4 Meditations on the End of the World

Hurricane Sandy image from NASA

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.” 

~Rainer Maria Rilke



I. Storms

As I sit down to write this post many forces are converging, not the least of which is Hurricane Sandy, bearing down this hour on the East Coast.

Huge sections of Brooklyn and Manhattan are underwater, wind and rain is buffeting New Jersey and other parts of the Eastern shoreline, and millions of people in the path of the storm will be without power for days.

This is the nature of storms… to churn up unimaginable amounts of pure energy, to rearrange everything in their way, to move on, and to gradually disperse.

This is the nature of life as well. If you’ve been on the planet for more than a few hours, you’ve experienced this. There is no ground beneath us… everything that we hold dear can get washed away in the blink of an eye, by storms literal and metaphorical.

Our world is in transition. Whether or not you buy into the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world date, something does feel like it’s accelerating. The pace of change within us and around us is staggering.

My own life right now is filled with transitions – some are welcome, some are painful, all are necessary. I am grateful to have a meditation practice as a way to return to center in the midst of these surging storms.

But even meditation cannot stop the storm.

Our lives fall apart, then they re-construct… sometimes we make conscious choices about what happens, sometimes it feels like we are being carried along on a great wave much more powerful than anything we might choose.


II. The Morning Star

Last weekend I sat a one-day retreat at Upaya Zen Center. Roshi Joan Halifax and Robert Thomas gave a beautiful talk about the Buddha’s awakening, which coincided with the appearance of Venus, the morning star. In that moment, the Buddha declared, “I and all sentient beings on earth, together, attain enlightenment at the same time.”

Robert reminded us that the Buddha actually didn’t do anything to make enlightenment happen. In fact, “attain” is a poor choice of words in that translation. He merely relaxed into a place where he realized, he remembered, that we are all always and already in “the way.”

Roshi Joan reminded us that the planet Venus is both the morning and evening star. With the morning, it is darkness coming to light; with the evening, it is lightness that goes to dark.


III. Constancy

Where do we find a center, our center? Is there really stillness in the midst of it all? Are we in the end times, or is this actually a beginning?

Recently I came across this image, which profoundly moved me:

from The Imaginary Foundation


Joni Mitchell’s song, “Case of You,” keeps running through my head. Why? I’m remembering these lyrics:

Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said, “Constant in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”

Stars, storms… constancy, change.

In the midst of these sea-changes in our own lives and in the life of our planet, we can find some odd comfort in realizing that we can’t grab on to any one place — not the stillness, and not the storm. Just let it all be, and trust in the perfection of each moment. Even if it’s incredibly imperfect.

A friend shared this bit of wisdom with me: find the quiet peace in the eye of the storm, but learn from the spin.


IV. Finally

This post isn’t meant to be merely a philosophical exploration of change… this is real stuff, very real. This morning in the aftermath of the storm, thousands of people are in need of help.

Perhaps the most important end-of-world lesson is that we are all connected. No matter what happens, we’re all in this together.

So, lend a hand to those in need today. Here’s a good collection of organizations and groups that are providing relief efforts to those affected.


What are your thoughts and feelings as we go through this time of tremendous upheaval together? 


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7 Responses to “4 Meditations on the End of the World”
  1. Ji Hyang says:

    Well written–beautiful and powerful.

  2. Sue Burness says:

    Maia, this is beyond beautiful-and I love the call to action! A few years ago, in the middle of what felt like an unimaginable crisis, I was guided to “be in the centre of the storm” and I struggled with that. In retrospect, I realize that’s exactly what I DID and exactly what needed to happen.

  3. Antti says:

    Good points, but I’m a little puzzled about the remark on Lord Buddha, that he ‘didn’t do anything’. OK, enlightment ‘comes’, but he really had done things that had probably got him to that place and state. First of all he had meditated hard. For years. :-)

    • Maia Duerr says:

      Antti, thanks for your comment. I think what Robert was pointing to is that while the Buddha certainly did put in a great deal of effort to awaken, in the end, it was not the effort that ’caused’ that awakening. My interpretation would be that it was by trusting and relaxing into ‘things as they are’ that the Buddha discovered that awakening was there all the time. I’ve been reading a lot of Dogen lately, and it makes more sense to me when I view it in that kind of way… that is, there is nothing to be attained but simply by sitting in meditation we are already being buddhas.

      I think it’s quite possible for people to meditate hard for years and still be fairly stuck. So while the meditation obviously is helpful, there may be something else at play as well… maybe? Just keeping an open mind about all of it!

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About Maia

All my life, I’ve loved the idea of liberation and looking deeply into the question: What does it really mean to be free?

That's what the Liberated Life Project is all about.

You can find my work on two other places on the web -- click on the badges to the right to visit "The Jizo Chronicles" (my blog on socially engaged Buddhism) and Five Directions (my consulting business).

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