Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Catastrophic Support Circle

The Opening of the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse, 1610-14
El Greco

When you meditate, invite yourself to feel the self-esteem, the dignity, and strong humility of the Buddha that you are.

---Sogyal Rinpoche

The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.

---Tennessee Williams

This year, yes, even this year has drawn to its close.


I had a night of foreboding Monday night. No, it wasn't the champagne. In fact I went to bed very early. I felt it when I awoke around 3 AM, with fragments of a dream still flickering. People were coming up the hill, closing in...and I needed to decide whether or not to shoot. Rather a moot question, since I didn't seem to have any guns.

Maybe the wind, which by then was battering the house, had shaken me up. The cold front had arrived, bringing the snow from further west that fell yesterday. We expected about an inch, and I put down the potash before the relatives arrived for a Hungarian New Year's feast.

It couldn't have been the hospitality I enjoyed Monday noon at Kathy's remarkable home. She and her partner Constantine had invited a few people for a delicious lunch of soup, fresh bread, salad, deviled eggs, cheese and some Crumb's special crackers that I brought. The land is high on a hill of natural oak forest, with amazing outcroppings of huge boulders, possibly shoveled there by the glacier which chugged to a stop just north of there.

When Kathy first acquired the land, she found a cave among those rocks and there she lived until she could build a tepee, and eventually more comfortable shelter. What they have now is a model home, for me at least, that is self-sustaining and off-the-grid. You can see it here and go there to find out more if you're close by. There are more and more energy-efficient and alternative houses showing up around here. People move here especially to try their hand at living this way.

That was the purpose of our lunch and the 2 hours of conversation that followed. The people who come here are often fiercely independent. They don't know anybody here particularly and aren't that eager to get terribly involved. But maybe it's time we began to open up more to each other. Oh not a lot necessarily. Not some big organization with meetings and committees and all that. There are plenty of those...and more splintering off all the time. No, what we were considering was a loose network of preparation for emergency, catastrophe, even apocalypse. Not your cup of tea for after dinner conversation? Now you know why I woke up troubled in the night.

If the few of us there, at least half seemed to have formal medical training, either in nursing or doctoring. Clearly they had branched out into other pathways, such as those of the shaman and midwife and into different kinds of bodywork and feedback. Constantine is interested in nutrition, growing and preparing food. While we all are fed up with the government's failure to provide care for the people in times of emergency, I still held up memory and hope for the citizenry to come to its senses and rebuild our society's responsiveness.

We came at the topic from 2 different but connected angles. Within the last decade the psyche of the nation has suffered 9/11 and Katrina. We are learning to live with attacks we call terrorism and the natural disasters perhaps caused by excessive carbon emission. We have federal Security agencies, lavishly funded, but strangely ineffective. Money is available, and obviously private contractors are out there getting it. But what of local communities? Are there groups downtown, politically appointed or otherwise, prepared with stockpiles of food and medicine...just in case? Are there evacuation plans?

What if there's a big earthquake? A series of hurricanes and tornadoes? What if Baltimore and Washington are flooded out by a sudden rise in sea level? We know that our town is designated as a "host" in the event of such a catastrophe. People will be told to come here---and maybe even given transportation. Is our town ready for this? What of all the WalMart people, a perfect herd of consumerism brainwash, who may not even think about what would happen if there's no gasoline or electricty for an extended period. Now you're on foot and hungry...and nothing stockpiled except your shotgun collection. Can we help those people? Can we count on any protection if matters become unruly?

What we were considering is whether among our individual friends and associates, there might be households that could share in emergency preparation. I can stuff my crawlspace with bags of rice and beans and some big bottles of water...but maybe one family could store rice, another beans, and somebody else canned goods. Within shouting distance of our house---across the "holler"---are 3 or 4 families whom I might be able to engage in this activity. Up the road apiece are a couple more places. We're talking about this kind of network...local to your neighborhood, whether in town or country. It means reaching out in ways maybe many of us haven't done in a while---or possibly ever.

