How Can We Prepare AND be Present?
A Mental Paradox?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
I can’t count the number of earthquakes I’ve experienced... the big ones, of course, I can number, but the small ones accumulate like ripples under your feet. After a while, you question whether the earth was ever still... or if it’s just in your mind. Something once so fundamental, like the solid land you walk on, is literally shaken.
You see, I’ve twice lived in high earthquake cities, on opposite sides of the earth...though I have traveled and spent time in many more. While the type of natural disaster was consistent, each culture responds differently to the seismic waves. There is always a degree of superstition, whether it’s burning Joss papers or lighting candles for numerous saints. Others practice a certain level of fatality. An acceptance of things larger than themselves.
But what always amazed me was the level of preparation the inhabitants the world over had...
I remember, for instance, when we first moved to Mexico City and a friend showed me his backpack by the door. He always had it ready with important documents and essential toiletries, in case the alarms went off (which they regularly did) alerting him of the next big quake.
In our modern era we can extract mother natures’ fangs by depending on greater technology, building structures that can withstand the movement of the planet's plates...as well as handy earthquake apps and life saving devices.
This would not have been an option in the ancient world... in a region rife with earthquakes.
Whether it was the Spartan earthquake of 464 BC or the 226 BC earthquake that toppled the wondrous Colossus in Rhodes... the ancients had to be prepared at all times for such occurrences, because when they didn’t, they were very often simply wiped out... Indeed, it is the cause some suspect ended the Bronze age and collapsed the great and mighty Mycenaean kingdom.
They needed foresight both physically and mentally...character forged in the earth’s movements.
Two weeks ago I asked: How do you prepare? It was in consideration of the end of abundance... Many wrote in with useful insights and practical tips... others commented on the state of things... and what it all means. I certainly received a WIDE range of responses, as you’ll see when you read on.
The question still remains: How can we be ready for the inevitable? How can we prepare AND be present? Is this a mental paradox?
Read on to enjoy your fellow Classics’ lovers insights, below.
Founder and Director
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Re: How do we Prepare?
Even though it may sound counterintuitive, the ancient principle that I think would suit us best for a future where certain resources are a luxury instead of the norm, is xenia.
Xenia is what made ancient people welcome others into their homes and give them a meal, offer them a bath, and let them spend the night if they require it. In the same spirit, it is what made the person receiving all of these pleasantries not overuse their stay and leave said household after giving the owner a gift. As a literal concept it may be a little bit difficult to play out nowadays (I'm not giving the advice to leave your door open ajar, haha) but as a broader idea, we can include a bit of xenia in our everyday lives in many different ways: helping someone just for the sake of helping them, making foreigners feel included and seen in the countries they moved to, supporting endangered minorities in any way we can, etc.
It is kindness, compassion and this xenia where we welcome strangers and try to help them with as little or as much as we can do for them (knowing they would do so for us as well in case the tables were turned). We should be cultivating xenia in order to flow through this ominous future, as the instinct of many will be to enact some sort of Battle Royale for resources and power, but violence only breeds more violence, and it's the empty violence of consumerism without any care for the environment that took us to this point in the first place.
It makes me ask myself, would we be here, discussing this type of future, if kindness, compassion and xenia were values that we put into practice a long time ago, and they were as collectively revered as selfishness is? (And if you don't believe our culture revers selfishness, just go on YT and watch how many videos there are under the premise of "the year I became selfish, I got everything I wanted")
It may seem small at first, but imagine a future where resources are extremely limited and everyone sticks to just themselves, fighting against whoever they perceive as other. It's pandemonium. Now imagine a future where resources are extremely limited, yet people have organized themselves in a way that helps them all take care of each other, forming a strong support system for one another. Sounds a lot more bearable.
PS: We call it future because we (the ones here having this conversation) still have at least access to some resources, but let's remind ourselves that the future we fear, or the future we describe as "the end of the period of abundance" is actually already happening in many places all over the world. So the future is now.
