I survived the Ridgecrest California earthquakes of 2019. Actually, the aftershocks are ongoing and I’m feeling one as I type this post. Hopefully, the big stuff is over and we can get back to normal life. The earthquakes caused lots of damage but much of that can be repaired. What is more profound than broken glass and cracked walls is the impact on the human psyche. I’ve lived in California for 19 years and have experienced many minor earthquakes. I’ve felt a little shaking, swaying in my chair, heard a boom or even heard stuff rattling in the room. If there was someone in the room I’d ask them “was that an earthquake?” we would compare experiences and then go back to whatever we were doing. What happened in Ridgecrest was not like those minor earthquakes.
It’s hard to put into words how this affected me. I was afraid of course and worried about my family and was concerned my house might collapse, but the most profound and lasting feeling is something like ‘weirdness’ or ‘strangeness’ or ‘unsettledness.’ I think this feeling is a piece of the ‘meaning of life’ puzzle. Let me explain.
A caveman wants a cave to be protected from the sabertooth tiger and the tornado. His cave is his sanctuary and safety. It keeps out the bad stuff. The tiger and tornado are the bad stuff. We personify the bad stuff so we can have a villain to blame for the consequences of the bad stuff. We give hurricanes names. A tornado may not have a name but for all practical purposes, in our minds, it is a demon on a mission to destroy. The tiger is self-explanatory. An earthquake is a different kind of bad stuff. In the middle of an earthquake, there is nothing to point to. There is no villain. The cave isn’t safe and instead something that can kill you. In an instant, everything in your psyche is turned upside down and you are very disoriented. What was safe is now deadly. What was outside the cave is everywhere. Hiding is not an option. Running isn’t an option. Your most basic, primordial protection mechanisms are completely unraveled. You are no longer in control and it is unnerving.
As we move further from the big bang (or pick your origin story) we believe we are evolving or maturing or elevating our consciousness to be further removed from our primordial origins. We aren’t cavemen anymore. We are sophisticated. We create a separation from the caveman. We think we are far away from and something else than the big bang but in reality, we are the big bang. We may feel like we are way out on the tip of this thing but like a finger on a hand that is on an arm that is attached to a shoulder (and so on), we are still the big bang. We are all of it. I think the primordial unraveling I felt in 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude earthquakes was a sensing of the connection. When your brain stops working because it can’t make sense of what is happening, what is left is the sense of our timeless self.
Alan Watts would say everything is a wiggle. Scientifically he is accurate. Nothing is solid. Nothing is still. Everything is moving. We recognize the pattern of the movement. He talks about trying to hold a wiggly fish. We can’t hold it with our hands so we use a net. The net is like a grid. In each square of the net, we see some part of the fish. As we break the fish into all these grid squares we begin to see a pattern emerge. This is what our brain does. It finds the patterns. It uses a series of yes and no’s to pattern the wiggles of our temporal experience. It is a pattern recognizer. It is a ruler and like a ruler can’t measure itself, the brain can’t process something without a pattern. When the patterns are unraveling, the brain takes a break. I found earthquakes are pattern unravelers.
What’s left that can’t be patterned is what is. The patterning isn’t really real. When we pattern we may have some sense of safety. It is our cave of protection and predictability and sensibility but it isn’t what is. Patterning is conceptualizing. It is gridding. It is using the net. It is separating and categorizing and sadly, what we think we are. This false self is the one that believes we are too sophisticated for primordial responses that belong in ancient caveman history.
For me, this event pulled the past into the present. I saw as one who had no friggin idea of what to do other than run from my cave (which was counter to any previous normal reaction). As the earth moved in ways I didn’t have the capacity to process and didn’t fit into my categories and concepts, I was left with “UH” just like my caveman self.
What’s the point? Waking up from the dream is to see the dream as a dream. Becoming aware of WHAT IS and accepting WHAT IS as it is, brings us to the point of Nirvana or what Jesus called salvation. Realizing we are the big bang and the caveman and the sophisticate, all in one, is awareness of what is. We are the timeless connection of all our experiences and the source of all our experiences.
I share this event for your own reflection. I don’t wish an earthquake on anyone. They suck but so often we find truth in the middle of chaos.
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