gratitude for all of the wonderful things in our lives as, I hasten to add, you generally do. I hope you can begin to see the joy in things again soon.

Dominique said...

PLEASE not to worry; I'm no more aware of the scary things now than I was before I left for India! If anything, my trip there made me feel so much more joy--and so much more gratitude for all that we do have. There is simply no way to ignore something of the magnitude as what is happening in Japan. I would have felt strange, today, posting on anything else. Thank you sparkletruly for giving me a chance to clarify this! d

karenleslie said...

william, i think she said "very very" concerned. i just wanted to correct you on this important point.
please, get it right next time...

William said...

Karen, how could i have made that mistake?? Thank you for the correction.

Yes, Madonna tweeted that she is very very concerned, it was Demi and Ashton who tweeted they are very concerned and Whoopie who tweeted she is just concerned. But the big question remains, where's Oprah????

karenleslie said...

now THAT is a mind boggling good question william! i think she had profounder comments than the above individuals. something along the lines of, and i paraphrase here, that she was "very very VERY concerned", but please do not quote me on this.

c said...

very funny guys, and thanks for the laughs which lighten up this horror, but ...

There is no way to prepare for an earthquake of the magnitude that shook Japan, nor is there any seawall that will protect against a tsunami. As careful and forward-thinking as Japan was, Nature is much too powerful. And we humans are much too arrogant to think we can outsmart her.

I hope the nightmare japanese people are going through makes the rest of the world re-think nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuel. But then again, I also read that european countries are already justifying building nuclear power plants (they are not in an "earthquake-prone area", they say. Fools).

I find it mind boggling that this nation is dealing with the devastating results of radiation on humans again. Not caused by another nation this time, but caused by their own design. So sad.

I traveled through Japan a few years ago. Hiroshima, the city, and the museum right where the bombing took place, is a sight and site I will never, ever, forget.

If you haven't, take a look at the New York Times photos. But be prepared to shed a few tears.

How far is safe? not far enough. When it comes to "accidents" surrounding nuclear power plants. Keep in mind that the super powerful earthquake did not cause the damage to those plants. It was the tsunami that followed. (no, I don't mean europe is in danger of facing one, but some other "unforeseen catastrophe" could be around the corner)... one just never knows ....

I think it behooves governments everywhere to resist the oil and nuclear lobby, and support wind, solar and hydro power. Long overdue.

My heart goes out to those in Japan and the ones around the world who cannot get in touch with their loved ones in Japan.

VL said...

Although I agree we need to somehow maintain enough hope to keep going on in the face of catastrophes (natural or man-made, acute or chronic), it seems to be a strange American affliction to insist on being positive all the time. In fact, given the real world we live in, and the thorny challenges we face, it seems delusional. Barbara Ehrenreich, among others, has made a compelling argument that our relentless commitment to _unrealistic_ optimism sowed the seeds for the banking crisis -- and that an insistence on being cheerful actually leads toward a lonely focus inward and to political apathy.

I agree with Ms. Browning: worry is part of compassion, and it's "time to discover in ourselves, and honor, a new dimension of heartsickness."


Jen said...

Thank you for talking about this. I stayed awake all night last night and a good amount of the time I was trying to wrap my mind around what is happening in Japan.

Elizabeth said...

I wrote a letter to the NYT in response to their assertion that, since the prevailing winds would "fortunately" blow the radiation out to sea, thereby saving people---I asked: what about the sea life? From plankton to whales and everything in between, plus corals and plants undersea. If all that is irradiated, and the ocean currents carry irradiated and dead animals and plants around the world, and sea birds eat them, and then poop on your head before dying on land and sea, and the world fishing industry goes boom, and the stuff washes up on far-flung beaches, I think we have an even bigger problem, folks.

yvette roman davis said...

Dear Dominique,
Thank you so much for this beautiful post on your amazing blog..I wanted to let you know that I am participating in blogging effort to raise funds for ShelterBox, which is providing emergency shelter and supplies for Japan. It started out as a tiny thing, with a modest goal of 50 bloggers and a $5,500 goal. In the last few days, the effort has grown to over 1200 blogs and has raised over $35,000! Please take a moment and give, or, if you have a blog, to participate! http://forjapanwithlove.com