Re: How to Prepare
To prepare or not to prepare, and how? Gosh, that's a question that goes back to Aesop's "The Grasshopper and the Ant." That fable firmly answers, "Prepare!" and I think there is a lot of wisdom in preparing for the inevitable: winter, plagues, wars, loss of income, failed harvest, illness, accident, and don't forget one's own death! Gallup's polling last summer reported that 46% of Americans have a will, so more than half of people in this part of the world are not prepared for everyone's most guaranteed eventuality!
I think the better question is, how do you prepare? The Stoics advocated imagining the worst possible outcomes for things and preparing for that. I think imagining that scenario is a helpful tool, but I think it's a question best taken very personally. I know people who can live off their land and off the grid at the drop of the hat; Mormons have, as part of their practice, the mandate to have two years' worth of foodstuffs on hand at all times; and I have one friend with an organ transplant who outright told me, "If everything gets disrupted to the point that I can't get my anti-rejection meds, I'm a dead man no matter what I do."
All of these are different approaches, and I wouldn't say any is wrong. Each is suited to the needs, beliefs, and resources of these individuals. I'd only like to offer some guiding principles on how to prepare:
Know thy neighbors. Build strong, enjoyable relationships with your friends and family in your geographic area. Introduce yourself to the new folks on your block (if that's not dangerous). Get to know them, and let them know at least a little about you because in a pinch you'll all have more resources, skills, and knowledge together than you ever would as individuals or even separate families. Invite everybody over for a cookout, have them bring a dish to share. At the end of the day, we're all social animals, and all the research I've seen shows that people with strong social connections live happier, healthier, and longer lives. What's the point of surviving an apocalypse if you end up alone, anyways?
Get a portable camping water purifier/filter. The kind that you can dump puddle water into and get potable water. Sawyer and Lifestraw are two good brands that come to mind. Boiling water takes fuel and time, and boiling muddy water just kills microbes, it doesn't filter out the muck.
Keep a lighter on you, even if you don't smoke. If you want to be really into it, get an old school refillable one with extra wicks and fuel. Zippo is a classic.
Keep a crank flashlight at home, in your car, and potentially on your person and at work.
Keep a dry goods pantry with root veggies around and cook from it weekly to keep your stock in rotation. Dry and canned goods don't go bad in a power outage, and expired corned beef isn't what you want in a pinch. I avoided the grocery store pandemic panic completely just because of this.
Keep some cash on hand at all times.
Keep your important papers & photos in a fire & waterproof container. If you need to grab stuff and dash, they're all in one spot, and in the meantime protected from fire & flood.
Have an old school pocket knife with the can opener & screwdriver on you at all times. I prefer a Leatherman with the pliers. You know all those canned goods you have? Not useful in a power outage if all you have is an electric can opener.
Keep a go bag, a.k.a. bug out bag, handy. It has cash, a change of clothes, a couple changes of underwear (especially socks!), maybe a solar charger that fits your phone, toothbrush, paste, floss, hairbrush, etc. If you take meds regularly, I recommend you keep a pill minder with your pills so you can grab them all at once. I also recommend you keep protein bars or similar around that you can throw in this bag. A jar of peanut butter and a bag of apples works in a pinch.
Notice that I didn't say how much of anything you should keep, or what kinds. I made a few suggestions of brands as a starting point, but it really doesn't matter. You know yourself, your needs, and your situation best. Besides, at the end of the day, no matter how much you've prepared; no matter how much you've put away or where; no matter how much or who you know, you might be taken out in the first wave of whatever happens. So if nothing else, practice the first point and watch your life improve!
Re: How to Prepare
Hi Anya, thanks for sharing your thoughts....!!
But I am afraid it is true what president Macron is announcing....
Be interested in reading your next mail.
Re: How do we prepare?
The lesson from the Greeks is democracy and science. We seem to be downgrading both. Revitalizing democracy would do away with extreme inequalities of having billionaires and homeless Americans. And science would teach us we are facing extinction from anthropogenic climate change. Bringing the era of fossil fuels to an end, would be the lesson from science.