When we closed out our gathering New Year's Eve, we sort of reflected on how we felt. I said it was cleansing and healing for me to talk together this way. Often at work and in casual conversation, people resist conversation headed in this direction. People seem in denial or ignorance or dependence on some outside power to come with the care. It was a relief actually to address this topic as the whole reason for getting together. But later---in the middle of the night---it came to me there is a lot of work to be done. And it's urgent.

Oh...nearly forgot: if you need some extra motivation to get started in your neck of the woods, I read something this morning in the new Old Farmer's Almanac. An English businessman named Sir Richard Branson has started the Virgin Earth Challenge. It's a contest to come up with an effective way to remove billions of tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. First prize is 25 million dollars.


Quinty said...

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area I kept some spare batteries, a flashlight and other emergency supplies stored away in a box at the foot of a closet. Just in case the “Big One” hit. In the SF Bay Area it is a good idea to be prepared for a major earthquake, since everyone living there knows it will one day come. Another 7 or 8 pointer. Maybe even larger.

Could the uneasiness you seem to experience - anxiety in dreams? - be a reflection of our times? The instability and sense of unease our national government has fostered during the past seven years?

Is a widespread lack of public confidence a result of the administration’s giddy lack of any rational direction? Something created by the ongoing mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, and “faith” based management style of this administration?

Has government failed us to the point that we can no longer even rely on it to aid us in a national emergency? That a sense of the “commons” has to be something we create for ourselves?

Tom Bombadil said...

Speaking of "self-sustaining and off-the-grid" have you ever wondered what became of Shawa and Mika and the Earth Sanctuary?

I know, Spain is not exactly next door to Ohio... or, perhaps it is.

As the consequences of mankind's collective impact on the environment, increasingly, are affecting people globally, where people live in the world doesn't seem to matter so much anymore---That is, depending on where it is that one lives in the world and under what conditions. (There are areas of the globe that are so overpopulated that "personal space" is a luxury, people struggling every day against the elements, the inundation of their lands or the desertification of their environment, people living in dire poverty, people who are landless, people who are homeless, people who are hopeless, and, to those people, where they live, especially the conditions under which they live, does matter very much.)

And with the world wide web, anyone is all but one click away from anyone else in the world, isn't it so?

Those who have access to the Internet, that is.

"Things at the Sanctuary are changing fast, in the right direction," and there are reasons to hope that "2007 will be a great year for deep ecology."

This report by Shawa to her readers is dated January 01, 2007 .

And here are a couple of pictures of the Earth Sanctuary:
- PIC 1
- Pic 2.

Shawa and Mika live in an empty valley. There is just one small county road that goes along the mountain to the next village.

Shawa reflects on what was before:

"The Old Forest Covering the land Dark and musty
All over, from Spain to Russia You could go from tree to tree
And never touch the ground
They say..."

That was before... A long time ago, by human standards. But not really that long ago.

"Before the axes and the saws
Before men and churches
Before organization, and guilt..."

It took man a relatively short time to transform the environment in such a radical fashion. And with the Industrial revolution and the development of new technologies, it is taking man less and less time to to do even more so, on an unprecedented scale (pollution of all kinds, acidification of our Oceans, global warming, etc.) Maybe with such recognition, and as Man's power to do harm (BUT ALSO to do good) increases, will come great responsibility? Can Man undo what harm has been done in even less time it took Man to ravage the planet? Is there time, still? Time is a precious commodity, and we are rapidly running out of it (G.W. Bush's presidency - 8 wasted years! - didn't help.)

"The Old Forest is dead and gone", Shawa tells us,"except for the little oaks planted from acorns in [their] Spanish patio."

And then, there are the assassins...

Nausicaa said...

For some reason, reading jazzolog’s entry, I found my thoughts drifting to Diogenes who sought to live an exemplary life of autonomy. Unlike Kathy, Diogenes didn’t live in a cave but in a tub belonging to the temple of Cybele (a deification of the Earth Mother)---but that’s a different story altogether, and beside the point, as Diogenes was perfectly content with his tub and was not looking for a more comfortable shelter.

