Sunday, April 17, 2011

connection and separation

A woman walked up to me on the peace picket line yesterday and asked what I was. She was referring to the fact that I wore robe and rakusu and, well, she couldn't quite get her bearings and "I am a curious person." She had come from the 'other' picket line, the one down the sidewalk from the peace picket, the one dedicated to 'patriotism' and flag and protecting ourselves from suggested enemies and supporting the troops and military adventures in which the U.S. is engaged. She had a very pleasant face.

I told her I was a student of Zen Buddhism and I wore my robe as much as anything because people wonder a bit at a guy in a dress and, perhaps, that might lead them to think about their beliefs and hopes. The woman was sympathetic to the tactic. She had a lot of friends who were Buddhists, she said. She herself was into Native American activities and she could imagine, if she wore her regalia, she might get a similar reaction to the one I suggested. We chatted this way and that. Finally, she wrapped things up with the statement that sounds as if it might bank the furious fires of division and disagreement: "I think there is more that connects than separates us."

Yum, yum, yum. It feels so good. Sounds so tolerant. Makes friends where enemies might try to tear out each other's throats. Let's be friends. Let's "agree to disagree." And yes, it is better than beating the shit out of each other.

But I couldn't quite get on board. It's like people in spiritual endeavor who run around talking about oneness in the face of a fragmented and separated world view. It reminds me of the old beer commercial, "Tastes good. Less filling." Sounds-good and is-good are not precisely the same thing.

"I think there is more that connects than separates us" posits a separation in which I rely on you and you rely on me. If we make nice, the world will be a better place. And maybe it will. But relying on others -- whether by applause or disdain -- does not promote a reliable ease or an honest peace. Not-relying on others feels lonely and arid -- come, let's be friends.

But my view is that each must reflect on his or her own honest judgments, beliefs, loves, hatreds, wisdoms and ignorance. What is the source of all this stuff -- all these separations? If agreement were the yardstick of peace, well, hell, we could all turn out for some latter-day love-in. But peace is not simply the absence of war. And agreements have a way of coming apart at the imagined seams.

What is the source of this stuff? Who is the creator? Is the loving one loving or not? It takes some reflection that goes beyond making nice or making nasty. I like being friendly as well as the next fellow, but the basis of that friendship requires my effort, my reflection, my honesty, my laughter.

As Rumi put it,

Out beyond the world of right and wrong,
There is a field.
I'll meet you there.
If we square away the world of right and wrong that fills our hearts, who could help but be a friend to the world?

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