Sunday, March 24, 2013

"I See You"

Many years ago I was on the adventure of my life, driving in a VW van with friends across the Alps, through northern Italy and into southern France. On the Saturday night before Easter, we arrived in the beautiful ancient city of Arles. We parked the van and quickly found a seat in a café in the main square, very eager to observe the holiday crowd doing all the interesting things that crowds do.

Many of the local young men had been drinking heavily throughout the evening, and all around us was noise and mayhem. Suddenly, two men began shouting at one another, and as they grew angrier and angrier the conflict escalated into a right violent fight with lots of flying fists. As they were too drunk to land many blows, they grabbed one another’s shirts and continued the struggle.

Both of the men were completely lost in their anger, and this little episode was surely not meant to have a peaceful outcome, but then something quite extraordinary happened. One of the men happened to glance into the eyes of the other, and then amidst the struggling, he kept looking. His opponent could comprehend that the other man was actually seeing him for the first time---not as an enemy but as another person. At once both men looked deeply at each other, they held the gaze, smiled, gave up their struggle and began to dance together in one another's arms. Yes, dancing together in one another's arms!!

In the whole of my life I will never forget this, and it is not only because we were saved one bloody fistfight on an Easter evening that I remember this so clearly, but also because this is such a grand metaphor of how life can be. When we actually SEE one another as fellow human beings, then our apparent differences look a lot different. We can have wildly divergent life’s opinions, be of different ethnicities, have opposite views of politics and have no language or culture in common, but we can surely SEE one another despite all that.

There is a beautiful greeting in the Zulu language: “Sawubona.” It means “I see you,” but this lovely phrase is not meant only in the common way of, “Oh, there is a body standing there,” but “I SEE you in all your humanness and in our commonality as people.” When we see another in this way, we are seeing the essence and we are not being distracted by all the distinctions. When we have this clear vision, we allow our recognition of the oneness of all things to be sustained. We hold this truth to be self-evident---that there is only one thing here, and when we SEE, that is what we see.

“Namaste” is another lovely greeting that exemplifies what I am pointing to. This is a greeting used in India; the word comes from Sanskrit and is a combination of “nama” and “te.” "Nama" means to bow, make reverential salutation or have adoration for, and “te” means “to you.” Its deeper meaning is “the god in me bows to the god in you,” and the greeting is done with the two palms brought together in front of one’s heart to symbolize the oneness. How wonderful a way to greet and be greeted and how brilliant a reflection of the way things really are!

As noble and as inspiring as these customs are, clearly we need reminders of this nobility as we move through our lives in day to day existence. We are constantly coming into contact with people with whom we wildly disagree, people who we feel are getting it totally wrong, and we sense the need in ourselves to make them see their wrongness. It may well be that at some level for us all these people are getting it wrong, but where is our attention directed? Are we seeing only our disagreements, or are we truly able to SEE them as non-different from ourselves?

When we observe a passenger at the railway office shouting and cursing at the employee because the train was late, we can be pretty sure that the passenger has lost sight of what really matters. If, however, we can see the evidence of loving support, respectful relating and gracious kindness---even in the midst of grand disagreement---then we can be equally certain that the important things are being acknowledged.

As with all things, it is a choice we have. No outer circumstance can force us to forget our commonality; we decide that for ourselves. As for myself, I know for sure that I want a life that is filled with joy and peace and which finds the end to conflict. Only by each of us making that choice in each moment and in each encounter will the war-ravaged world we live in change for the better. Hmm, better to dance than fight, wouldn’t you say!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Baking Cookies

Sometimes the simplest of acts can be the most instructive. We can surely appreciate the grand and dramatic gesture now and again, but for me, simple is best. And along with “simple” as a totally admirable descriptive quality, I would also add direct, skillful, clear, beneficial and absolutely appropriate.

As we rush about with our busy minds, we often pass over what is plainly obvious and right in front of us. Unless we are careful, we can become like inattentive, phone-obsessed teenagers who are oblivious to anything else that passes in front of them. We may also be blinded by inherited notions based on conventional thinking; we may not be able to see how we have been boxed into corners by thousands of years of conditioning and practiced habit.

Everyone reading this article knows very well where they were when they heard about or saw the horrific events occurring in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. The sight of airplanes flying into buildings and then those buildings disappearing into the ground was not anything that one would easily forget. People were completely transfixed by shock and did not know where to turn. There was no precedent for something like this, and no one had a script for how to respond.

One response was from people who immediately wanted revenge. There were shouts of, “Go bomb the bastards,” and “Kill all the rag heads.” Some version of the theme was heard over and over again, “We have been hurt, and now we need to hurt back.” People who looked “foreign” were singled out and threatened or even physically attacked on the streets.

