Thursday, February 24, 2011

From Tears to Aroha

These have been a stressful couple of days, and as I have emerged from the initial instinctual reactions to this unsteadiness (literal and figurative), the intensity of what happened in Christchurch really hit home. There were moments when I could not see anything about it without tearing up. It has become obvious that I was in one of the safest buildings in the entire city, and I was far enough outside the city center (2.5 km from the cathedral), that I did not see the horrible wreckage and people everywhere.

But then with each news item, I get hit with the devastation again. I realize what befell that beautiful city and its wonderful citizens. I ask, “why me?” with the deep knowledge that the universe works in interesting and unique ways and that I got out unscathed to do something else with my life on this planet. My gratitude grows. Yesterday was nearly useless for me, but this morning, I decided to sit for a few minutes and deal with it. I dealt with it the only way I know how – metta.

Metta is a Sanskrit word meaning loving-kindness. Metta meditation is a type of meditation where you offer loving-kindness to yourself and others. It is much more than that as well, but for purposes of this post (especially on the non-yoga blog), that will suffice.

Short of giving money (which I have done) and food (which I will do), there is not much for me to do to help the people of Christchurch. Crisis cleanup is just not my specialty, not to mention that I have but nine months to write a 150-page thesis that I have barely begun. But we can all offer our metta to the world. I can sit and wonder why I got out so easily, but that does no one any good.

During orientation, we learned a little Maori. It is, after all, one of the two national languages in New Zealand. The one word that stuck with me was “aroha.” Yes, it looks almost the same as aloha and has the same roots. It has a more “limited” definition than aloha, and we were told that it really means love. As I tought about metta, I turned to aroha, the Maori concept of what I have studied in Buddhist and yoga practices. I thought it was a perfect transition.

Then I looked up the meaning and realized it is far more perfect than I could have imagined. It may be an online dictionary, but this is the definition I found: as a verb, “to love, feel pity, feel concern for, feel compassion, empathise,” and as a noun, “affection, sympathy, charity, compassion, love, empathy.” It encompasses exactly what I feel for the people of Christchurch, exactly what I feel for those who survived but saw others who did not.

Below are two photos of what I saw after the quake and a photo of the building I was in when it struck. While it is obvious there is damage, you will notice that it is nothing compared to the utter destruction of the Central Business District (CBD). I have learned so much from the kiwis in the past month (Monday was a month after I arrived). Perhaps the greatest lesson has been the one of aroha – love coupled with all its meanings, including charity, compassion, and empathy.

The flooded street. I think I heard the word liquefaction 500 times that day, and I had never heard it before.

But one photo of the cracks in the sidewalk, but they were not too bad near us.

The AMI Rugby stadium, where the Forum/conference was being held. We were on the 5th floor. My backpack and bag are still there. It is sort of surreal to think of all that stuff just sitting there - the spilled water and our bags - simple reminders of what transpired.

There is no doubt the tears will continue. In fact, they flowed most freely this evening at a Dunedin community gathering (a vigil, in the United States) in which a group of people gathered to support Christchurch. As I write this, a helicopter is flying overhead, and my first thought is that it is from Christchurch – Dunedin is the closest big city to Christchurch, about a 3-hour car trip. But more than the tears and the constant feeling that the Earth is going to shatter below me, I feel aroha, for the people in Christchurch, but also for all people – a constant reminder that we must hold that notion at all times.

It is unusual for me to share so openly, but after this tragedy, it only seems natural. So, from tears, to aroha, to hopefully finding a better way of living in the world. As I said in my Is Yoga Legal post, “As we got off the plane, I told a high-ranking US politician that if we are to survive, we have to act, at all times, as we acted that day. The best part was that he agreed. For a brief moment, idealism, from my yoga background and my generational attitude, was able to come through.”

Hopefully, I can now move forward and start getting some work done again. After all, I am here for a purpose, and that purpose must be fulfilled, now more than ever.

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved
This blog is not affiliated with Fulbright or Fulbright New Zealand, and all opinions expressed herein are my own. 


  1. I'll say it again -- it's a great gift that you're doing in chronicling all this. Thank you!