How to Respond to a Seismic Event

October 30, 2011 — 2 Comments
Seismic events reshape and reform landscapes. 

My wife and I have been processing through some anger lately around some seismic shifts we’ve experienced this year that have reshaped and reformed our family and spiritual landscapes. This morning, as we waited for our girls to emerge from their Sunday School classes, we talked about how we’ve each been dealing with anger. 

“I don’t know,” she said, “I guess I tend to minimize it and push it down so I don’t have to deal with it.”

“Yeah, that’s what they call ‘repression,'” I replied. “The problem with that is that at some point, it finds its way back out. And usually in a big way.”

I went on to liken anger management to a volcano. There are two types that are in stark contrast: those that erupt almost continuously and those that lie dormant and then waken suddenly. An example of the former is Kīlauea, on the island of Hawai’i. It is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, though relatively non-violent in its eruptions. It vents its energy all the time, letting off plumes of steam and rivulets of lava.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t also erupt with force from time to time, but in general the activity is close to the surface and fairly regular. And it is productive. The current eruption, which began in 1983, has added 2 square kilometers of new land out into the Pacific Ocean to the south of the volcano. The beauty of the Hawaiian Islands is due to the work of volcanos like this one.

Contrast that with a volcano like Mount St. Helens. Thought to be long dormant, it erupted with a fury on a Sunday in May, 1980. The north face of the mountain blew outward laterally at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. A force of energy equal to 24 megatons was released, toppling over 4 million board feet of timber (that’s enough to build 300,000 two-bedroom homes!). Direct effects of the blast were seen 17 miles away, the total area impacted was over 230 square miles. Over 7,000 big game animals were killed, along with 57 people. The ash cloud reached over 80,000 feet in just 15 minutes and circled the globe in 15 days. 
MSH80 eruption mount st helens 05-18-80-dramatic-edit.jpg

Both volcanoes are dealing with the same forces deep in the earth, but in very different ways. Kīlauea vents its energy often, in small non-violent vents and flows. Mount St. Helens let the pressure build and build until it couldn’t contain it any longer and then it destroyed nearly everything in the blast zone.

My family and I visited Mount St. Helens just a couple months ago. 31 years after the event, the area still looks like a wasteland. There are some low scrubby plants and wildflowers that now carpet the 6 miles between the observation center and the crater, but nothing that approaches the forests that used to stand there. 

My point it this: we can choose how we will deal with our anger. We can either push it down and let it build, one day culminating in a Mount St. Helens-like event, or we can find non-violent ways of venting it regularly. The advantage to the first is that we can avoid dealing with the anger until that day on which it erupts from us. But that day will come and it will be terrible and destructive to whoever is close to us. 

Or we can let our anger vent in calmer, non-violent ways. The result is that it may take much longer to deal with the anger, letting it surface a little bit each day. But that kind of reshaping and reforming adds new land, new territory to our landscapes.

Are you dealing with any seismic events? If so, how are you processing through them?

Anderson Campbell


  • ChapinChick

    I like the word-picture of volcanoes here. I think sometimes when seismic events happen in our childhood they turn into volcanoes that are somewhere in between Mount St. Helens and Kīlauea. When we reach maturity, the lava begins to come to the surface and we have a choice at that point to let it leak out and deal with it bit by bit or to try to plug up the flow and let it turn into a more explosive event, as you mentioned. It takes discernment to recognize when the pressure gets to a point of needing to be vented, and discipline to vent it non-violently. I keep my counselor’s number in my favorites – she is great at helping me vent non-violently 😉 Thanks for your post.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Thanks. Good observation on the way that childhood seismic events can play by different rules. I hadn’t even thought of that.