London Calling

Earlier today, my daughter showed me an internet picture an army of people holding brooms aloft, marching into areas of London that were looted and burned during the night.  Like many other people, I imagine, I was heartened, moved.  Here in America, we are watching the riots through the pall cast by the latest sign of societal slippage, of the disintegration of this empire.  Many of us are musing about what we have lost–not status or a triple A credit rating– but hope.  We looked at images of the looting in England with bewilderment and sadness.  There is no denying the widening gap between rich and poor here and in England and all over the world.  Yet this wanton destruction of neighborhood businesses just seemed so, so, unEnglish. And then the broom brigade.  Tom Robbins once said it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.  It’s also never too late to be a spiritual warrior, to take to the streets to take a stand for kindness and common human decency and compassion.   We might not be able to cure hunger, but we can feed people.  We might not be able to end loneliness and desolation but we can help one another.  We may not be able to stop violence or the general upheaval we seem to be involved in, but we can pick up a broom. We can refuse to hide or be cowed.

I write a great deal about meditating and mindfulness and , but the English broom warriors, remind me that any life worth living–including the pursuit of a mindful life–takes a capacity to imagine, to dream.   Indeed, a piece in the new “Seeing” issue of Parabola about the great Zen master Dogen explains that Dogen uses the word “dream” to describe the enlightenment of the Buddha, and the meditative experience of all practioners.  In other words, that wisdom-of love and compassion, of our interconnection–is real while much of the other stuff that drives us is transient and extremely unreliable.   Did you ever feel glad years later that you acted on an impulse of rage?  Me neither.

People speak of mindfulness as a way of waking up from the stories and dreams that entrance us.  This is true but mindfulness of “sati” in Pali literally means to remember–and remembering ourselves, coming to our senses–also requires a capacity to dream bigger dreams, Buddha-like dreams, dreams of participating in a greater life.   When we are young, if we are lucky there are often books, movies, music that remind us that our lives can be more than they seem to be on any given bad day, that they can be magic.  We tend to remember these influences, these dreams, when we undertake something new and scary, join a couter-insurgency of goodness, join the line to become one more pair of hands on the bucket brigade in this burning world.   It was telling to see a bookstore left untouched and alone in the midst of burned rubble.

Thanks for being dreamers, broom-wielding Londoners.  You’re not the only ones.

“Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.”

–C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,”

9 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. “A counter-insurgency of good deeds”…how beautiful…As Buddha said, “Fashion your life as a garland of beautiful deeds.”

    Perhaps the true test of any spiritual path is how we act in the midst of difficulties. I think of Boccaccio’s Decameron and his words about parents fleeing their children in the grips of the plague but of course, there were people who stayed and tended the sick and the dying.

    I think of my favorite Saint in the Cloisters, Saint Roch. Saint Roch’s death is commemorated on August 16th. He tended the sick during the plague and then when sickened with the plague, retreated in the woods yet every day a dog brought him bread.

    It was a circle of good deeds.

    1. Hi Nick,

      Thank you for these pics! I am delighted to see the Kaiser Chiefs with brooms. I was thinking of Harry Potter and his friends because of the brooms, also John Lennon…and now the bold young Chiefs!

  2. Well said, I totally agree and love your summary and the C.S. Lewis quote! We do need to keep the dream, in its many senses, alive– now more than ever.

  3. There is an institute in Berkeley that studies all that is good about humans. It is called The Greater Good Science Center.
    i have written a few posts about the goodness of one person to another; one, with a cute story about a stranger who gave me a tiny gift in a cold train station is titled, Paying It Forward and Benefactors. My blog is
    It is there to help people who might be interested in therapy but unable to access a private practice therapist.
    There is also a blog that directly addresses your topic but, unfortunately I don’t have the exact address; it is something like

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