“Not those speaking the same language but the ones sharing the same feelings understand each other,” writes Rumi.
I have no idea if the great 13th-Century Persian Muslim poet and mystic actually said this, but it has proven true in my life. It deserves to have been said by a great being.
A few weeks ago, I met my second cousin and his wife for the first time. I was excited to meet him and also very anxious because on the surface our lives are very different. He has spent his life in the greater Salt Lake City area, as a banker and a Mormon. I am a New Yorker, a writer and editor who was days away from leaving for the Spirit Rock Meditation Center near San Francisco, for the final retreat in a two year training to become a “Community Dharma Leader.”
Entering that program grew from my growing conviction that we need to go local—just as there is a growing call for local food there is a need for local meditation groups, reading groups, places for daylong retreat. Also, this particular program aimed at being diverse and inclusive. It was wonderful practice in being open to other views while being aware of ourselves, in cultivating a two-way attention that includes heart and mind, wisdom and compassion—and awareness the program’s founder Jack Kornfield calls “loving awareness.”
As I cooked and otherwise prepared for my cousin’s visit, I remembered hearing that before humans knew how to make fire they carried a live ember with them from place to place. I remembered that my mother, who didn’t have many happy memories of childhood, often spoke of taking a train with her mother to Salt Lake City to visit her uncle and aunt, my cousin’s grandfather and grandmother. The memory of how kind they were glowed like an ember, kindling a wish to extend loving awareness. Suddenly, this seemed so much more interesting than thinking about how different our thinking might be.
Loving awareness draws on what the Buddha called “Wise Intention,” meeting what arises with an attitude of renunciation or letting go—not clinging to our views or grasping for anything else. Besides letting go, Wise Intention includes an attitude of good will and the intention to do no harm. I had an inkling that this generous inner attitude, this three-note chord of welcome, can lead us to the gates of the divine kingdom of the Golden Rule: a state that allows us to see in others what we wish to have seen in ourselves—that we are part of a greater whole.
Wild storms hit the day of the visit. The power went off. The power came back on. As I drove to LaGuardia to pick them up, traffic slowed to a crawl. There was a report of a tornado touching down on highway nearby. Frontier Airlines from Denver was re-routed to Boston before it could land. And from the moment my cousin and his wife walked towards me, they were lovely.
They seemed to be engaged in the same practice, to have the same feeling that I did. From the moment they got in my car for the long, rain-lashed ride home, they seemed to practice meeting what arose with loving kindness. They showed me how insidious it can be, making assumptions. It turns out we some of the same views about the current political scene, but that wasn’t what what touched my heart, even felt revelatory. The real lesson was that when we drop into the heart instead of the head, when we really aspire to practice Wise Intention, the Golden Rule—we drop into a field where we can meet.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing/ there is a field. I’ll meet you there,” writes Rumi. There are human values and practices that are beyond all fixed ideas. They are like glowing embers that can kindle fires to warm and connect us, to lead us the Whole.
My cousin asked me about Buddhist mindfulness. I learned a little bit about the sacred meaning of family—and I learned about my family. I learned that I’m the direct descendent of a Danish lord who assembled a vast estate in the 12th Century. There were deeds of land
“I don’t know how to tell you this but that means you—we–are definitely descended from a Viking,” said my daughter, who is studying medieval history in graduate school in England, and knows about such things. “In the 1100’s, that would be how a vast estate was assembled.”
For a few days, my husband called me “Tracy the Terrible.”
My daughter reminded me that I am made up of Danish and an English, Scottish parts—oppressor and oppressed. As are we all. Days later, at Spirit Rock, Jack Kornfield led us in a visualization exercise that involved expanding until we included the whole of the Bay Area, then whole of the Earth, holding the experience of all people as they migrated around the earth in the embrace of loving awareness—then the Earth itself, out and out to the cosmos, allowing ourselves to imagine being one with the Whole.
Some people who write into this blog space seem to disdain subjective experience—and probably an exercise like the one Kornfield offered. But I remembered hearing Lord Pentland, a brilliant man and leader of the Gurdjieff Work, once talk about the symbolic meaning of the cross. The horizontal and the vertical intersect, he said. The horizontal trajectory of our ordinary experience, our lives in time must intersect with the timeless, the highest. In my cousin’s visit, in the two year training of CDL, I glimpsed that there is a Truth that cannot be thought. But we learn to open our hearts to others–to practice loving awareness, the Golden Rule, call it what you will–it can shine through our small subjective stories. When when two or more meet, there can be another Guest.