by Stew Glick
Walking along the road at the Center on a wet and cloudy morning, air chilly and damp, there was such beauty all around. Dark gray clouds mixed with paler shades of gray and white. Wet, glistening stones under the feet. A small leaf with droplets of rain-so shiny and radiant. Walking by one of the cabins, a large black salamander with yellow spots was noticed; it stepped so slowly and diligently and with such presence, seemingly bothered by the two people standing over it, who were watching its movements with some wonder. So much to see all around, it felt like anything the eyes came upon was like a piece of artwork, suitable to be photographed and hung on a wall somewhere. But at this moment, there was no need to do anything, just being here. It’s relatively easy to be with nature especially in such glorious surrounding as we have here in Springwater. But what makes the difficulties we come upon in relationship with each other? We hear and read, and maybe experience first-hand for ourselves that we are in truth not separate from each other and it is even said that this state of no division in our true state. So what makes it so hard at times to listen and be with each other openly, innocently, lovingly? These are questions which it seems to me can only be answered through a kind of quiet, inward noticing of how we live, how this body/mind functions, from moment to moment.
As I looked at these question, an instance came to mind that might help to point out some of what occurs which makes for such difficulties between us. In a recent meeting here at the Center, for a while I found myself looking around at all of the people sitting there, realizing that there was no sense of anything between “me” and the so-called “others.” No feeling/thought for anyone or anything to be different from how she or he or was at that moment.
And what needed to be said could be said, without worrying about what people would think about me and without the need to defend what was said or hold on to it for dear life. What anyone had to say could be listened to openly and looked at. But later on in the meeting this ease of body and mind was disrupted; issues came up which had some personal investment. Worry and concern arose about how some possible changes might affect me in ways that I didn’t want to happen. For several moments this was not noticed, and instead the self-involved thinking rode along in the mind with the listening and looking, which were now less open. On a subtle level, there was a noticing that those who seemed to disagree with how I thought about the issues were in some way to be avoided. There was some agitation of the body, as such thinking had its immediate physical counterparts, just as though this body needed protecting. But there was enough presence to see what was going on, seeing that this was all being played out in thinking and imagining. The noticing came out of a silence, a stillness that did not judge what was noticed, and so it was still possible to look again and to see the people there without fear or malice or the need for some sort of self-protection.
When hurts, disagreements and conflicts are not really looked at, they may simmer like a soup on the back burner. Like the steam from that soup will begin to fill the air with the lid even slightly ajar, these memories of the past can create a veil between us, a kind of dark cloud. We might seek allies, trying to muster up support for our side. Vengeful thoughts may come up; how to get back at this person or persons, which may take subtle forms, not necessarily some outward malicious act. We might feel the need to avoid the person, afraid we might get hurt again, or maybe just seeing that person brings up the past hurt, which we don’t want to feel. This can all be come upon directly, we can all “fill in the blanks” as it were, for ourselves. What is also possible is to take a moment and to really wonder and ask “What is going?” When I was still in elementary school, my Hebrew school teacher once asked the class “What is the very first thing one needs to do the moment it’s realized we are lost in the woods?” He liked to challenge us with these kinds of questions and riddles. Maybe he was a Zen master in disguise! The answer that he gave was one needs to first stop! Stop, look and listen. But actually first there needs to be a waking up, seeing we are lost. Lost in memory and thought about what happened to me, what he or she did to me. Lost in the very thought/feeling that there is an experiencer, a thinking of these thoughts, someone who is in control, someone who could be different, just as one thinks someone else could be different—if they only tried!
When this is all seen and quiets down, it is then possible to being to see things from the other person’s perspective. Putting oneself into his or her shoes, so to speak. I admire the songwriting of Bruce Springsteen, as my friends already know. One of the reasons is that he is so good at entering into someone else’s life, seeing and experiencing things from that persons perspective, which means having some understanding and appreciation for what the factors were that helped to cause someone to be the way they are at some particular moment, whether it be a violent criminal, a migrant farm worker, or someone suffering the unexpected loss of a loved one. Any judgment of the characters in the songs is in abeyance, which helps the listener to enter into the story being told with a sense of empathy. Being open and interested to consider each other in this way takes a great sensitivity, and its only really possible when self-involved thinking is quiet, not on center stage. And we better understand more clearly why someone may said what they said or acted in a certain way because we can also see such thoughts and the potential for such actions in oneself.
So to be able to listen and be with each other more openly, more livingly, with understanding and patient requires us to listen openly, inwardly so that what obstructs may be seen and no longer cloud the listening. Are we afraid to look at ourselves, honestly and openly? Why? Is it because we react to what is seen, thinking “I don’t like this, this is bad, I’m not this way..” Such judgments may up at one time or another, but there is no need to allow them to get in the way of and open looking. Nor do we need to take anything that comes up in the mind for the truth of who or what we really are. What we truly are is not the thoughts and images about ourselves or each other, it’s not all that we have been told we are by parents and teachers and friends and the media. In coming upon what we really are, division ceases, because in that there is no me separate from you, no me separate and divided from this world. No me. No the image “no me,” or the thought “I am nothing” But there is love and affection, which manifests in a wondrous way when the mind is empty, quiet, with self concern in abeyance. What is happening this moment reveals itself: people going about their work, everyone just as they are, along with the steady drip,drip,drop of snow melting outside the window in the sunshine of this sunny, chilly morning.