Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
The amazing response of donations and goodwill to the Earthquake in Haiti is another witness to the measure of evolving human and global awareness. As people saw the destruction and suffering, they realized that in the scale of pain, many of their own problems were minor. Giving is an affirmation of feeling secure, and an expression of gratitude. People who fear or who are not grateful for what they have, have difficulty being compassionate. An event such as this earthquake serves as a reminder of what is essential in life and makes one take inventory of one’s blessings.
Many aftershocks of the earthquake manifested in many parts of the world as psychological reassessments. People started reflecting on their lives, their work, and their relationships. In the wake of a natural upheaval people seem more willing to make decisive changes in their life. They gain new perspectives. The Haitian earthquake was a great catalyst for human awakening. It will take some time to see the results, and many people will slip back into the dormancy of old habits. Nevertheless, many of us saw in our friends’ lives or in our communities a shakeup that previewed a coming change. As people and society evolve psychologically and spiritually, great shocks serve as stimulants and benchmarks of our growth. They are like illnesses that are wake-up calls for change.
Human-made disasters that have thrown so many people into the never-land of homelessness or refugee camps do not shock as nature’s disasters do. How come humanity seems to have a greater stomach and a harder heart when faced with suffering caused by human cruelty? Somehow we rationalize human cruelty and observe the human condition as an on-going morality play without drama. Even in the Haitian disaster some religious leaders such as Pat Robertson said that the people of Haiti got what they deserved because they had made “a pact with the devil.”
Such statements demonstrate the frozen hearts and minds of people whose lives are still plagued by “the devil.” Contrast that with the spontaneous and unconditional outpouring of generosity after the earthquake. Seven-year-old Charlie Simpson in England was so troubled by the suffering he saw on television that he decided to raise money by getting pledges to ride his bicycle around the neighborhood park. His mum put his goal of five-hundred pounds on the internet, and in response he raised more than 100,000 pounds ($160,000) and attracted the attention of the Prime Minister! What was it that Christ said about children and the "Kingdom of Heaven?"
The words of Robertson and others like him cast a dark, cynical shadow on the fact of human goodness. It is really insulting to people to be characterized by so-called “religious leaders” whose world view is that people are basically sinners. Their statements cause me to reflect on the “hell” created by French existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre in his play, Huis-clos (No Exit). His “hell” was built of walls in people’s minds by their guilt, fears, hatred, and remorse – a room without windows or mirrors, only a single door. Their “torturers” were their prejudices, ignorance and selfishness. Existentially, people like Robertson must be living in that hell!
True that we “feel good” when we help others, but is that a selfish feeling? Researchers in psychology, history, anthropology, theology, and biology are concluding that the automatic, altruistic and often heroic response to the suffering of others is an intrinsic quality of our humanness. The urge to help others is programmed in our genes and our glands because throughout ages it has helped society survive. Spiritual teachers would say it is an expression of the God within us. Sometimes it takes the impersonal disasters of nature to release our suppressed goodness and destroy the walls of our self-made “hells.” Suddenly in the flood of our compassion and goodwill we wash away some of the constraints that prevent our good angels from expressing themselves.
Even if our “awakening” is only momentary, it serves as a reminder of the parallel universe of good that co-exists with suffering humanity. It gives us psychological distance from our personal pains and conflicts, and for some, releases the courage and conviction to make changes. In a sudden shock, we see that life is fragile and that perhaps we have become absorbed in unreal and futile battles with ourselves and others. We see that life and our time to live it to the fullest could be limited, so we do not want to waste it in our self-made hell.
In our time of awakening we may experience pain of separation and loss, but symbolically speaking, it is the severing of the umbilical cord that binds us to our past. People individually and collectively need to cyclically release themselves in order to evolve psychologically and spiritually. It is through great shocks, on a personal or global level that we gain the opportunity to take our next step. Destruction is painful, but rebuilding is creative, gives hope and demonstrates the qualities of which we are made.
© 2010 Richard