A Reed in the Storm

A reportedly "real" Sandy picture from a local paper.

A person should always be flexible like a reed
and shouldn’t be hard like a cedar tree.
-Rabbi Netziv,
quoting the Gemara (wisdom)
 of Taanis (Jewish Scripture)

I could write an article about the Sandy related difficulties of my family’s life. But I’m not going to.*  Sandy–Frankenstorm, Superstorm, Whoregoddes, whatever—screwed us all. If you are truly interested in my thoughts on that, then follow the asterisk to the end.

The mantra which got me through the storm, and may still help many of us right now, is more important than my petty griping over blocked roads and lost sleep. Flexibility is the asset which served us through the storm and continues to do so in the aftermath.

Flexibility is more of a craft than an art and more of a practice than anything. Some people are more inherently flexible—mentally, emotionally and physically—than others. But, we increase our emotional and mental flexibility similarly to how we increase our physical flexibility; through stretching exercises.

With flexibility practice what we are speaking very directly about is a focused release of certain unhelpful standards so that we can more effectively maneuver through our present difficulties with the least resistance, like Aesop talks about at the end of this article. Go look, I’ll wait.

If you did look, you may note that—along with not being the article on “Kicking your own ass” which I had been prepping—this is a shorter article than usual. Switching articles as the need demanded and cutting the word count are both part of my own flexibility practice. My standard is to offer one 1,000 to 1,500 word article every two weeks. In light of “maneuvering through” these present “difficulties with the least resistance” and still giving our readers something of value, I had to practice “focused release” of the unhelpful standard word count. It’s not easy, by the way. Want. To. Write. More.

But I shall not.

We learn how to be flexible from our examples of the reed:

Know what you are “rooted to” and hold on tight. While we should let go of certain unhelpful standards, we should always do it in favor of that which we are rooted to because they will nourish us and help us feel secure in the storm. What is most important to you? Family? Health? Safety? Love? The reed moved through the wind, but held on tight to that which its roots encircled.

Be confident in the direction the water around you is flowing. The reed will be tossed in wind, but it is sustained by the water flowing around it. We, too, are sustained by what surrounds us. However, are we certain that we are surrounded by sustaining things? A glass of wine, a cold beer, or a cocktail may help you “go with the flow” but many may be toxic to your success. Neighbors may be the only ones you can communicate with, but they may also be constantly complaining, worrying or erosive to the spirit. Social media and TV news are great ways to feel connected and informed, but if we begin to watch or click obsessively, it will inundate us with unhelpful, inescapable anxiety. We have one up on the reed; We have the ability to move if our water isn’t flowing in a positive direction.

Continue reaching for the sun. We saw the sun for a few moments on Tuesday afternoon and you’d think it was the dawn of creation with the amount of joy we had in it. Just like the reed is nourished by its earth and sustained by the flowing water, the reed is energized by the sun. What are you reaching for? A return to normal life? It may be a long wait. In a storm we should reach only for the next small goal if we are to be long-term flexible. After all, the reed only reaches for the sun that has already found its tip.

Look. This may have seemed like some flowery, Zen nonsense. But it is grounded in sound psychological thought on flexibility, resiliency, goal prioritization and characterological study. I just didn’t want to throw all that in today and make things heavy. I sought to be light, like a—alright, enough with the reed analogies.

If you’ve made it through Sandy with a bit of spark left, you were no doubt flexible. Reflect on how and be proud. If you’re still without power and reading this on a smart phone or portable thingy and still need some flexibility until you reach the sun, I hope you found some here. And, as always, if you want to email me privately or use the comment box to cope with all this, please do so swiftly. You’ve got bending to focus on.

An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up,
the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind.
But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots.
-Aesop

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*Yes, we were harrowed by a frightening bash on the roof by a big limb and horrible winds. Sure, we lost power. Yes, our driveway was blocked by a fallen line from a telephone pole and we were a bit trapped. Yes, it is the first time (Thursday) that I sat down at the keys, but I have keys to sit down to and power to run the mainframe. We are safe and we are blessed. Our trials were (and are) insignificant compare to those of many of our dear friends, neighbors and those we don’t know but hearts go out to.

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