Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Snapped out of our usual swoon

I was downtown yesterday when the quake hit. Moments afterwards, everyone poured out into the streets from office buildings, restaurants, and shops. People were present, alert, and even relational, if a bit unnerved. I talked to strangers who were talking to strangers, something that would never happen under ordinary circumstances. On the ride back to Capitol Hill, the folks on the Metro train were engaged, communicative, and fully awake. The last time this level of honest interaction took place in DC was the first week after September 11, 2001.

Compared with the usual glazed, internally focused, shut down kind of public face we urban people use when out and about, it was rather miraculous to see and feel the liveliness in people. It was extraordinary! In big cities, we urbanites (in general, not everyone) like our privacy, we really don't want to interact with others in anonymous crowd situations. I don't blame anyone for plugging into the iphone while on the subway or standing in line at the supermarket or whatever. We pay a price for creating individual bubbles. We are not really present until something like an earthquake happens.

I get a kick out of the scenes in old movies in which some hysterical or passed out or just spacey character receives a sharp slap or an ice cold drink tossed in the face, a wake up call as it were. Yesterday's quake was reminiscent of this kind of scene; the earth shook us awake, out of our usual swoon.

Even those who get consistently good sleep, as well as those who meditate, do yoga, tai chi, or other mindfulness practices, can benefit from a metaphorical slap upside the head every now and then. The Buddhists call the waking dream of "real" life Samsara. The Hindus think of it as Maya. A lot of traditions refer to the dream-like layers of perception we call reality as some sort of trance state. Life is but a dream, indeed.

In DC yesterday, for a little while, we were fully awake to the dream of life. It was a wonderful feeling.


ellen abbott said...

I notice the difference between the city and the country. There is so much less of the urban bubble. People look at you, smile, engage in a bit of conversation out here in the country away from the constant mass of humanity.

Reya Mellicker said...

I remember that from when I lived at Lake Tahoe. It's so nice. And yet here in the city, I too go into my own bubble. It's a survival thing.

Kerry said...

When we lived in Alabama our neighborhood was heavily damaged by hurricane Opal. We were without power for a few days and a tree had fallen on our house. I don't remember shedding a single tear. I only recall the awe of the storm and the giddy party we held at our next-door-neighbors. They had a propane stove and invited everybody over to make french toast. A fabulous change from the 9-5 work day.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yeah. Disaster brings out the best in our species. Go figure.