Etna, courtesy RIA
“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming
Shobo-genzo Zuimonki, Zen Master Dogen says that we should live each day, each hour, in the same frame of mind as that of a man falling from a horse. In that brief moment before he hits the ground, all his ability and learning [are] useless, and there is no time to think, no time for daydreams or self-reproach. When we face a matter of life and death, there is no time to look around or fantasize. All depends on our readiness. Zen Master Dogen said that we should live our whole lives in a state of readiness.
— Shundo Aoyama Roshi, Zen Seeds (Shambhala, 2019), 54–55.
We have fallen from our horse. We weren’t ready. Our government is lying to us about how many have died and how many are going to die. Officials are already talking about who should be sacrificed. They’re looking at us. These are the reasonable people we voted for?
What happened to that predictable life we were living? Have we trusted the wrong people, the wrong story?
The question really is, are we able to live in a state of aliveness, what the Zen master called “readiness,” or are we addicted to the quasi slumber of the predictable ways we’re used to?
Maybe we just don’t want to face uncertainty. We want life to be predictable. I wonder how many people have actually banished uncertainty.
The Yeats poem was written in a time such as ours, when the worst were possessed by passion and the gentle folk were unsure what to think or do. It’s a strange experience to look around at our fellow countrymen and realize they would happily consign us to the graveyard simply because we don’t feed the market enough.
We are spoiled and coddled, we Americans. We don’t expect to have to insist upon a rigorous, just and cooperative lifestyle. We have grown soft and weak from our vast array of conveniences, from our adulterated and too sweet daily diet, from our controlled and attenuated education and media. We’re the opposite of lean and ready. We don’t question the system that enslaves us, but now the charade is exposed. You work or you die. You can quit but your children won’t eat and you won’t either.
The difference between our social expectations and those of other countries, where people can expect aid from their systems in emergencies like this, are stark, shocking.
The slave owner mentality is still here. It hasn’t gone away. But this time we don’t have an FDR. It falls to us to think for ourselves, to educate ourselves, to embrace values that protect and nourish life.
Leaders have come and gone who have tried to rectify these injustices. Is this situation any different? I don’t know, but this time it’s global, and we have the ability to look around and see how other nations are reacting and managing. We are under threat, not only by the virus but by our own elected officials, who can’t be trusted to tell the truth or do the right thing.
We ourselves are worried about loved ones, about losing work, about getting sick or even dying. Nothing seems predictable and we are not prepared to live in such a challenging state of affairs.
It’s back to the drawing board. It’s time to design, not only a new life, but a new, stronger human, one who could recover quickly if the horse jumped sideways.
We find ourselves in a crucible all of a sudden. That crucible is either going to cook us or smelt us into a new human. What it won’t do is turn the clock back so we can go to sleep again.
- Anima Fire is my publication.