Some lessons are harder to learn than others. I lived in the Midwest for thirty years, and I know how nature’s lottery works. The year before we moved to Omaha, Nebraska, a tornado similar to the one that struck Joplin, Missouri, ran right up one of the main streets for ten miles causing more than a billion dollars of damage and taking three lives – a minuscule toll compared to Joplin’s but sobering nonetheless. Now I live on the San Francisco Peninsula where extreme weather only happens on the news. No one here says it, but you can hear them thinking, “Why would anyone live out there and put up with that kind of weather?” The reason they don’t say it is because they are living with a different kind of lottery, one that provides absolutely no warning and that can be just as destructive and much more widespread. Earthquake. The pedestrian lights on the street corners actually give you a countdown in seconds telling you how long you have to cross the street before the light turns yellow. A countdown. How ironic.
Transience is a bitter pill to swallow. There should be a sign: “Welcome to Earth – Enjoy Your Visit.” We plan, we build, we invent, we philosophize – but in the end, it all comes down. Everything in our earthly experience will come to an end. And eventually, even the planet itself will cease to be. Nothing that we can see or feel will last. Not one thing. In order to be “enlightened,” in order to be conscious, we must come to terms with this fact and learn how to be happy within its terrible context.
If you practice meditation, if you have had any contact with your inner being, if you know that life is a power and not a set of circumstances, then you know that there is a part of you that never dies. You know that that part is the real part and that all the rest is like the grass – here today and tomorrow cast into the oven. But, the spectrum of our being is not bipolar with nothing in between. Our real nature is not just physical and/or spiritual. There are many gradations, many layers of consciousness that extend deeper in and higher up. When our spirit withdraws from this world, it will extend itself back into a different one. It might (and some say that it will) bring with it something essential that it learned in its previous incarnation, the way we bring our photo albums with us when we move to a different part of the country. We “start a new life,” but the old informs the new.
Gary Box, 60, the coordinator of business retention and expansion for the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, shared the mayor’s spinning compass. “I’ve always relied on my sense of direction and memory,” said Mr. Box, who spent 14 years as a Joplin police officer. “But I now realize I was always basing it on landmarks, and they’re all gone.”
What are the landmarks in your life that give you your sense of direction and memory? If they are external landmarks, the day will come when you will feel lost. There is no worse feeling. Wisdom dictates that we find a firmer foundation, that we locate ourselves within a higher context, that we live in heaven even as we are alive on Earth. Our actions here must be dictated by what we know to be true, not what we think we see. We must live our lives according to enduring principles, laws that serve the human spirit, not merely ones that help us get ahead. For example, why do we mourn the loss of a corner coffee shop and ignore the erosion of civil liberty? Are not our values more important than our livelihood? If we lose those things within us, the essential parts of ourselves, what does it matter if the wind blows everything else away?
We have become a people obsessed with the outer. This has to change. We must live in a way that serves our soul first and our body second. It matters more how we serve each other’s needs than how much we charge for those services. Let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing – it is more [alive] to give than to receive. If you make it a habit of always giving more than what you are getting paid for, you will be happy no matter where you are or what you own.