Warrior Training: Part 4 – Hurricane Irma

by | Sep 26, 2017 | News Feed, Warrior Training | 2 comments

We are going to approach Slogan 1 and its four thoughts.

Considering the state of current environmental events, Hurricane Irma and Maria in the Caribbean, earthquakes in Mexico and countless other natural disasters I may not be personally aware of as I write this. I’m sitting in a restaurant looking at the calm ocean in Vancouver, Canada after escaping Turks and Caicos Island between Hurricane Irma and Maria. My family worked tirelessly to find me a flight home so I would be safe and now, as I sit comfortably, enjoying a nice meal, I am brought back to a place of discomfort.

Slogan 1. First, train in the preliminaries; The four reminders or alternatively called the Four Thoughts.

1.   Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.

2.   Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone; Impermanence.

3.   Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; Karma.

4.   Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness; Ego.

When I first learned about Hurricane Irma forming in the Atlantic, I quickly disregarded any concerns the people around me had. Assuring them it would more than likely dissipate before it reached us, I would then end the conversation with a wave of my hand. As the days approached and Irma intensified, my Facebook posts filled with images of friends living on more southern islands, boarding up windows and buying supplies. At this point, I still thought it would not be a concern for us in TCI but felt nervous for my friends.

Tuesday morning, whilst sipping on a coffee, I opened my computer to see images of disaster and panic from various people. I became obsessed, searching everything I could to gather information on what was about to happen to me. I called my co-worker and asked him what he was doing to prepare for the storm. He answered in shock because I had waited so long to even think about preparing. He told me to stock up on water and canned food, gas up my car and take money out of the bank. Putting the phone down, I felt a lump in my stomach. This was real. It was not something I was seeing on TV happening to other people. For the next week or so I would be solely focused on sustaining life.

1.   Maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life.

When you are in a situation where you need to prepare for the worst it is a surreal experience. You start to realize exactly how precious your life is and how many things you require to do it comfortably.

·         Water

·         Non-perishable food

·         Candles, lantern

·         Fully charged electronics

·         Washed clothes, bedding

·         Throw ALL perishables in garbage, clean

·         Tape, sandbags, boards

·         Connection to people

I failed on this list big time. I bought minimal supplies thinking it would be enough, cleaned my house and taped the windows but that was it. I made the mistake of thinking I would stay with a community of people for the duration of the crisis and be ok, but this is not what happened.

I packed a suitcase with clothing, toiletries and books then prepared countless bags of meals. I felt ready to join the group of nine other people who were staying at a boutique resort that one of the couples owned. It was a beautiful place just down the beach from where I taught kiteboarding. The room I was staying in was quite far back from the beach and was raised off the ground, so I thought it would be more than safe, however, when I arrived my roommate informed me we were all moving to the top floor of Seven Stars Hotel which was built to withstand a category 5 hurricane. He informed me the news said there was going to be a 20 – 25 ft. water surge and this would take out the entire resort, so we needed to move. My heart skipped a beat when he said this. A 20 – 25 ft. water surge! Oh my god, that would not only take out the resort but most of the island. Turks and Caicos is a relatively flat island made of coral. There was no way we would survive that. Deep down inside, I started to panic a little.

I’ve always had a certain amount of anxiety which would randomly attack me at unexplainable moments, to which I cure by having a beer or a glass of wine. Knowing this was more than likely going to be one of those nights riddled with such moments, I excused myself and purchased a couple bottles of wine from the shop. Feeling a little better about my decision, I rejoined the group and started loading cars with supplies for the night. Our room at Seven Stars was luxurious. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, wrap around veranda and an open plan kitchen living room area. It looked like we would be riding out the hurricane in style. I felt better knowing I was as safe as I could be and surrounded by spiritually connected beings.

We were informed by many people’s posts on Facebook that the power company was going to shut the power off by noon on Thursday as Hurricane Irma would begin hitting late that afternoon. A few of us started pre-cooking pancakes, boiling eggs and potatoes and any meat we had. We filled the bathtubs, all bowls and pots with water and found higher ground to park the cars. It was a busy but a lovely unified time between us. It was also beautiful, something I have not often experienced in my life.

