Apocalypse-a-phobia

9 February 2006

This is not the 1st time I’ve worried about the apocalypse. I lived through the late 70s and early 80s as a University student and young adult and I worried then, with good reason I still think, about nuclear annihilation. But the cold war ended and the fear that life on earth would be wiped out in a holocaust of nuclear fire faded away.

Well, apocalypse is back on the agenda again this time in the form of climate change/global_warming and peak oil. In some of the more dire scenarios the end of civilization with the overwhelming majority of mankind dying off and the surviving few being thrust back to the stone age is an optimistic scenario. Pessimists worry that we’re going to interrupt the ocean’s ability to produce oxygen and make animal life of any kind impossible.

The other scenarios which look more likely and which are merely disasterous in tems of their consequences involve rising temperatures interrupting our agricultural output combining with a peak oil crisis to crash technological civilization as we know it.

These possibilities scare me more than the possibility of nuclear armageddon ever did. The difference however isn’t due to the nature of the threats. Instead it’s due to the fact that this time around I’m a father with a three year old boy and that his life is at stake now. It is one thing to face the possible failure of a civilization or even a planet in which one is not very heavily invested. It’s quite another to face those possibilities with the life of your child in the balance. I don’t necessaily understand it, but I am more responsible to him than I have ever been to myself.

This kind of fear can ruin your capactity for joy and pleasure and just paying attention. Which, in turn, kind of cripples you as a Dad, too.

But the real question here is how these…considerations fold into my re-kindled interest in things Zen and Taoist. Because I’m pretty sure that worrying about and dreading the future isn’t quite “on” in the Zen worldview. by the same token, I don’t think that the Zen worldview would counsel turning a blind eye to these problems, pretending that they don’t exist. The trap involved in these problems is that one can get stuck on them, that even though one fears them that one is attached to them, won’t let them go. And that they divert one away from the moment by moment flow that is the only reality.

I’m reminded, somehow, of the story of the Samurai general on a rampage who charges into the monastery, sword in hand, and comes face to face with the monk. The monk stands placidly before him, unruffled.

“Don’t you realize that I could kill you in a second?” says the general who is used to cowing everyone around him.

“Don’t you realize that I am ready to die without a moment’s hesitation?” replies the monk in a quiet voice.

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