'A View from the Bridge'
if you go far enough into yourself
you will find the world there
if you go far enough into the world
you will find yourself there
either way, this is so, for
each contains all and all contains each
* * *
A devotee was frustrated, having much impatience with others, often becoming perturbed and angry, always carrying within resentment toward someone. "What shall I do?" he asked the Sage. The Sage said, "In all your relating with others, God is the host, and God is the guest. Pray to remember this always."
* * *
Life shows up in many disguises, even those that appear totally other than the guise we appear as. Yet, no one is really other, only appears so to us. The closer we are drawn into the Heart of Life, the more otherness appears as likeness, and the more love flows, celebrating the various ways the Sacred appears among us and as us. We are, in all our diversity, God's tapestry. As a tapestry, one sees on one side disharmony, on the other harmony. Yet, the harmony is in the disharmony, only one does not see it until seeing both sides.
* * *
As a preteen, this was my first visit to a big city out of my home state. My family and I traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to visit with my aunt's family. My uncle, Leonard, took us to an ice cream parlor. He was gleeful in introducing us to this remarkable experience. I had never known of anything like Baskin-Robbins. To me, I was standing in a wonderland. I was stunned and pleased by being in the presence of some 60 flavor choices of dipped ice cream. Where I came from, we did not have an ice cream parlor or dipped ice cream, only two restaurants that sold soft-serve vanilla ice cream alone or with flavored syrup. That day in Jacksonville, I had my first taste of rocky road ice cream, and, to this day, almost age 60, it remains my favorite. I did not know then that what I saw in that parlor would become a sign of what I longed to see in our world. That early experience remains a sign to me of our living together in respect and celebration of the diverse ways we express religiously, ethnically, racially, occupationally, ... one sacred Life.
* * *
In seeking security from the relative heterogeneity that seems to stare at us everywhere we look, we may become rocky road or vanilla or peanut butter-chocolate swirl or strawberry or blueberry fanatics. That is, we fixate on one so-called correct or only way to the exclusion of all others. "Jesus the only way" or "but the Bible says" are expressions of this religious exclusion in my upbringing, along with "women cannot be clergypersons" and "blacks are inferior to whites." This is the same as saying, "Pine trees are superior to oak trees," or "The only way to fish is with a fishing pole and the only place is in a creek," or "Blue eyes are better than brown eyes."
* * *
Taoism has a central concept translated "so-of-itself." Nature is so-of-itself. Nature is what-it-is. This is like saying, "She naturally has a great singing voice," or, "He was born to run." Not everyone can be a great singer or an excellent runner. So-of-itself means each aspect of Nature cannot be but what it is naturally. We find harmony in acting in accord with each thing as it is and can only be. If we do this, we see what we fear for being different is another so-of-itself, just like we are a so-of-itself. If I see a brown person, that is natural, even as my being a white person is natural. So, harmony is acting in respect of the so-of-itself that we each are. I did not ask to be a white person, I was born a white person, and so that is the so-of-itself of Nature. Likewise, the black person did not ask to be a black person, but being that is as natural as my being a white person. Hence, in our relations, for harmony, we act in accord with the facts of Nature, not imposing how we have been told it is or should be, when that conflicts with the so-of-itself. To oppose the so-of-itself of anything or anyone is to act unnaturally, so to invite suffering upon ourselves. The Sacred manifests as a world of so-of-itself.
* * *
We may seemingly and self-deceptively rebel against such narrowness and not see how we moved from one prejudice (lit., pre-judging) to another. "Now, I'm Protestant, glad to get out of that hypocritical Catholicism." "Now, I'm Buddhist, so thankful not to believe in that Christian nonsense about God anymore." "Now, I no longer believe in religion - oh my, those ignorant, superstitious fanatics!" "Now, I'm pro-abortion. Glad I'm not affiliated any longer with those narrow-minded pro-lifers!" "Now, I fight for racial justice. I'm now anti-racist and proud of it. I don't understand how those racists can be the way they are (implied ... I have no racism in me)."
* * *
The ego has apparently innumerable varieties of subtle or not-so-subtle games-of-prejudice - even prejudice against those who are prejudice. Prejudice is partly so for the ego seeks to secure itself in a self-definition contrasted with the other. Hence, ego-centricity resists unity and seeks to sabotage it.