More relevantly though the story goes that Diogenes went about ancient Greece looking for an honest man, and allegedly he found nothing but rascals and scoundrels. Little wonder then that people seeking seclusion "aren't that eager to get terribly involved."

But insofar as Diogenes symbolizes a revolt against civilization, he might not be the best example for our times. I mean, Autarkeia (self sufficiency) is great, and maybe one day will come a time when all human beings will be able to operate, if not in an absolute self-sufficient way, at least, in a semi-independent way in a decentralized society, with their own individual independent power source and hydroponics gardens and whathaveyou, but it seems that right now, people are all deeply interconnected, in a state of extreme inter-dependence. Furthermore, inter-connectedness is what the world we live in is made of and what landed a man on the surface of the moon. And, as Martin Luther King put it, "We are all caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality." As a matter of fact, all life on earth shares in that inter-connectedness. Everything is in everything else. Some Buddhists call it "interbeing."

To that regard, when it comes to simple life, and communion with nature, wabi sabi might be more relevant a concept, and Basho a better inspiration than Diogenes:

"Wabi sabi acknowledges three things: "nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished." So, at first glance, it seems to celebrate the very thing that causes suffering. Yet, Basho found that wabi sabi led to enlightenment. So what is going on here? Basho himself studied Zen for several years and traveled in disguise as a Zen priest, yet he clearly became attached to people and places, wept openly beside ancient battlegrounds and other sites of romance or valor. He suffered gladly the pains of attachment and sympathy, identified with nature and its pathos. Either he was not very disciplined in his Buddhist practice, or he understood something about attachment and loss that we could do well to learn."
---Richard Powell

Wabi sabi is one of those concepts that are beyond words, which is probably why wikipedia's trite entry falls rather short on this one.

This passage from The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko however has been cited as being essential for any full understanding of wabi sabi:

"Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of spring—these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration...People commonly regret that the cherry blossoms scatter or that the moon sinks in the sky, and this is natural: but it is only an exceptionally insensitive man who would say, "This branch and that branch have lost their blossoms. There is nothing worth seeing now."

In all things, it is the beginnings and the ends that are interesting. Does love between men and women refer only to the moments when they are in each other's arms? The man who grieves over a love affair broken off before it was fulfilled, who bewails empty vows, who spends long autumn nights alone, who lets his thoughts wander to distant skies, who yearns for the past in a dilapidated house—such a man truly knows what love means.

The moon that appears close to dawn after we have long waited for it moves us more profoundly than the full moon shining cloudless over a thousand leagues. And how incomparably lovely is the moon, almost greenish in its light, when seen through the tops of cedars deep in the mountains, or when it hides for a moment behind clustering clouds during a sudden shower. The sparkly on hickory or white-oak leaves seemingly wet with moonlight strikes one to the heart. One suddenly misses the capital, longing for a friend who could share the moment.

And who are we to look at the moon and the cherry blossoms with our eyes alone? How much more evocative and pleasing is it to think about the spring without stirring from the house, to dream of the moonlit night though we remain in the room!"

jazzolog said...

I'll say something to Tom briefly at the moment, choosing to bask (as usual) in the calm lagoon of a Nausicaa comment a while longer. I'm most grateful to be pointed in the Blogger direction of Shawa and group. I left a few words over there and of course she immediately replied. Keeping track of her various manifestations is one of the best arguments I know of attempting online relationships of one kind or another.

She and her 2nd daughter still are members or at least look in from time to time over at that funched-out site where some of us gathered originally. I mean when anybody can access the perhaps it sinks of its own dead weight (alas). She left a comment recently, signing as Shakti. When I wondered how many "Shakti's" are there on the Internet, she jumped back right away identifying herself---and with a thunk to the head, reminded me she likes to do what she likes to do.

Don't mind us, Quinty, for reminiscing. He's something of a refugee from that site too, and undoubtedly understands. By the way, I just wrote to *sindy*, now known as Sparkle in various domains, asking how things are in Trinidad (speaking of Catastrophe). My daughter said she heard in school that sea level is rising there quite inconveniently. I'll let you know her reply.