Evaggelos V., Ph.D.
Re: How do we Prepare?
In responding to President Macron's comment, I think that one consideration should be to re-evaluate what we think we want and need. It has seemed to me for quite some time that the American and French cultures (as well as most of Europe and the developed countries) have conflated the notions of 'want' and 'need'. If/when we desire something, X, it seems to almost instantly become reiterated as 'I need X' in the culture. I suggest that we adopt an attitude of separating these two notions so that we can genuinely embrace an attitude of 'want less'. Whether we see this as 'desiring fewer things' or 'experiencing less deprivation', to crave less will enable us to let go of any unnecessary senses of lack of abundance. If we are successful at this, then a reduction in 'abundance' will not necessarily affect us negatively. When a lack of something does not impact our actual needs, we do not feel the loss. And if we want less, perhaps we humans will have less of a detrimental impact on the world we are living in.
This generally Stoic attitude, however, may not work in all settings. When the lack is of things that are crucially needed, e.g. clean drinking water, crops and food, clean air to breath, and weather patterns that won't kill us, just wanting less is not going to address the needs.
These are just some thoughts from the ancient streams.
Janet M.R. S.
Re: how do we prepare?
What is really finished is the time of the Exploited Working Class. People are done being slaves and the Capitalist business model is broken. There's still plenty of stuff out there, we're just really tired of building Pyramids for Pharaohs.
Re: Noble Lie
According to James Redfield, ‘Noble Lie’ is a mistranslation. The word actually means “A Whopper.” (Sorry, I’m in Thailand and can’t research this further at the moment.)
Re: Noble Lie
In the discussion of the Noble Lie, several respondents averred that lying is wrong, always and everywhere. It seems to me that they are ignoring the example given in stating the question. When the Gestapo comes to your door and asks if you are harboring Jews, and you are, do these people truly believe that it is better to tell the truth, and betray the people who have taken refuge with you? Or is it better to lie, and protect the refugees?
I know which side I'd be on.
Re: Age of Abundance
The ancients retreated to the countryside as a respite from the city. Virgil’s Georgics and Bucolics speak to this. The Pandemic of 2020 made it clear that in times of trouble – people who can – leave the city for the country. Second home sales exploded over the past two years. Some large cities have seen a major and permanent loss of population. Many recent ex-urbanites feel prepared to deal with the next crisis and while they may survive for a time, hunkering down is not an honorable way to face the future. At some point we have to confront the things that threaten our way of life, to whatever extent is necessary. Like we did in WWII and many other courageous people through the ages.
Abundance is cyclical but history has shown us that we have abundance when we have incentive and work for it. Sadly, millions of young and able bodied Americans have figured out how to game the system and collect Social Security disability benefits. They no longer have to work, even though they should. This and other forms of dependence rob us of our dignity. Self-reliance seems passe. Abundance is achievable. I just hope it’s not too late.
Whitney E. K.
Re: How to Prepare
What we as a species needs to do is live in the present, maximizing the opportunity that God gave us today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not promised. That doesn't mean not preparing for tomorrow, it means using today to do everything we can to prepare for the next Black Swan. Keep your head on the ball that is coming at you now, and yet realizing there will be other curve balls that inevitably will be pitched to us. We have to be ready to hit it when the time comes.
Re: How to Prepare
In the classical wisdom of the East, trials are part of the remembrance that Dunya/Samsara are "Empty" - that is conditioned, impermanent and without independent essence. This directs us to turn away from vain hope in that which can never satisfy our anxieties, believing that that which is created can ever be in full control of anything, and turning our face instead towards the Unconditioned and Unmoved that is the only One that can and is in full control over all at all times, and whose Plan none (even the gods/devas and demons/ashuras) can escape.
