A new “Earth Dharma” post by Jill S. Schneiderman about the earthquakes that have been unsettling North America’s eastern shore.
It’s been an eventful couple of weeks here on the eastern edge of the North American continent, despite the fact that we are situated in the middle and therefore relatively stable portion—speaking tectonically—of the North American lithospheric plate.
I felt the 5.8 magnitude Virginia quake on August 23 while sitting in a flimsy camp chair perched on Precambrian bedrock just inches above the ground surface in western Massachusetts. As readers of reports after that quake will know, the old and rigid rocks of the east coast of North America propagate seismic waves very efficiently so this geologic event was felt hundreds of miles away from the epicenter.
Just a few days later, the approach of and preparations for Hurricane Irene truncated the opportunity to marvel at the fact that Earth shook in surprising places. These were two different kinds of earth events: the earlier one a phenomenon of the solid earth possibly rebounding from the melting of Pleistocene ice sheets and the latter, a spectacle produced by the interactions of hydrosphere and atmosphere in the Anthropocene. They had in common the vast spatial scales that are an every day matter for planet Earth. Fortunately casualties among the living were few and we can be grateful for that. Nonetheless this planetary activity serves as a reminder that the earth is alive, and like any living being, deserves compassionate attention.
Aropos of these events, I recently finished a one-day sit with Larry Rosenberg at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. Larry’s instructions, very helpful on the cushion, are useful to me now as I reflect on the earth’s dynamism in preparation for my introductory earth science course. Seasoned meditators will relate to Larry’s instructions: to be present rather than to wallow in an unchangeable past or become lost in an uncertain future.
His words have a direct geological analog in the famous saying by James Hutton, considered the founder of geology, the earth shows “no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end.” Hutton penned the words in an attempt to convey to a populace yet unacquainted with radiometric dating what he believed to be the vastly ancient age of Earth. But after sitting with Larry, I also read Hutton’s statement as an invitation to be present in the moment. The Earth’s past is indeed unchangeable and it’s future uncertain. All we can do right now is pay close attention to the communications we receive from this living planet.