Friday, June 18, 2010

Tornado Dharma

Extreme weather is always a good reminder of our rightful place in the world as one of many kinds of living beings, and not in charge domination experts we humans like to think we are. Yesterday afternoon and evening, a series of powerful storms ripped through my home state of Minnesota, killing three, injuring dozens, and destroying parts of several towns.

As I sat inside my basement apartment, listening to reports coming in, I couldn't remember a time in the past when there had been so many actual tornado touchdowns in a single day. It was heading right towards us in St. Paul/Minneapolis, and even though a lot of storms seem to weaken as they enter the cities, this one wasn't getting any weaker, so I found myself popping in and out of the apartment building, watching the sky. Around 8:30, I noticed a fierce yellow/orange tinge to the dark clouds that we're rushing overhead. Soon, the color had shifted to red, an odd bright, but also dark red with gray-black clouds intermingled. A few drops of rain began to fall, and I went back in to check the reports.

Nothing. Regular programming had returned to the radio. Another twenty minutes went by without anything else happening. I looked out again, wondering at the beauty of the sky, but also surprised that the rain had stopped and only a fairly strong wind remained. Another twenty minutes went by, and the colors faded into darkness as the sun went down for the day. Not another drop of rain fell in St. Paul, nor did the winds pick up beyond a strong, but not really dangerous gust. The thrust of the storms had missed us.

Recently, I wrote a post about threat narratives, and for those of us living in the Twin Cities, these storms are an interesting parallel to the way those stories play out in our lives. You take something dangerous that might possibly happen, blow up into something that absolutely will happen if you don't do or say certain things, and then even if it doesn't happen, what you experience is still ramped up. Indeed, even though the "storm" misses you, the threat narrative continues to live on because it could have been bad, really bad - you just barely escaped, right?

However, unlike a line of severe storms producing tornadoes, which can and often does cause real damage, many of the threat narratives people have are completely devoid of connections to reality. And yet, think of all the internal tornadoes you've had in your lives because you thought something was going to happen which ended up not happening, and probably had little or no chance of happening in the first place. My city could have been hit by a tornado last night like the others that did get hit in Minnesota; there was little chance that the arguments I was having with one of the directors at work was leading to me getting fired, even though I feared this for several weeks. Not that it couldn't have happened, but it was a long shot really because even if she wanted me gone, she had to convince the other two directors, as well as establish a new precedent - no one's ever been fired from our workplace, at least in the six years I've been there.

After an oppressively warm day yesterday, and those storms, the weather today is calmer, less humid, and almost windless. Pretty interesting how this all happens, isn't it?


Adam said...

I know it sounds weird, but I miss the tornados. I lived my first 20 years in Michigan, and there was something magical about those storms, even though they were very scary and destructive.

A Green Spell said...

Can't tell you how many times I thought a "tornado" might touch down only to discover I had nothing to worry about at all. Our minds can surely create a whole lot of drama!

Anonymous said...

I think Nathan is onto something with his term "Threat Narrative" which is a deep vein in the iNet which includes uses like:

-a story consistent with the Commie [China, Russian, Latino, Iranian threat narratives
-seminars offering strategies for deconstructing the terrorist threat narrative
- P911 [post-9110 trends: Before 9/11 the driving ethos behind any big-threat narrative was always “We will triumph”.But now that feels hollow
-Cable TV he political right media, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, were more Islamophobic and tended to play up the threat narrative
-social analysis Politically, the terrorist threat narrative functions to legitimise and normalise
-rhetorical assessments The Latino Threat narrative 'is part of the grand tradition of alarmist discourse
-racism But narrative is also containment, and hence threat. Narrative has been a weapon of white culture. It has been used, as Derrida puts it, as "white mythology"

In Buddhist terms these seem like fear-based or shame-based or hate-based stories of aversion. I don't know what the antidote to this mind/heart poison discourse is.

How do you practice in the face of such discourse?

Any clues?

Nathan said...

"How do you practice in the face of such discourse?

Any clues?"

Well, one thing I'm trying to keep in mind is in this speedy, overly busy world we live in, many people don't take the time to reflect on narratives being handed to them by media, political leaders, corporations, etc.

I had a conversation with a very pro-Israel Jewish friend recently that went nowhere because no matter what I said, she just kept repeating the official line from the Israeli government on everything. I finally asked her why she was so fiercely defending the Israeli military's actions in Gaza, and she said "if things get bad for Jews here in the U.S., I know they will have a place for me. This country was set up for us, so I will defend it no matter what."

The thing is, there are over 6 million Jews living in the United States. If they all had to leave, or felt they needed to leave, how would they all possibly fit into Israel? It's impossible. So, my friend is willing to defend destructive actions by a foreign government that can't really follow up on it's promise unless it annexes a lot more territory. Which would create even more danger for those already living there, not to mention those who would be moving in.

So, I guess the first thing is to have compassion for all of us because it's so easy to grab a story and go with it without thinking first.

To be honest, I've also been trying to use this blog as a way to bring up these issues, and maybe create some questioning in people who haven't questioned something before. Or to support others to practice with the ambiguities of life, because that isn't always so easy. When you think about it, when people say they practice because they want to be enlightened, you can see that there is something to hold on to, a story of what could come. But when you drop that off, and sit with what is, or sit with the ambiguities or questions - well, it's not always so easy.

Hmm, not sure if that answer helps answer your question or not.