Specifically in the classical traditions of Islam and Sufism, this involves cultivating in the Heart, as mutually supporting ways to reliably appreciate what we we have been blessed with:
1) Gratefulness during good times
2) Patience/Vigilance during bad times
3) Inclining towards the Real and watching for the many forms of "idolatry" (or sublimating conditioned creations), and
4) Maintaining the readiness to Fight when called, and to fear what happens after death more than anything before.
Re: Losing Abundance
Losing an abundance of what is the first question? Since no one (or in any event very few) can prepare for the loss of an abundance of suffering, I interpret the question as which perspective(s) prepare us for the loss of abundant pleasures? Most people habituate to pleasure quickly and then work to avoid its loss and to maintain or increase the level to which we have “become accustomed”. Not unlike addictions of every sort.
The stoic philosophers’ ideas here seem especially useful to “prepare” for the loss of abundance and ultimately to the loss of life itself. To habitually and mindfully judge the pleasures of “abundance” as ephemeral indifferents relative to the pursuit of meaningful adherence to principles of “natural law and right” human core values would function to prevent the attitudes and attachments to “abundance” and its ever diminishing returns.
William B, Ph.D.
Re: Age of Abundance
Perhaps a read of the Rome Report from 1972 would be a great starting point.
The Limits to Growth - Club of Rome
Re: The End of Abundance
First, thanks so much for Classical Wisdom.
And great issue to address. I've become a bit of a fan of Peter Zeihan, the demographer/geopolitical guru. His latest book is The End of the World is Just the Beginning, where he lays out in detail what Macron was referencing.
I think there are some lessons from history for a time of contraction.
Some are negative, what not to do. After all, you don't run into Hittites or Ra worshiping Egyptians at the mall. A lack of flexibility and the ability to adapt usually consigns people to the dustbin of history.
But you do run into Jews, an equally ancient people, who have survived for 3,500 years. Throughout their history they adhered to a clear, central, codified spiritual ethos. And also maintained strong literacy, education for both boys and girls, family structure and economic diligence. And they did this often while under external threat and surrounded by hostile neighbors. Maybe there's a tip or two here.
Look after the Maslow hierarchy - physical needs, mental/emotional needs and don't ignore the higher needs that give ultimate meaning to life.
Was this a bit heavy? Practical tip: learn how to grow at least some of your food in whatever plot of soil you have access to. Decide which great books your children should read. Learn to do more with less.
Anyway, that's enough good cheer for one day.
All the best,
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Xenia adapted to modern America would be a blessing.
For me a close approximation of Xenia was walking the Camino de Santiago. Five hundred miles of Xenia by pilgrims, hosts and everyday citizens.
This, to me, is the best suggestion I have read.
Dearest, dearest Anya...and all:
I’m glad that we Jews have survived almost as long as the dinosaurs… As some may believe. And perhaps some day we will make for some fine oil as well...for the next round of humans to come along, exploit and despoil the planet much as we, the Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists… Oh well… Or, should I say, “Oil well.” Oil well that ends.
Be prepared. The old Boy Scout motto. Goodness. Were they prepared for all those lawsuits? I don’t believe so. Not very scout-worthy.
Should I be embarrassed by my own cynicism? Why? I was “prepared” for it by centuries, indeed millennia of satire. (Thanks, so ever much, Lucian... There's a rumor they named samosas after you...) Based upon? Human behavior!
Let’s all cheerfully tell our neighbors, the Pakistanis, to be prepared for the next monsoons, why don’t we? Have your “go-to” bags at the ready, boys and girls! Keep an extra pair of socks dry! Don’t forget your peanut butter!
Oh, look! All the snow and ice on Mount Shasta in California has melted. Whooda thunkit? At least now we have all that extra water to sprinkle our cars and driveways for a few weeks. YAY!! And we get to climb to the top without snow boots. Aren’t they so terribly awful? Be prepared, though. Bring a parka from Patagonia, just in case…
Maybe instead our fluffy bones will be crushed into diamonds. Shine on, friends. Be prepared.
Alan Asnen, PhDuck