1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Panics and Storms and Projected Realities

By November 8, 2012

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Between Hurricane Sandy and the U.S. elections on Tuesday, the past few days have felt pretty intense.  And as usual in times like these, you can see the best and the worst in people.

Although my neighborhood -- about four miles north of the Bronx -- escaped flood damage, we didn't escape power outages. I think most of the power is back now, but many gas stations are still closed. The lines to the open stations are insane; I drove around a couple lines on Saturday that were easily a quarter to a half mile long.

I question the wisdom of sitting in an idling car for what must be hours in order to not run out of gas. But this is less remarkable to me than the folks who dash to the supermarkets and clear out the bread aisles whenever snow is in the forecast. I can't remember having to wait more than a day for the snow plows to clear the roads around here.

I assume some people do really need a full tank and a large supply of bread, but I suspect most of the gas line idlers and panic bread buyers are operating on some level of greed born of the belief in a separate self that needs this stuff and is afraid those other people will get all that stuff first.

Of course, I can say that because I can manage without bread and don't drive that much. And I filled my tank right before the storm.

It's a relief to have the election over with, I must say. Presidential elections in the U.S. are exhausting and seem to go on forever. Seriously, the Republican primary campaigns were well underway by this time a year ago, and there has been no letup since. I consider myself fortunate to live in reliably Democratic New York, which presidential candidates mostly leave alone.

But there are plenty of people panicking over the election results. Do a news google for "end of America" and you find much panic and despair, indeed. It's the end of America as we know it!

I don't want to be too hard on those in despair, because I'm sure their anguish is genuine. I hope they find their way out of it soon.  But of course, what's really happened here is that events did not conform to the "reality" their beliefs had caused them to project around themselves. That America never was real, but that's a hard truth to explain to people.

I noticed a long time ago that we Americans all walk about with their own private America in our heads. But since colonial times this country has been a crazy quilt of cultures projecting diverse biases and expectations. Experience of this place varies enormously depending on what part of the country one is born into, as well as on racial and class identities.

For example, I can trace some of my family back to some Virginia farmers of the early 18th century. After the Revolution their children went west and settled into the Appalachian and Ozark mountains. They were hillbillies, in other words. Their America was a very different place from that of a Georgia slave, a Maine fisherman, a Mohawk wife and mother, or a Boston lawyer. Very, very different. Different circumstances, different food, different music and folk crafts, different biases and beliefs. Yet all American.

So America always has been multicultural and diverse, since it's been called "America." We can pretend otherwise, to the extent we can surround ourselves with others "like us," whose own private Americas are similar to ours. But mass communication and increasing diversity are making that much harder to do. Thank goodness!

November 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm
(1) Mila says:

What would the world be like, if each of us related to other beings, first and foremost, as Buddhas-to-be?

Tai Situ Rinpoche has a beautiful teaching, in which he recommends this — that we relate to people fundamentally in relation to their Buddha Nature.

The result is feelings of devotion and compassion: devotion for their essence as Buddha; and compassion in relation to all the ways that they don’t yet know this about themselves (and hence may be acting in less-than-loving or less-than-wise ways).

November 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm
(2) Cuong says:

It’s certainly is the end of America visualized by people like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan. Let them whine.

November 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm
(3) John A. kauth says:

Unfortunately the whining is taking a dangerous turn. The local news is reporting tonight that gun sales have gone through the roof. They are selling dozens of times the usual numbers. One person interviewed on TV said he was buying his before Obama takes them away. Talk about a skewed vision of America!

November 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

One person interviewed on TV said he was buying his before Obama takes them away. Talk about a skewed vision of America!

People did that after the 2008 election, too, and for the same reason. They never learn.

November 10, 2012 at 8:02 am
(5) David says:

While people with kids at home really did have something to worry about re gas and supplies, I think that the drama of it all propells people forward to the long lines etc. It is a way of putting self front and center, of getting lost in a grand narrative. I just re-read a classic John Cheever story from the ’60′s in which everyone drools over someone’s bomb shelter and wants an ‘in’–a woman has an affair with its owner, the local church bishop asks to see it while pretending to visit on another matter, it helps to ruin the marriage of its builders. And why would you want to survive a nuclear war even if you could? Drama, drama, drama.

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