As the hurricane approached, I felt the prickle of my insides. The more the wind increased, the more my excitement grew. As a professional kitesurfer, the wind is my world. I love the feeling of my hair moving through the wind and the feeling of it on my skin. It gives me the freedom to be who I want to be in life. Wind gives me life and now I was going to get to experience the most extreme conditions. Part of me was terrified for my life and the aftermath but part of me was absolutely elated. I spent the majority of the hurricane sitting outside on the balcony until it was no longer possible. I continuously followed windytv.com which showed the live track with wind speeds. I liked to experience the different levels of colors on the chart highlighting the wind speeds. It was fascinating to watch as the gusts reaching 60 – 90 knots began cracking the trunks of the palm trees and tearing the tin off the roofs. I love the fact that something we cannot see harnesses the power to destroy any solid object in its path. I connected this power to teaching kitesurfing. I always tell new students that they are holding a balloon in the wind which is soft and always moving. The magical thing about kiteboarding is we get to use these simple elements to create power. Now I was witnessing the ultimate expression of this power.

Once the eye passed the wind began switching directions and I was no longer safe sitting outside. I walked into a pitch dark room lit by a single candle. All my co-experiencers apparently spent the evening meditating and soon after went to sleep. As I lay on the mattress next to the pulsing picture windows, I felt scared. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep. Making my way across the room between the snoring, the howling of the wind and the creaking of the building, as it swayed back and forth, I felt dizzy. I needed to get to the bathroom. I needed connection. Switching on my iPad with only 30% battery, I longed to see a signal. And then at that moment an old friend whose three-year-old, who is developmentally challenged and has leukemia, sent me a video message wishing me wellness and safety. Talk about putting the preciousness of human life into perspective. Sitting on the toilet lid in total darkness I cried. I cried for the loss of life, the loss of things, and the loss of all that was known.

2. Be aware of the reality that life ends; death comes for everyone; Impermanence.

The end of life can come in many forms. For some it might be physically too early, for others it might be the change in life direction or the ending of a relationship. Impermanence is inevitable and sometimes it takes a hurricane to wake us up. The planet needs to be woken up.

It’s the aftermath of Hurricane Irma that worried me the most. The anticipation of what life would be like after the destructive wind hit the island, took its toll on my nervous system. I grew up watching movies of mass destruction and seeing the heartbreaking loss of the material world, as well as human hysteria that can break out after such events occupied my thoughts. Our minds can create all sorts of fictitious scenarios in which we tend to dwell. I noticed this from the interview I did on ABC News the night before. As the hurricane approached, I was in constant communication with the news station uploading videos every couple hours, therefore, I was aware of the broadcasts leading up to the interview. The consistency in information being put out by media was exaggerated and negative compared to what we were experiencing on the ground level. One of the biggest things was the report of a 20 – 25 ft. water surge. This information caused widespread panic throughout the island, causing our group to completely change our location for the evening of the storm. This water surge never happened. Not at all.

People took refuge in the second floors of their homes if they had one which resulted in more damage than necessary due to many people’s roofs being ripped off. The media caused the majority of citizens on the island to make poor choices the night of the storm. During my interview, I felt as if I was being coaxed to follow the negativity they were broadcasting but instead, I stated facts and talked about how much love, support, and positivity we were also experiencing. As I was speaking about this they abruptly ended the interview. You might not be able to tell by the video but the producer in the background cut me off. I thought this was very interesting.

