By Sean O’Donnell
In the month of September, Mexico suffered two devastating earthquakes. The first, on September 7th, was a magnitude 8.1 and was centered off the coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas. The second occurred on September 19th. It was a magnitude 7.1, and its epicenter was in the state of Morelos. It was much more well-publicized as it caused significant damage in Mexico City. The Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte has personal connections to both disasters.
Earthquake Relief in Mexico: Aid to Oaxaca
Many of us in the Hridaya Community are acutely aware of the earthquake that struck off the coast of Oaxaca on September 7th, but news of that tremor did not spread very far and it was quickly overshadowed by the Mexico City quake.
In Mazunte, there was some damage to buildings and roads, but the concerns were minor compared to what was experienced in other parts of the state of Oaxaca. Many buildings were toppled, many more were damaged to the point of being unsafe to inhabit, and over 60 people were killed―including at least 36 in the city of Juchitán de Zaragoza. This municipality continues to be underserved as far as aid in supporting recovery from the disaster, but the surrounding villages are receiving even less attention.
At Hridaya, a connection was made through a long-time employee whose family from San Pedro Pochutla was involved in bringing supplies to one such town: Union Hidalgo, located about a 30-minute drive east of Juchitán. Many people in Mazunte were able to contribute canned and dry food as well as money for tents and temporary shelter soon after the earthquake. However, damage to the town church left it uninhabitable as an emergency shelter and there is still a need for supplies both for temporary shelter and reconstruction materials.
Earthquake Relief in Mexico: Aid to Morelos
While Southern Mexico was still reeling from the September 7th earthquake, the earthquake in Morelos made headlines around the world. This earthquake was publicized for affecting Mexico City, where the damage and loss of life was extensive, but many surrounding towns and villages have also suffered and are receiving much less aid.
The Hridaya family has a presence in Morelos, where Tara (Giselle) Trimmer and Paul Baxter run the Sahridaya Refuge in the valley of Tepoztlán, one hour outside of Mexico City. Tara and Paul have been focusing intensely on relief work in their area and their efforts present a unique opportunity for the greater Hridaya community to provide resources directly to the people and places that can use them the most. Hridaya has used their reach to help the cause in Morelos, and Tara has generously taken the time to answer a few questions in an attempt to explain first-hand what it was like to experience this traumatic event, what it has been like trying to repair the damage, and what the outlook is for the future of the area.
Sean O’Donnell: What was the experience of the earthquake like in Tepoztlán as it was happening?
Tara Trimmer: I had just returned home when it happened. My baby daughter Uma Sophia, my partner Paul, my mother who runs the Refuge with us, and John―a guest―were all at home at the time.
When it started we felt that it was very intense and clearly trepidatory (when it is up-down in motion rather than left-right). The tiles started almost falling on mine and my baby’s heads. We all came out into the garden immediately. We located a safe spot and placed ourselves there waiting for it to pass. Tepoztlán, Morelos is just 56 miles (90 km) away from Axochiapan, Morelos—the epicenter.
Trepidatory earthquakes are the most destructive. I was familiar with this, having grown up in Mexico City, a very highly seismic area, with a collective memory of the tragedy that occurred in 1985.
My first thought was: WHAT IS GOING ON IN MEXICO CITY? I thought that if we felt it that strong in Tepoztlán, it would definitely be stronger in the city, as earthquakes don’t normally come from Morelos, but from Oaxaca or Colima. There was a fear of what this meant for them. Was Mexico City still in existence?
Before this fear, though, was the immediate insight that I wanted to anchor my frequency in love. We decided to bring our hands into the center of the chest and just ground ourselves in the Heart at that moment, when we didn’t yet know the consequences of this movement for the rest of the country. Spanda was felt very clearly.
SO: After securing your family, how did you go about finding out what kind of help was most needed, and where?
TT: In the immediate aftermath, we all took care of our families and intimate relationships and the following day we went to the plaza to meet with the resistance movement here in Tepoztlán. We linked with them because we knew they were an ethical source (non-governmental). We started receiving donations almost immediately, as well as the support of people volunteering to go into the affected communities. It was a very spontaneous, community-involved organization, initially without central management.
We all took our cars and the first thing that happened was there were a lot of WhatsApp groups formed. I was put into one for the coordination of civil movements in Morelos. So basically, we were receiving real-time information about resources, transport, food, and materials. They sent me a contact in Morelos and that’s where I organized a brigade of seven vehicles to go. It was all members of the community and volunteers from Mexico City. Everything was very spontaneous and organic.
You saw everything from mothers cooking to other people just going into the streets to remove stones―all of the town was working. But, there was no government presence. It was all personal, private cars driving private aid. We started getting money immediately which was almost entirely used for fuel for cars for the convoy from Mexico City and for buying tarps for temporary shelter. This was the initial effort and it was all very chaotic.
We spent the first week going on brigades to all the towns every day, helping with the emergency. But then we realized it was a bit chaotic. They were flooded with food and not with materials to remove all the things that fell or professionals to classify the structural damage. We had to learn on the spot—it was like an experiment in self-organization and collaboration without hierarchy, in a way.
SO: What is the current status of relief efforts? Are things stable? And, what is the long-term relief effort going to require?
TT: Our organization now involves taking care of human rights, putting pressure on the government, coordinating emergency aspects (food, shelter, etc.), and finding reconstruction alternatives that are sustainable and loving for the Earth like adobe, super adobe, and other eco-conscious techniques. It’s a way of bringing awareness to these other aspects of a New Earth, even building sustainable communities and connecting.
Other proposals include building community shelters to be used in future emergencies as well as places to host civic organizations that can start organizing and building the foundation for further collaboration.
On a deeper and subtler level, there are many others who feel and know in our hearts that this is a pivotal moment, a turning point, that we cannot look back, but need to see what is spontaneously arising and noticing what is truly important and what truly matters, which is human collaboration, service, compassion, love, and kindness.
SO: I really found it amazing how you came back to the Heart immediately after this moment of fear, feeling spanda and centeredness. Can you say more about how a spiritual practice and Hridaya teachings helped guide your reaction in this intense situation?
TT: I realized that that initial impulse of centering in the Heart―it was like channeling into action. Most people were driven from a spontaneous, collaborative, and compassionate state. Everybody forgot about their jobs, money, and anything that may have mattered before―to help others. The whole community here in Tepoztlán was paralyzed, everybody was doing something to relieve this. So, it was impressive to see everyone waking up.
Many people who were not so much into spirituality were realizing this spontaneously and intuitively—I have seen people, for example, the shopkeeper on the corner, that you would never have expected doing amazing, amazing, conscious work directly with the community.
How to Help
Supporting these relief efforts is a long-term project. Hridaya Yoga is accepting donations for this purpose, which can be made via our PayPal account (firstname.lastname@example.org). Money collected by Hridaya will be shared between efforts in Morelos and those in Oaxaca and given to citizens who are directly involved in providing aid, using 100% of the proceeds to benefit earthquake victims.
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.