Saturday, February 12, 2011

From Berlin to Beijing to Tunis to Cairo—To Us

Who can forget the images?
After forty-five years of Communism and thirty years of not being able to walk freely through their own city, one exhilarating night, totally unexpectedly, the checkpoints of the Berlin Wall are thrown open and multitudes of euphoric East Berliners come flooding across to the West, passing freely by the befuddled guards who would have been obligated to shoot them only the day before.

A lone man, anonymous to this day, stands defiantly before a tank in Beijing and refuses to step aside. The tank tries to go around him, but the man repeatedly steps into its path, heedless of his own possible death. The whole world rejoices at this symbol of liberty and courage.

A poor, disadvantaged vegetable seller in Tunisia is insulted by a policewoman; he goes to the authorities for redress and finds none. His solitary protest against the injustice sets off peaceful demonstrations around the country that, in less than a month, will topple a dictator who has been in power for twenty-three years.

People in Egypt watch what is happening in Tunisia and ask the reasonable question, “Why not here?” They know the military, the government and the secret police will mobilize against them. They know that they are unarmed against the might of the state and that most likely some of them will die. They take to the streets anyway, calling for the peaceful removal of a strongman who has harshly and unjustly ruled their lives for thirty years. Some are arrested and tortured, others are shot where they stand in the streets, but still the crowds keep coming. Why? Because they crave the freedom and dignity that they know to be theirs.

We look on and are moved to joyful celebration for these triumphs of the human spirit. We identify with these people, even if they are far away in places that we will never go. We feel the kinship. “Yes, I know what they must be feeling. I would do the same. We are all in this together.”

Hurray and hurray again for these recurring emblems of courage. We are well served by gentle and not so gentle reminders of what is possible, and for some fortunate people in less troubled lands, these images lead to a searching glimpse into their own situation: “What is possible for me in my life?”

Now we come to the crucial point: what is possible in our own lives? Many of us may have felt fearful, doubtful, confused, repressed, depressed and disempowered, but not because of what some government has done to us, but because of what we have done to ourselves. We may have beaten ourselves up for our many perceived faults; we may have compared ourselves with others and doubted who and what we are; we may have been at the mercy of negative thoughts and emotions and believed that we would never be free of them. We may have bought in to all the ideas that said we were limited, sinful, unworthy and not good enough. We see others around us believing the same things, and we may conclude that this is just the way things are.

But the freedom that never left us and is always present beckons us at every moment, no matter what ideas we might have had about its loss. It is said that “hope springs eternal,” and that hope is ignited when we see examples in the lives of others, and in our own lives, that we can be free. This does take a bit of courage ….not unlike the courage of those in Berlin, Beijing, Tunisia and Egypt. It is the courage that says, “No matter what obstacles I see before me, I will not be deterred; I will not be limited; I will not be denied.”

This freedom that I am speaking of is the most basic of human rights — the birthright of all of us to know ourselves as we truly are. One moment at a time, over and over again, we quietly confirm that freedom for ourselves, and we persist, bravely, without wavering, until all hindrances have fallen away and our vision is clear. I wish this recognition of freedom for myself, I wish it for all of you who read these words, and I wish it for all citizens of the world.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

So Dear, So Precious—So Near

The sun is just disappearing behind the mountains, and the orange light is reflected on the revered river as the mothers with their children, the sadhus and the cows walk past. What did I get here?
At one level one could say, "Well, I got into an airplane, had a meal or two, watched a movie or two, slept some and then somehow a few hours later I ended up halfway around the world."
That is miracle enough in itself, and I don't ever want to take that for granted. We fly through the skies with a confidence unimaginable to our grandfathers. We arrive, set up shop in a place that looks completely different from the place we left. We sit for hours in front of a small electronic box that is a wonder world in itself: if we want to write blogs and send them out to people on every continent, it says "okay;" if we want to speak to anyone in the world who has their own small electronic box at no charge, it says "no problem, would you like to see them live on the screen too?;" if we want to create worlds of print, picture or film, it says "step right up." Things that were science fiction only 15 years ago are now commonplace. How did we get to that?
But as stunning as computers, Internet technology and global air travel are, that is not really the main subject of my wonderment here today. It is something much nearer and dearer than these things. The awe, the glory, the absolute thrill that have prompted this message are about something that can never be taken from us.
What possible phrase could I use to communicate this precious gift: awareness? consciousness? God? the peace that passes all understanding? the here-and-now? What?
When all things have settled and the mind is at complete rest and there is nothing to be accomplished and nothing to be feared, what is that? When death comes, and nothing changes, what is that?
But maybe these ideas are too big and too distant and not in the realm of the everyday for all of us. At a very simple level we can be with it: we feel in our hearts at times that we can be at ease with everything that appears, because we have done it before; we are able to remain unafraid, even when fear is very near; we can look at people and we don't see them as being our ideas about them or their ideas about themselves; we look out at a world that is for us new at every glance; we sense that wherever we go, there we are; we recognize that what's looking never changes — even if the face in the mirror ages over decades, what's looking never moves. So, what name is there for this?
Death can come at any second, at any second, at any second, and surely it will come. Life seems to be lived around a vague present that swiftly passes from past into future and then suddenly ends; but is it so?
The whole parade of life and death happens only RIGHT NOW. Nothing is ever outside of the here and now. It is that which I so want to cherish just now, thank you so much...this dear and precious instant of life that has no shape or measure. Ever new, ever unfolding, without limit. Joyfully, I want no other.