Hurricane Sandy came upon residents of the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic region like, well, a hurricane. Many were unprepared for the storm and its approach offered little time to prepare for what was in store.
Those of us a little further inland merely got a lot of rain and wind, with minor power outages, downed power lines, broken trees and the like. I was inconvenienced only by eight to ten minutes being added to my commute, facing a tad more cold and wetness than I typically desire.
While many Easterners dealt with problems similar to Clevelanders, a lot of places had entire houses being washed away and spread out across miles of weather-torn land.
No matter the location or conditions, people were complaining. This is initially understandable. Around here, the grievances were about school being canceled (or not) or the inability to use one’s electronic devices. In the more destroyed areas, troubles were expressed about the lack of government aid and deliverance from the peoples’ shattered lives.
Though I dislike our over-attachment to technology and the situation of towns across the East Coast was dire, I was more disturbed and slightly annoyed by the jeremiads of those whose lives were swallowed by Sandy. Call me insensitive, but the commentary that was contained in those cries for help highlight the very sad condition had by most modern humans.
Let me preface my elaboration by saying how awful it would be to have everything a person ever worked for, all pictures, purchases and concrete sense of place to be wiped from the map. I can hardly imagine the immediate sense of emptiness one would feel.
Days after the storm, those affected were still complaining about no one coming to help them. There was grief about FEMA not being there, more about the shortage of gas and energy. But how long can people complain about an unreliable organization before taking a breath and realizing where they came from, of what they’re capable and what they still have.
In Yogic philosophy, there is an idea of non-attachment. Among its components is Vairagya, which is a method used to acknowledge and let go of attachments, fears and false senses of meaning and identity that distract one’s perception of the true self. Another piece of non-attachment is Abhyasa, which is a way of forming one’s inner compass to direct to a path of thoughts and actions which allow one to attain a state of stable tranquility.
Still relatively stagnant in their actions and mentality days later, those most affected by the storm continued to feel sorry for themselves. The meaning we found in the inconsistent and nonessential replaced the necessities of life, which mean the most. People were paying for this mistake. Those humans exemplify a mindset that most of us have, though it may lay dormant. We view ourselves as incapable of great things, generating over-reliance on outside sources of constructive power. Furthermore, this producer/consumer society leads many to attribute so much meaning to material things that recovering from their loss becomes entirely more difficult. Memories become so attached to objects that meaning is lost without them. These problems can be fixed by going back to the foundation.
The foundation of meaning in objects can come from an object’s utilitarian purpose or that objects tie to a person, event, etc. A utilitarian purpose doesn’t usually carry deep meaning. If it is lost, it can easily be replaced. Even if it can’t, it’s probably unnecessary anyway. Doing unnecessary things with meaningless objects has become so ingrained in people, they become lost without them.
Long before permanent shelters and grandiose organizations formed to help the world, people had nothing but themselves and their tribe. If a tool broke, they made another one. If their simple shelter blew down, one could be rebuilt easily. All that was learned was stored in the brain; no other vessel existed for the job. All that we needed to exist was contained within us and could be combined with the contents of others to optimize life. This has gotten us through every other disaster since we began. It was reliable and sustainable. It provided stable tranquility in the confidence of our capability to survive. The thing is, this is still true, but most of us have forgotten it.
After days of unfortunate conditions, those affected still had not fully realized they didn’t need all those embellishments, and one’s necessities can be fulfilled by a close-knit community. Having one’s material life swept away serves as a wake-up call. The foundation of the material does not hold. Yet, no matter how extreme the conditions, the things that truly have meaning survive and overcome.