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.
If we are to find our way in life, we must have an inner compass. Listen to what a Joplin resident had to say about the disorientation he and others are feeling in the aftermath of the tornado:
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.
As always, I am uplifted by your writing. I live not far from this event and have felt the reverberations among people. I can’t say they get what you are referring to. It has awakened in me a profound appreciation for the inner experiences that I have had that orient and nourish me. I have found myself frustrated by the relentless images of devastation. As if we can be shocked into something meaningful. That seems to reinforce the notion that we are what we see and what we create to shield us from certain inevitabilities.
If there is anything illusory in this world it is safety and security. We live on a rock that is suspended in a void so large that it is impossible to conceive. We are moving and everything else is moving and not necessarily in sync. The only thing that doesn’t move and is absolutely indestructible is Spirit. Where else are you gonna go? The funny thing about overly rational people is that they are not rational enough, because if they really understood the situation it would scare the hell out of them! Californians are a little edgy; they live on the edge. They act like people who expect at any moment to have the rug pulled out from under them. Midwesterners are more stable, more grounded, because they have to be. They don’t like to wander too far from home, because that’s where the basement is. They feel better in territory that is known. Californians, on the other hand, can’t stop moving. They are like oil on a hot skillet – nothing holds them in one place for too long. That’s why they are so good at innovation and adaptation. But they are unstable, just like the land.
Thank you again, yesterday we viewed the movie “forgotten cave” with the oldest KNOWN drawings (34,000 years plus or minus a few) truly a wonder-filled sharing. And while watching the thought was present for me ” how would these folks act if they experienced something really time-less” ……… also I was laughing at your title post because I kept thinking what’s he saying about Janis! I guess I need to watch the news some time ….. love-you and am thankful for your work…….. lovepeace…..D.Joel
It seems to me the question should not be, “why does this happen”, but how am I when it does. I had my first experience in a tornado warning this week in a confined inner space of our office building. It was like a social science experiment. I must say, I didn’t feel very enlightened then and I felt pretty vulnerable after it.
Of course, all of this pales in comparison to public speaking.
Rich and insightful.
Believe it or not, I love public speaking. It took about ten years as a lawyer. It doesn’t scare me much at all.
Good. Next time I have to speak in public, I”ll call YOU!