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,”