Friday, November 26, 2010

Bone Deep Fear as a Planetary Exprience



I took a trip over to the website of a long time favorite Buddhist teacher of mine, Joanna Macy. Continuing the theme from Wednesday's post, as well as circling it back to the struggles we have individually to truly open to interconnectedness, here is a selection from Macy's living systems writings:

It helps to recall that in the course of our planetary journey we have gone through positive disintegration countless times. The life living through us repeatedly died to old forms and old ways. We know this dying in the splitting of the stars, the cracking open of seeds in the soil, the relinquishment of gills and fins as we crawled onto dry land. Our evolution attests to this, and so does our present lifetime, as we learned to move beyond the safeties and dependencies of childhood. It is never easy. Some of the uglier aspects of human behavior today arise from fear of the wholesale changes we must now undergo.

To let ourselves feel anguish and disorientation as we open our awareness to global suffering is a part of our spiritual ripening. Mystics speak of the "dark night of the soul." Brave enough to let go of accustomed assurances and allow old mental comforts and conformities to fall away, they stand naked to the unknown. They let processes which their minds could not encompass work through them. Out of darkness, the new is born.


As the winter cold and darkness settles in, I find that disorientation quite palpable in my life. Some anguish too, but more disorientation - a sense that I'm walking down a road after having been spun around. Buddhists like to talk about change and impermanence, and yet how often it is that our minds lag behind, sometimes far behind, whatever is occurring? I can feel myself wanting to know what's happening, and what's going to happen next, but all that wanting just keeps me away from it. Whatever "it" is.

Positive Disintegration is an interesting term. It points to the fact that what our minds see on the surface doesn't account for the wholeness of experience. It suggests that the ice and snow that has come, and killed off yesterday's field of carrots and the rabbits that stayed on too long to nibble, isn't a menacing end point. In fact, I think it points to the fact that we don't understand the ice and snow at all.

There are rumblings of war in Korea again. And certainly a deep level concern that the dictators running the North will finally lose it, and unleash nuclear weapons on the South. Menacing is a fair word to apply to all of this as well, and yet even here, we don't truly know what the conflict on the surface is leading the world to. Since I was a kid, listening to U.S. President Ronald Reagan blathering on and on about the "Evil Empire" and it's nuclear capacities, I have had a gut-level hatred of warfare. It was beyond the awfulness of the human injuries, casualties, psychological misery, environmental destruction, and astounding economic waste that come with "regular" warfare: it was all about survival, and a fear of everything we know disappearing. A menacing endpoint.

And yet, even though the horrors of nuclear war are possible, and people should do whatever is possible to avoid it, I find myself also looking at the sky. How many of those stars are already gone, imploded long ago, the light only reaching us now? How many others have been born, and are flourishing, but whose light have not yet come?

I find myself still afraid of the "wholesale changes that must come" in my own life - partly, maybe mostly because I don't know what they really are. How much more so is the compounded fear emanating collectively from humanity around the changes the world itself, perhaps the greater solar system and beyond, is calling for us to make - changes we don't understand, can't put a finger on, and probably won't live long enough to name?

3 comments:

Ji Hyang said...

When we consider the whole world situation, our society is a culture of ostriches, every now and then shifting from mindless unconcern to deep fear.
Maybe our rebirth will be a different form of life, or even a different planet.
Bodhissatva Vow, ten thousand years, nonstop...

Nathan said...

I do sometimes wonder if the whole thing is shifting into a completely different form and way of being, and humans will become one of the "outgrown" species.

I rather like people all the same, even if our collective response to major issues is often too much like those goofy birds.

Daigu said...

The problem with fear is that it's so fearful. Have you ever encountered a deer or a rabbit, and felt it freeze up at the sense of your presence? That reaction is the most natural thing in the world. All the Buddhas in all the realms can't argue with that. Can't console it either. So, what do we do? The deer or the rabbit runs away. That won't do for us. Even if change is beyond us - I'm not saying it is - we can still look what scares us squarely in the eye. Will we understand what we're seeing? Will we know what to do? I don't know.But I believe our humanity is in the balance. What you're writing, Nathan, is the heart of our practice.