During late spring and summer, and a wee bit into fall, I am able to wake up and look sleepily out the window to watch the illusion of the sun rising. Sometimes I think it is very telling that we refer to this time of day as “sunrise”. For in fact, the sun does not rise, but rather we are spinning.
This past week there were two special sunrises. One, as my neighbor described it, was electric pink. A full 360 degree jolt of varying hues and intensity. The other sunrise was just a jumbled, raucous, out of tune, off beat, brouhaha of crow noise. It was deafening.I don’t even remember if there was color!
As I lay safe in bed, safe in my house, safe in my neighborhood, safe in my town, I felt the weight of a terrible suffering that left me feeling deflated and weak as I thought about the shooting in Orlando. I felt for days as if I had been punctured and was slowly being flattened . It was almost as if I could feel the world spinning…..but it felt out of control, not finely choreographed by the Universe.
Recently there was a post on Pema Chodron’s page:
BEYOND OUR COMFORT ZONE
“Compassion is threatening to the ego. We might think of it as something warm and soothing, but actually it’s very raw. When we set out to support other beings, when we go so far as to stand in their shoes, when we aspire to never close down to anyone, we quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable territory of “life not on my terms.” The second commitment, traditionally known as the Bodhisattva Vow, or warrior vow, challenges us to dive into these noncozy waters and swim out beyond our comfort zone.
Our willingness to make the first commitment is our initial step toward relaxing completely with uncertainty and change. The commitment is to refrain from speech and action that would be harmful to ourselves and others and then to make friends with the underlying feelings that motivate us to do harm in the first place. The second commitment builds on this foundation: we vow to move consciously into the pain of the world in order to help alleviate it. It is, in essence, a vow to take care of one another, even if it sometimes means not liking how that feels.”
(From her book Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change)
One of the comments cut through these words like a razor edged sword:
” So we are supposed to step into the shoes of the killers, and understand them?
I don’t think I can do that.”
How do we do this when it seems as if violence and hate are blanketing the world? Has there always been what seems to be an unbearable amount, and the internet and 24/7 news loops help us see it as spreading disease? And…..desensitizes us to it through endless replay until we are so overwhelmed that we believe there is nothing that can be changed?
How do we get to the point where love IS a verb not an emotional enigma? How do we disarm hate? How do we end violence? How do we allow peace into the world?
How do we get the place where we can imagine ourselves in the shoes of the shooter AND the shoes of the victims. The shoes of our “brothers and sisters” and the shoes of the “Other”.
For us to alleviate the pain we have to commit to taking care of each other. Caring about each other. Every single each other.
Going beyond my comfort zone has led me to places I never thought about going. Places I never wanted to go. I have stepped over dead bodies. I have walked through the hell of Concentration Camps. I have seen unimaginable beauty in the eyes of a young child whose arm was cut off so his begging would be more lucrative. I have sat with 13-year-old mothers cradling their sleeping child. I have seen the sadhu with their arms frozen in contorted positions. I have smelled burning flesh. I have seen a woman beaten. I have been circled and touched for being female, tall, white, light-haired and blue-eyed. I have grown so much as my children have navigated adulthood and seen, thought, experienced, been made aware of and expressed things I had not thought about. Coming into older years in life I have more time to think back on what my mother and father instilled in me.
Everything has a tag line now……a label identifying it as something that seems to isolate it from other things. From other people. Movements, Groups and Causes. I don’t know where I fit or where I belong. Or where it is okay for me to be. Where I am supposed to be. Why do I have to be in any of them?
I am a human being on the planet earth. Those two things bind me to every other single person on the planet. There is nothing in those two things that can separate me from anyone else. And that is what I hold on to….finding what does not separate me from the dead in Orlando, the bombed in Syria, the oppressed in Palestine, the young hostages of Boko Haram, the terrorist, the murderer, the mentally ill, the black youth shot dead in streets, the addict, the sex worker, the starving, the dark, sometimes invisible side of humanity.
I can choose to be separate by identifying myself as American, Christian Buddhist, white, married, heterosexual, a mother, a wife.
Or I can say yes, I fit in those labels, but first I am a Human Being on planet earth and I will not use those categories to separate myself from feeling compassion for all others and to embrace love as a verb and do something to lift others who by reason of chance are in pain, suffering, struggling……
I don’t have answers. I don’t always get it right. But I do try to be aware and not allow the news to desensitize me. I make financial donation where I can. I go to vigils because of respect. I challenge racist and bigoted comments, I get information from all sources not the ones that support my beliefs. I write to my Representatives. I vote. I know there are always 2 or 3 sides to a story. I can and should do more.
But mostly I challenge myself not to dismiss the life of anyone as being insignificant or irrelevant. Or useless. Or evil. At a bare minimum I can choose to recognize the common and shared threads that are spun out of love. So, when I put myself in the shoes of another, they fit. They fit because at a bare bones level they are a Human Being, they live on this planet, they have been loved by someone, they have loved another and they have experienced joy and they have suffered.
I can condemn their actions, their motives. I can work to define solutions to war, poverty, starvation, disease, mental health complexities, fear, isolation, racism, and class to possibly prevent someone from having the anger, fear, hate, suffering, oppression, stigma that leads to horrible, violent actions.
I do not ever want to be blind to or complacent to the fact I am a white American living a middle class comfortable life. Sometimes this brings pain to my heart. It is a privilege and as such it brings responsibility to help, love, care for those who do not have shelter, food, clothing, a job, medical care, education, safety, a voice. It brings the responsibility to end things that divide: religion, race, wealth.
It is time to swim out beyond our comfort zone and “vow to move consciously into the pain of the world in order to help alleviate it. It is, in essence, a vow to take care of one another, even if it sometimes means not liking how that feels.”
The more you swim, the stronger you get. The further you go. There is another shore we can walk on together. If we are not afraid to get in the water and start swimming beyond our comfort zone.