At the eye of the hurricane

……there is said to be a centre of deep silence. Yesterday, much to my surprise, I was that deep silence.  An extraordinary Zen-like moment of stillness inside me radiating outwards into a force nine gale. Yes, really. I’m still reeling from it.

I am not talking about metaphorical or emotional or spiritual hurricanes but a physical one, albeit one generated in an environmental tank.

Yesterday afternoon I took some of my students to our local college, which was originally purely a maritime and boatbuilding college for an experience in the pool used for training rig workers, lifeboatment, pilots and so on in the basics of escape and rescue at sea. I know this seems a strange thing to take language students to, but I do what I am asked. I don’t always ask questions.

The pool is basically a very deep swimming pool, equipped with machinery to simulate extreme weather conditions. The students who were not going in stayed up on a gantry-style platform about 3 or 4 metres above the water. This not only kept them safely out of the way but kept them from getting soaked when the waves were in action.

My first concern was whether they would have a lifejacket to fit me. I am rather well-endowed and it did somewhat worry me that they would have to cast about to find one big enough… but I worried needlessly and before long, safety talks done, we trooped down to the pool and leaped in. It took me five minutes to get used to not needing to tread water and let the jacket do its work.

We arranged ourselves in a circle and the waves started. Big waves, crashing all over the place. That was rather fun, though I mistimed a few and swallowed a fair bit of water. Then out and back up onto the gantry. I totally bottled out of the 4m jump; truth to tell I wanted to try but my knees gave way when I looked down. About half of the students(some were English, from the college itself) did and then the instructor upped the odds and had the lights OFF for jumps.

I rejoined the pool the less scary way by leaping in off the side for the next exercise which was the life raft. Now when you see them in films, you kind of wonder what’s so hard about getting into one. Big round inflatable thing with a sort of pyramid/cone for cover, and handy little ropes hanging off it, what’s so difficult about that?  Eerrm, where do I start? The sheer effort required from upper body strength to heave a fully clothed body(did I mention we had to be dressed and shod for this? No. Well, we were in leggings, t-shirt and trainers over bathing suits) out of rough water, into a wet rubber thing, is enormous. No one managed it unaided, including the two fit lads who went in first. Then they helped haul the rest of us in. I did tell them to leave me for the sharks but they kindly refused and I lay soon gasping and floundering like a landed fish on the floor of the raft. I struggled to move out to the back of the raft because it was bucking like a demon possessed bronco. I elbowed a student in the face at some point. I think she’s forgiven me. Propped at the back, gripping some inner ropes I leaned against the wall of the raft and the last of our ten person crew flopped in and then everything changed again. The waves and the wind and the rain began and we were flung around like a cork in a whirlpool. Everyone was screaming, partly out of excitement and partly out of real fear. I wasn’t. I squealed once and then stopped.

The lights went out. Almost total darkness and the storm raged around us, flinging the raft around, whirling it like a leaf and artificial lightning leapt across the blackness. The screaming intensified. I went deeper into the quietness inside and became the silence. I seemed to be totally withdrawn from the emotional responses I had been feeling seconds before. I’d been close to total sensory overload and now, all was stillness. I was stillness and silence and utter peace. I didn’t understand why people were screaming. Could they not feel what I felt?

The moment passed and the storm, controlled by the instructor waned and stopped and we all flopped out, swam to shore and the next group got the perfect storm while we stood and dripped. We were asked to climb a rope wall from the tank, which is unbelievably hard. I tried twice and fell off twice; my arms simply not strong enough to haul my sodden (and let’s be honest, bulky) body out of the water on a ladder that swung and slipped and took the skin off the palms of your hand. We all had a chance to be winched out, which was quite fun and then it was over.

Back in the changing room I reflected first on the fact that at sea I would have died, probably from cold, because I wasn’t strong enough to climb out alone and then on where that peace had come from. It was a totally awesome moment, using the word in its truest sense and not the slang meaning.

I didn’t sleep much last night. Aching muscles and an over active mind saw to that. I’ve got through a hard day today on about three hour’s kip but I keep returning to that still silence at the eye of the hurricane. 

At the eye of the storm is a point of peace; how often can I become that point of peace in a troubled world?