This week, I will interrupt our regularly scheduled theme, The Seven Factors of Awakening, and take a cue from nature to address storms, both meteorological and psychological.
As I type, Hurricane Irene is wending her way up the eastern coast of the United States, threatening high winds, lashing rains, flooding and power outages. Whether she delivers on her promise is yet to be determined.
In the face of this threat, the human reaction is one of justified defense. The cupboards get stocked with tins of soup and tuna. Bottles of water line the counters. Batteries, candles, flashlights. You know the drill. It’s better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it?
And on one level, there really isn’t anything wrong with taking these precautions. There’s a rational sensibility to it. But when does reasonable care cross the line into nail-biting obsession and compulsion. When does getting a few extra bottles of water turn into filling the bathtub. When does the occasional glance at headlines turn into minute by minute storm tracking.
From a dharmic perspective, although we may profess a bracing fear of the impending chaos that comes with storms, I would posit that there’s another part of us that secretly embraces the certainty of purpose, the clarity of duty, the singularity of drive that comes as we batten down the hatches.
Because the sense of self, the sense of ‘me’ thrives and survives on drama. What we’re now seeing on the macro level is but a blown-up re-enactment of what goes on on the micro level.
Moment by moment, when life slights us or throws us off guard, the sense of self recoils around its conditioned patterns of guarding and defensive posturing. The defensive instinct surges forward within its own self-validating assumptions. And the sense of self is never so solid, never so secure as when it is lost amidst its own righteous thrashing.
The Buddha’s path does not lead to a metaphysical escape or to a pacified ‘eye’ of the storm; rather, the path can be seen as a systematic program of self-deconstruction, releasing awareness from identifying with the “I” that is defined by the storm.
If you find yourself with a spare 40 minutes, I recommend listening to this talk by Rodney Smith: The “I” of the Storm.
Originally published on August 27, 2011