Two events that happened over the weekend impacted me on a deep level – the earthquake in Chile and the death of the trainer by the Orca at Sea World in Florida.
The troubling nature of both has everything to do with that word – "nature."
In my day to day life I am often content to concentrate on my important tasks – work, social connections, and maintaining the status quo.
Both these events made me realize that no matter how much I try to ignore it, my life is part of a much greater reality.
The earthquake, coming so soon after the one in Haiti, makes me realize that I live on a dynamic planet that is constantly shifting and changing, and transferring energy between its various parts and its inhabitants, along with other energy which we can only begin to suspect with the solar system and galaxy.
Given our own physical scale, and the length of time we spend on the planet, we may be spared these influences and blissfully remain oblivious to them. Because of the lights of our cities, we can ignore the fact that we live in an immense universe of unfathomable scale and power—until an event like an earthquake makes us confront, until the next political scandal takes over CNN, that we inhabit a physical universe of incredible power and with forces way beyond our control.
Nature has ways of getting our attention, and reminding us that we exist, physically here and now, and that our existence is in many ways precarious.
The Orca issue made me also cognizant of the fact that we humans are a species of animal exercising dominion over other species – for the time being – which has moral consequences.
While I felt good that a sizable number of commentators pointed out that an Orca should not be kept in confinement and made to entertain with dumb tricks for a living, the fact that this is not obvious to every human on a deep soulful level is troubling.
Our inability to hold other life, particularly intelligent life, in the its proper reverence has been evident for a long time, and it's nice that some folks are waking up and science for example has realized just how remarkable these sea mammals are—but one look at the depressed dorsal fin of the animal that killed that trainer would indicate to any sensitive soul that that animal was deeply troubled and if it was filled with rage, who could blame it.
My mother, who unfortunately would have known, once called Sea World a concentration camp for penguins.
But to sense all of this deeply and profoundly, you would need to no longer take your human-ness for granted – you would need to acknowledge that you're part of a natural order that has consequences, even if you are the "dominant species".
Both of those issues bring me back to the matter of scale. If the universe is truly 14 billion years old, life on this planet is quite a recent development, we (as a species) have only been here for the tiniest fraction of that time, and as individuals of course we live here for a split second of cosmic time.
Within that period of our lives, many of us think we are in control of circumstances – until an event like Chile or Haiti imposes the reality of the higher scale upon us.
But can we be conscious of our lack of control without such an event, or simply by taking it in?
And what if anything of consequence do we really control?
Some teachings suggest that the only thing we can really influence is our own attention.
If that is the case, then remaining oblivious to the matters of scale that could crush us at any instant is probably part of our survival mechanism – because otherwise we'd be terrified all of the time.
So how to balance the reality that may come into our senses, however briefly and frighteningly, when we watch CNN, with our day to day need to survive mentally and emotionally and yet try to be conscious and sensitive?
It's interesting to consider that other societies may have used various drugs to let these feelings in on a limited and traditional basis—with the guidance of shamans and priests—while we have science to provide us with frightening "facts" of scale to which we have little relation, and media to scare the crap out of us.
Lately there has been quite a bit of speculation about the Mayan calendar, and its ability to connect with a 26,000 year planetary cycle that some see as ending in 2012.
Not surprisingly books and movies have focused on cataclysmic events that may transpire.
But it would be interesting to know how the Maya really experienced this planet with their combination of science, art and religion—although it seems that if you were a slave in that culture interesting might not be the right word. Or exactly why the Egyptians (or someone) apparently decided to use a million blocks of stone to construct an almost indestructible scale replica of the earth and connect it to the Sun and perhaps even other stars.
But certainly our day to day existence totally denies the reality of the cosmos in a way the Maya and Egyptians apparently did not. Millions of us go through life hypnotized by media and with a certainty that we know what is going on and what our lives mean: a paycheck, a relationship, raising kids, and so on.
Then suddenly for a brief instant we are connected to realities of a much higher scale. Do we ignore them, and simply move on to the next event in our own lives, or can we take them in, connect to their power, and let them influence us in ways that are not merely terrifying, but speak to the potential for our own spiritual or higher purpose and evolution?