Yet, there is no loving anyone in comparision to another, there is only love. For example, in love, a white person does not love a black person for being a black person compared to a white person - love just loves the other as the other is, the same as the lover is. If acting in love, a Christian does not accept fully a Hindu, thinking, by comparision, "I accept him, but my way is superior to his." No! - love does not love in superiority to anyone. That is not love. And tolerance is not love! - tolerance is an excuse to hide behind the same old feeling of being superior, better than, among God's especially chosen, the superior race, ... Tolerance is condescending toward the other, like to, "I detest the taste of cooked liver, but I'll eat it anyway." Spontaneous seeing of the other as equal to oneself, even as oneself, that is love.
* * *
If I see through prejudice another person, way, or group, I see with my bias, not that of the other. I am pre-judging others, labeling others, thinking this simplistic, myopic view is somehow commendable, righteous, or makes me intelligent. Rarely do we humans realize, or try to, how much ill-founded faith we have in how we see others. We often talk as though we have insights we do not and cannot have of others, including whole groups of others. And too often, we enjoy the apparent escape from our self-dislike by talking gladly about how others are inferior, wrong, or are awful human beings.
And one could say her prejudice is more knowledgeable or just, but it is prejudice. I am looking into the mirror of my self-delusion. I am acting against unity, so justice, even in my claiming to have become just. Yes, injustice, with its ill-will, even while I speak of justice, is in the heart.
* * *
Yes, there are times, but the exception, for an honest discussion about others' behaviors we disagree with. Yet, there is no time to speak with denigration of others' natural qualities different from our own. In the culture of my upbringing, for example, black persons were the subject of scorn, denigrative language, and jokes. Making habitual negative talk of others is contrary to a compassionate life.
Is the option present to stop such mental evaluations of others who are different from us? Such labelling of whole groups of persons? To release felt-need to form an opinion of others that indicates ill of them? To love without "I agree" or "I disagree with" or "I like" or "I don't like" overlaying how we see the other - or maybe, due to the overlay, not seeing the other at all, only seeing what we assume about the other? If what I see is what I assume, likely that is all I am seeing, regardless of my confidence and claim otherwise.
* * *
In the silence, we can be receptive to see why we humans tend to be prejudicial. Likely, we will see fear, see insecurity. We are afraid to live without the facile security of what is like us, familiar to us. The unlike us represents unknown territory, challenges long-held assumptions. As a white man, I am sure many white people are afraid of blacks, not for being black is the cause, but being black represents the unknown. Yes, many whites are very afraid of blacks and without a logical reason - that is another sign of prejudice, it is illogical, based more on primitive feeling than intelligence. Many Christians among whom I lived for years, the same - another religion signifies something alien, strange.
In being honest, we can grow in compassion for the other and ourselves; we can grow in love. However, to do this means discontinuing making any so-called reasonable excuses for what comes out of the mouth that should not even reside in our hearts.
* * *
What happened in that ice cream parlor in the early 1970s was a playful and inviting moment - arrayed before me an astounding variety. Every flavor was a single ice cream displaying in many surface qualities. Can you imagine one flavor saying to another, "You're not the flavor I am, so you're inferior to me?" Or, "You don't taste like me, you don't belong"? Or, "You're orange-colored, and I'm white-colored, so you're not ice cream"? Nature is, after all, one taste of many tastes.
So, with our varied gifts and our prayers, we express the world that is becoming. This becoming world is a world where we know and feel all belong, and we celebrate our differences as an expression of our unity rather than something to be eliminated as a problem. Unity already is, disunity is our acting otherwise; lack of mutual respect among our differences is imposed on life. Life itself is naturally diverse and has no problem with diversity. Life grows diverse, for it is diverse - likewise with us. We can learn from Nature on this matter, or not - it is up to us to be unnatural to our harm or natural to our blessing. And the change begins with not changing the larger society or its structures, but with welcoming the change within ourselves.
Then, we can share the unity and love within, spreading the perfume of peace wherever we go and with whomever we meet. For when the harmony lives within us, we see the harmony outside us.
Through silence, we grow to see both how the other differs from us and is no different from us. Through cultivating acquaintance with our heart - not my but our -, we grow to appreciate we mirror to each other our one True Being. Our prayer, then, is not only that we love but become love.
* * *
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher FirstBooks. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.