This post has been pressing for the last few days. Of course so was the track of Hurricane Irene.
Still not sure if I’m ready to proceed, but I would like to capture some of the conditions swirling around this situation.
A giant storm like Irene is physically a dynamic interaction of air and water that moves heat from the tropical surface waters both into the stratosphere and into higher latitudes. A summer builds up an imbalance of heat with concentrations of warm water and a strong gradient that reaches off towards the pole. The Earth’s rotation, and the twisting effects this has on air flow, imparts a turning moment to storm cells in the Trade Wind zones and these spinning tops are set loose to careen across the table of an ocean basin. On the east coast of North America, that involves the Caribbean and the Gulf Stream, the oscillations of the Jet Stream, and interactions with the Bermuda/Azores High, along with whatever fronts happen to be moving across from the west coast.
This week we’ve watched these forces play out in the specifics that fall under the name of Hurricane Irene. In my case, being just a few miles north of the jutting tip of Point Judith and on the northern end of its salt pond, these specifics have brought a significant storm, but nothing like what could have been, what probabilities keep mounting up as a potential fate someday when a series of minor variations fall another way and lead a storm our way along a more propitious – from the storm’s perspective – track that brings us a true monster like the one that came through southern New England in 1938. Core samples from the nearby marshes show that even that storm is not the upper limit of what has occurred here in the last few thousand years. As “hundred year” records fall on a nearly weekly basis in this rapidly heating atmosphere, it won’t be long before we begin seeing millennial record storms….
The approach of such a storm as what could have been, even what has come, weighs upon the psyche. There’s something about an extremely low barometric pressure that affects the body directly. The dog feels it. She has been more sober than is even her wont, and is laying low. There is an oppressive quality to the atmosphere, it can only be described as a weight – even though the air is actually lighter/thinner. This physical reaction is enmeshed with our mental and emotional conditions as we await a mounting fate personified in a spinning cloud field whose every movement and quirk of digestion is analyzed and presented in the popular media. This focusing of attention, if not always awareness, this hijacking of the Spectacle from its wider concerns maintaining a bubble of unreality; act out at a mega-scale the shifts going on within each of us at a time like this. Of course there’s a whole story in the way this variation on the Spectacle interacts with its “normal” style and how it lurks with all the power of novelty behind it to hijack us all, no matter how sophisticated/jaded we may think we are to Spectacle’s enticements. Let’s leave that aside for now. It’s temptations lead us off too easily into boilerplate social criticism.
Just as this period was starting, as the storm gathered and built in the Eastern Caribbean, I was beginning to get some traction within a new conversation with Andrew Taggart. A series of initiatives on a variety of fronts beckoned. At the same time, the storm’s mental effects were taking hold.
I’ve written a lot here recently on intention and action without striving. This storm has been a laboratory for these concerns. To begin with a simple statement, what I’ve been feeling is a slowing down, a gathering of energy into “passive” actions. A spreading out of awareness, a feeling for vibrations from anywhere and everywhere across the web of my perception, both external and internal. In a situation that is this complex and constantly mutating, there are countless trends to take in, but no firm basis to make decisions based on the reductivist model of ignoring variables to generate the illusion of a “simpler problem.” What feels appropriate is to be alert, but to hold-off judgements. To wait for a sense of an internal momentum to gather behind a course of action while maintaining a keen awareness of counter-currents. To look for the energy that arises when a clear path of action presents itself as a path that swerves around the hints of futility, while guarding against the easy satisfactions of piling onto a scheme of action by riding a self-reinforcing loop of intoxicating certainty.
Certain preparatory acts, like gathering materials for shielding exposed windows, came easily and were carried out with an easy joy, a lightening of spirit. The actual job of blocking the windows by screwing wood through the siding and causing minor yet not insignificant damage, never did get to that level of “rightness.” Instead, a variety of tasks for the direct benefits of neighbors; helping with boats and a dock, taking plants in for an elderly neighbor; welled up inside and were carried out with an even greater lightness of spirit, a real sense of doing right. This process took place over a few long days mostly filled by a quiet, almost drugged – in the archaic sense of that term, as something dragging a weight, like an anchor. I felt almost a stupor, though not the stupor of indecision or imminent panic. This was a sense of having most of my activity taking place somewhere beyond conscious processes. In a breezy computer analogy, I was watching the beachball spin while the processors were busy under the hood. I watched, both the space around me and the Weather Channel. I maintained routines. I napped, but I didn’t do much “acting.”
I was drawn to push, to strive, to continue with intellectual activities, with posting, responding, commenting, and networking online; concerns that fill most of my “workdays.” I suspended those urges as Bohm and Krishnamurti advised. Not repressing. I did not accede to them. I simply noted them and let them pass. This felt right. To do otherwise was to risk not having the reserve I felt was needed to maintain the effort going on beneath the surface.
This “practice,” for that’s what it was/is, felt right. It was a continuation, a spreading, an acceleration of a process I’ve been involved in for the last few years at least – in a focused manner, the roots go back to the way I dealt with a “hazardous” emotional environment as a child.
This would, it seems to me, be a natural instinct when day by day existence threatens to become a confrontation with existential threat. I was going to say I was surprised, I wasn’t/am not, that this is not the case for most of the people around me. Lost in the “American Dream” and the shocks of its evaporation around them, most of the people around me took their day to day attitudes with them into this new landscape. When given the choice between allowing an incursion of reality versus maintaining a pose of fantasy, they held on tightly to the blend of denial and outwardly directed anger and anxiety. Best not to think too much. Better to count on a variety of propitiations and look to deus-ex-machina – either in the guise of a truck with a siren on it or an insurance company’s promise to make them “whole again,” if only they sat still and held to their beliefs.
I still don’t feel capable – if I ever do! – of enveloping the heart of what I’m writing right now. I do feel there is something here, and it has to do with the superimposition of what it takes to face extreme situations and what it takes to be open to what life, what Being, offers us each and every moment. There is no need for giving “doomer credence” to a particular way of acting, to a practice, since that same practice unlocks our capacities to experience life at any time, in any circumstances.
There has been a solid sense of confirmation through all of this. The dynamics involved in action without striving cannot be captured in any intellectual description. They must be felt, experienced, to become available to us. There is a necessary dynamic of building up a relationship of trust and mutual reciprocity between our conscious selves and these other layers which must take place, whether we think of these other hidden layers as internal or as a pathway through a portal to a wider, universal, Being. So far this window into that world has been Irene’s gift to me.
Let’s leave it at that for now…