Love and support. These are the predominant feelings I felt during the storm. The night before the hurricane I had dinner with some friends at Bacci, an Italian restaurant beside my house, and by the end of the night, I’d hugged dozens of people exchanging well wishes. My social media accounts blew up with support from hundreds of people from around the world. I even ended up getting to know all the people living in my apartment complex, some whom I’ve never spoken to in the two years of living there. All this love left me feeling a storm of emotions to which I’d never felt before. I sat down in the dark night after night alone in my hot apartment contemplating who I was and where I belonged. It shook me to the core. After years of running around the planet, alone and free, I realized I did have a tribe. I did belong. I wasn’t as wild and nomadic as I once believed and this deep understanding is and will, change the course of my life.

The day after the hurricane hit I woke up after what felt like ten minutes of sleep to a fluttering around of people. The group I was staying with decided to leave the hotel pre-sunset to go check out their resort and assess the damage. I could not understand why they were in such a hurry, considering it was still blowing between 20 – 30 knots. Once they left I got up, went on the balcony and filmed the sunrise. To my surprise, from what I could see from Seven Stars, the destruction was minimal. It wasn’t until I decided to go for a walk, did I see how stripped the land was from vegetation. It was incredible to see giant palm trees cracked right in half or ripped from their roots. Minor flooding and structural damage were the worst that I saw on the Grace Bay side of the island. All in all, my feelings that morning were a lot more optimistic than I originally hoped. It wasn’t until I got home did I see the real damage. Half the top floor of my apartment building roof was gone, boats were capsized in the marina and power poles lined the streets. It was a catastrophe. All around, Haitian, Dominican, and locals were working hard clearing debris. All I could think of, in that moment was how are these people working right now? Don’t they have families who no longer have homes? I felt myself getting angry.

3. Recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not, has a result; Karma

I did not understand how the “rich” people on the island, who only had cosmetic damage to their homes and property, could justify making people work for them who lost everything. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we be the ones to pick up our shovels and go work for them? I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to help but honestly, I didn’t know what to do. My car was broken when I got back home and the mechanic said he could not help me until the following week. I was stuck in Turtle Cove. What could I do? At the end of the day, I packed up like six bags of clothes and gave them to some of the Haitian workers, as well as a local guy organizing a clean-up in Blue Hills. They had told me the homes in Blue Hills and Five Cays, where most of the local population lived, was flooded and had hardly any structures standing. It broke my heart and I felt so helpless. Here I am living with my house perfectly intact, complaining about how hot I was.

4. Contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness; Ego.

It’s situations like these that you really see the best and worst in humanity. Yourself included. Where is the point where we let go of our own suffering to lend a hand to others? Where and when do we open our hearts and souls to each other? Why does it take a catastrophe to bring us together? These are all things I really had to consider in deciding how to get through the aftermath.

If there is one thing I have learned from going through something like this. It’s that we humans are extremely resilient. We have the good nature to survive anything when you keep the thoughts in your head positive and optimistic. Don’t let media influence your decisions and attitude. Don’t get caught up in the momentum of disaster and “feed the negative energy”. And remember, in every situation, there is good and bad. It may not be ideal but the person going through it might not be as bad as you think they are. This is certainly what I experienced. Pretty much everyone was happy and positive despite the circumstances which are more than I can say for many other people out there living in “perfect” conditions.

2 Comments

  1. Lisa Woynerowski

    Thank you for this very personal and intimate experience that you shared with us. I followed you fervently during the storm and even though we have never met, when I opened up FB and saw you standing on that balcony the morning after and saw you were ok and that Turks had survived, I literally cried. Even though I live in Maryland, TCI and her amazing people have made it my second home after 15 years of visiting there. You offered all of us hope, and helped pave the way for us to try and help the locals who are clearly the most affected by this devastating storm. My youngest daughter asked me just the other day if you were okay and if you had posted recently—-so just know that you are thought of often by random strangers far away and that your courage is astounding.

    Reply
    • BarnacleBabes

      Lisa,

      Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate you taking the time out to tell me this. It was not easy to keep people updated and answer the hundreds of messages I got in the middle of everything happening but I felt it was important. I am so happy to hear that you and your daughter were able to feel ok by what I posted. It is an incredible feeling to know that so many people care about me. xx

      Jess

      Reply

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