But other people had a different response. For them the choice was not to lash out in hatred, but to ask themselves, “How do we deal with our own pain and the pain of others; what can be done to help those in need?” Some people actually got in their cars and drove up to New York to get right into the work of recovery.

I heard a wonderful story about a woman who, like everyone else, saw those images of airplanes flying into the twin towers and was shocked, and like so many people she wanted to do whatever she could to help. Now for her, New York was very, very far away and there were immediate obligations that needed to be dealt with in her own place, but still the movement was there to somehow offer help in this trying time.

So, what did she do? Well, she baked cookies. Yes, she baked cookies and then took them around to offer to people. Now, I suspect that it was much more than cookies that she was offering when she went around, as I should think that she wanted to find a way to comfort, reassure and console people who could certainly use a dose of that. I feel fairly certain that this notion to bake cookies for people arose quite spontaneously and without great planning, and it was done in an effortless and unpretentious way.

When I first heard this story, it just warmed my heart. Of course, it is not so much about the cookies--and I am a big fan of cookies, I might add!--but about the skillful means in time, place and circumstance. It need not be, as I said before, a grand gesture. Something simple and kind in a completely ordinary way can be the most helpful response.

I have found this example so instructive, and I am eager to find ways to put the same wisdom to work in my own life. What I do know for sure is that being a part of the solution sure beats being a part of the problem! That would mean, for instance, that if one is attacked or defamed in any way, the most helpful response is not to do the same in return. It is clear that Gandhi’s quote in this regard is so relevant. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

It may even be that no response at all is the best response, but there is no rulebook for any of this. If we are truly relying on open intelligence, there is no predicting what the response will be. Everything is discovered spontaneously, and everything is ever new in each appearing here-and-now. I am so cheered and encouraged to look around me and see the kindness, benefit and graciousness that come from people doing just that. The world is so filled with negativity, selfish concern, close-mindedness and intolerance, but how beautifully these noble traits shine in contrast.

We are the ones who create the world we live in, and each and every moment provides us a choice as to how we will receive that moment. What joy it is for me to see the choices that more and more people are making to love one another into being. Yes, truly, there are a lot of cookies being baked out there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Authorship Thinning into No-thing

When anything is said or written, where does it come from, and who says or writes it? Who can claim authorship, and how verifiable is that claim? The answer on a conventional level would seem to be so very obvious: “Well, I said it; I am the author!” But like all things that seem so obvious, there is another way of looking at this, and it is a fortunate person who is led to ask these deeper questions and to keep asking them until the “obviousness” of the usual answer becomes less certain.

In order to look into this inquiry deeply, we need not formulate any grand philosophy; we only need to closely observe our own experience. In any given moment, when a person becomes very settled, rested and still, when they want nothing and know nothing and are freed of the need to defend or defeat, then an authorless place is allowed to appear. From that authorless place, one is not speaking from memory or relating the present to the past. The complete reliance on the here-and-now in that immediate time, place and circumstance invokes an intelligence from which the ever-new can appear.

The speaker in that case would be hearing what is being spoken as if it were spoken by someone else; the speaker would be the first one instructed by what is being spoken. That is to say, the speaker is being educated and enlivened by what they themselves are speaking---how extraordinary! One cannot actually identify the source, as what is being expressed is not limited to the personality of the one expressing it. This need not sound odd to anyone of us who has ever found speech or writing occurring completely spontaneously and openly, without preparation or goal.

This authorless expression is not something that is cultivated, contrived or aspired to. It may seem to be a rare thing only because of our lifelong allegiance to the rumblings of the mind: the thoughts, emotions, experiences and stories that have seemed to be so very real for us. When we relax our hold a bit and allow all of these things to be as they are, we then allow this intelligence to reveal itself that is not bounded by the thoughts, emotions and experiences. The mirage created by thought is seen through, and once we are no longer transfixed by the mirage, something quite marvelous occurs.

For short moments, many times we continue to allow this authorless place to become unconcealed. This movement of unconcealing may happen sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but this doesn’t matter. We persist, never letting loose of our genuine enthusiasm and courageousness. We are sustained over and over again by the brilliant practice of short moments many times, the skillful means of a loving teacher and a direct teaching, and the support of a community of fellow discoverers.

We gain more and more confidence through our own direct experience that this authorless place is ever present and ever sustaining and is not something that we need to earn or acquire. When words are authorless, then the perceived gap between speaker and listener is given up, and no one is a stranger. Authorship thins into no thing or no person in particular, and what seemed impossible for a person before is now gloriously possible.