What Now?

The nervous system has been studied ad nauseum by people who have an inexhaustible curiosity about what makes us tick. Scientific reductionism at its best: given stimulus X, what is the response? Change the stimulus, observe the response. We can habituate to stimuli at fixed intervals and intensity, even if they are painful or noxious. We can habituate if the stimulus is predictable. If you want to drive someone crazy, causing an internally-generated fear response–or at least stimulate anxiety accompanied by feelings of helplessness–just give them an uncomfortable stimulus at variable intervals and intensity. Unpredictable, like an earthquake. Repeat over and over again.

It’s on everyone’s mind. Some people will not stay indoors. Can’t deal with sleeping with a roof over their heads. And in many cases, for good reason. They have some idea just how sound is the structure they would be staying in. Others will insist on staying outdoors for no good reason, having a perfectly sound structure to house them.  But that’s just my subjective view.

Employment requires most people to be indoors, at least in the city. But you can be sure that everyone has their escape plan prepared. Many of the rural and agrarian population have little choice but to stay outdoors. They have been cast out of structures that are either damaged or which simply don’t exist any more. Still others, exercising rational calculation, make somewhat informed assessments of existing conditions and probability and move into relatively secure structures with a slightly faux confidence. Not foolish bravado, mind you. More like equanimity, but not exactly aplomb either. I’m in this latter group.

Commerce has slowed. Some commodities are scarce, depending on who you are asking. Services and supply chains are interrupted. Some business owners just aren’t showing up. Civil engineers are in very short supply. Skilled trades are in high demand. There will be a shortage of workers for reconstruction projects. There will probably be a shortage of materials. Most of the brick factories (There were probably a dozen in the valley) were put out of commission because their stacks, tall and unstable structures made of brick, mostly crumbled.

Everyone remains primed. There are two laborers working downstairs in the hotel courtyard as I write, doing some landscaping. Suddenly I hear them both yell. I look out the window and they are in open space instantly, looking upward at nearby buildings. I felt nothing. I also see a few other hotel employees in the courtyard, clearly taking precautionary measures.

Life goes on. There is relief work to attend to, plans to be made for longer term relief projects, public health, the reconstruction of lives, homes, schools, infrastructure. Attending to disaster response mechanisms. We can be occupied by action, at least superficially. But the antenna are always up. The body is primed to respond at the slightest indication. Just now there seem to be many people outdoors in the local neighborhood, listening for the crows, the early warning system. But then, the crows are always loud.

I’ve seen groups of people around town, in traffic, at restaurants, that look just like relief workers, wearing ID badges, uniformed or not, carrying cameras, video, all very official. They pile into and out of large SUVs, can be seen around big expensive and safe hotels, with rooftop pools, even. Some US military are staying at the Raddison. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance to paying $180-200 per night which is enough to feed a family of four for a month. Or pay for almost 2 tarps. They probably sleep well at night. It’s not that simple, of course.

What I am concerned about is how the nervous system recovers from the repeated uncomfortable stimulus of variable intensity and interval. What is true about this state of being, like most others, is that we have a choice to be present. By presence, of course, I mean not being driven by our internal reactions. In this case, it might be a little more of a challenge to be present in a genuinely effective way. Nevertheless, we have the same options as with any other state of being. Mindfulness is mindfulness, regardless of the source of the background noise.

Not that I would minimize the nature of the noise in this case. Just the opposite. This is a potentially life-threatening stimulus, not some dog barking in the night. Yet in this case, what I’m seeking is the opposite of trying to control all the external variables as if to guarantee safety in the event of another quake. I can control some of those variables. It would be irresponsible not to do so. But at some point, I have to conclude that I have done all that I can and I have to let go of further anxiety-driven internal responses and terrifying scenarios.

How to do that?

It is in the examination of this background noise, really asking myself in each moment and in response to each different feeling that arises, the fear, the anxiety, the helplessness, the physical arousal that accompanies all of it, “what is the source of this feeling?” Going further into such feelings to determine their nature, their reality, I consistently come to realize that there is no ultimate reality to them whatsoever. I can relax. Not that they should be ignored or overridden by rational thought. On the contrary, going further into feeling leads me to their true illusory nature. Once again, this is a navigation of an essential paradox: the truth of appearance and the truth of emptiness.

Whatever relief I may accomplish by remembering the emptiness of feeling, I am still in what I imagine remains a highly unstable situation that requires attention to the details of my personal security. I want to be aware of my surroundings, choose venues for my activities with care and especially choose a home base that will permit real rest.

I am also realizing that although I continue to have opportunities to interact with Olive Nepal and have some input into the CCL Nepal process, I have done as much as I came here to do as possible. The quake has changed everything. I am not drawn to remain here according to my original plan. I am looking into other options for making my way home,

2 thoughts on “What Now?

  1. Hi Gary,

    I’ve been reading your posts with great interest –I fear that recovery for Nepal will be a long and arduous process – and cultural damage may exceed physical.

    I’ve been concerned about your safety as well. You seem to have done a great deal to be of service and I’m sure you’ll do more in the future in many ways.

    Regarding earthquakes – the worst I ever experienced was the Loma Prieta 25 years ago, and I was not at the epicenter. Nevertheless, it was strong enough and the aftershocks scary enough that I still tense up every time there’s a low frequency rumbling, like a passing truck… post-traumatic stress. So I can only imagine what it’s been like for you and the Nepalis.

    Take care of yourself and do whatever you think is best – if you come back to the Bay Area, we hope to see you at our on-going gatherings.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good to hear from you, Judy. The odd thing about the urge to leave is that I imagine being on solid ground in the Bay Area and realize, Nope! When has that ever been solid? But still, I think I will relax a little more somewhere else.


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