I returned to Philadelphia on Friday morning. On Saturday I Ubered (yes, interesting how we’ve turned Uber to a verb) and had an interesting conversation around education in the city with the Uber driver who is a motivational speaker at charter schools around the country. On Sunday I Uber pooled and shared a car with three other people. Two of them were talking about the rape of a child in the city. The rapist had been shot the year before in the head, but survived. The woman in the car said “he survived only to do this to a child”. There were a couple more stories which circulated in the car. When I got out I felt sick to my stomach and a lump in my throat as if I was going to throw up. I've seen and heard about horrible things, but something deeper has began to shift within. Maybe a deeper calling to serve...to step up and into a more beautiful world my heart knows is possible.
That evening I went to Ahimsa House for a dialogue dinner. The discussion was around the Move bombing in 1985 in West Philadelphia. The dialogue was eye opening and gave me just a glimpse into the state of people’s hearts and years of turmoil that has been brewing. After the intensive three weeks I had, it is no coincidence I am returning to the city to be surrounded by such stories. As I continue to write about my experience this past week in New York, you’ll understand why it is no coincidence.
After sitting in my second 10-day Vipassana meditation course, I drove straight to the Omega Institute in New York for a workshop called the Space Between Stories. It was run by Charles Eisenstein, philosopher and author of Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. To say his work has influenced me would be an understatement. His work is able to articulate what I, along with so many others have been feeling for so long.
During one of the days of the workshop Charles shared a story about his friend who had been in Philadelphia at the time. His friend caught a ride with a stranger and as the stranger drove on, he pulled out a hand gun and put it to his friend’s head. Let’s call the friend Harry. Harry quickly considered his options. Should I fight the guy? Should I attempt to take the gun or get out of the car? Meanwhile, the driver is telling Harry that he is going to take him to some random county where no one will find him…that he has killed other people before…he starts going into detail about what he’s going to do. After a moment, Harry notices a song playing on the radio by Elton John. Hey can you turn it up the radio? The driver, sort of confused, turns it up. So, here they are. These two guys sitting in the car, which is pulled over now, sitting in the car listening to this song together in silence. After the song is over, Harry says, you can kill me after this, but first can you tell me why you want to kill me? What is your story? The driver tells him about his traumatic childhood of being beat by his father and goes on telling him other stories. At the end, the driver says to Harry, actually, I don’t feel like killing you anymore. Harry tells him where he hangs out sometimes, gets out of the car and never sees the man again.
We can never know what happened after that to the driver, but this story once again reminded me of the power of story. The driver could have been seen as an enemy or the cause of a problem, but what Charles Eisenstein shares in his thought is different. He often refers back to the old story of separation and the emerging new story. Many of us are now navigating this terrain between the old story and the new story. The space between stories.
We see an enemy and we see him/her/it as the cause of the problem. Seeing them as the cause is actually the old story of separation. To punish him is living in the old story. The “enemy” is merely the symptom when it comes to the bigger picture, but the cause is something deeper, a pain which has built up for generations and will take generations to heal. What or who hurt him so much that he was driven to that act or crime?
In case you didn’t watch the video, I’ve transcribed the first part of it.
“Anytime you want to understand something...why is such and such happening. Why is there a biodiversity crisis? Why are we drilling for more oil when it is polluting the atmosphere and causing oil spills? Why? You ask why, and down a couple levels you always get to money.
I talk a lot about the story of self. That every culture has and answers the question ‘What are you? What is it to be human?’ So it says you are a separate being among separate beings in a universe that is separate as well. You’re not me, that plant is not me, that is something separate. This story of self really creates our self. If you’re a separate self and there is other species out there, then the universe is fundamentally indifferent to you or even hostile. Then you definitely want to control, you want to build and have power over other beings, over these whimsical forces of nature that could extinguish you anytime. This story is becoming obsolete. It is becoming no longer true. We don’t resonate with it anymore. It is actually generating crises that are insoluble from the methods of control and that’s what creating the space to step into the self and the new story of people”
Many of us are living in this space of the old story of separation and the new story. How do we navigate it? As Charles says, “There’s a vast territory between what we’re trying to leave behind and where were trying to go and we don’t have any maps for that territory”
We each entered the workshop with one burning question. As we went around the opening circle, my persisting question was What do I do with this one precious life?
My conscious journey in this space between stories began over the past 2 years. I let every belief, every system I had once believed in, break down. It left me in crisis and uneasy. I wasn’t sure what I believed and the reality I once believed wasn’t it anymore. My first glimpses of realizing something was wrong in the world was when I was young. My unease of entering school for the first time and acting out were outer manifestations of a discomfort that didn’t feel so normal. The second glimpses were when I visited India growing up. The suffering showed me there was and is also something wrong. Going back to India over these past 2 years also showed me that there is something right. There is beauty in the world, there are miracles. Maybe our eyes are still closed to the indispensable “right” that is flowing around us. Awakening to this right may help dissolve the fear and scarcity we feel dominating our lives.
I don’t have any of the answers. I don’t think I will and maybe the reason we have these “problems” is because we think we have all of the answers. We judge, we condemn, and punish. We do it to others, but worst of all, we do it to ourselves.
So, the question which persisted was where does the healing begin? How do we heal ourselves and our world from the scarcity, hatred, and fear? The answer was love. Unconditional love. We can only love others if we love ourselves, self-love. Self love begins with receiving unconditional love. How can we love ourselves if we’ve never been unconditionally loved before? The truth of this statement struck me. I don’t think I could be here, asking these questions if I wasn’t strongly and steadfastly loved by my parents.
Even when we are loved, there is a fear. Fear of failure. Fear of losing someone we love. When I latch onto fear, I spiral downwards, but the act of fearing itself makes the very thing I’m fearing come true. What if we let go and trusted that there is a deeper wisdom? What if we let that knowing guide us?
I continue to grapple with these questions, but my mind is put at ease when I remind myself that these questions are where it began. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have these questions and we wouldn’t continue to create this beautiful world if we didn’t ask.
Our worlds do not stop with the lives we’ve created for ourselves. They do not stop at the systems our human minds have built into existence. They lie beyond our systems of governance, health care systems, education systems. Human beings lived way before any of these structures were put in place. Systems have been replaced by old, but there are things that are as old as the hills and as these systems dominate, we continue to let the timeless dissolve. Community, relationships, the “self”, the interconnectedness which transcends any dominating paradigm.
Do you think there would be less pain and suffering if we dropped the “solutions” and simply learned to love again? If pressed pause from our busy lives to ask someone how they are doing or lent a helping hand? What if we asked others their story more often?
In the closing circle we shared a word or two describing what we chose to take away. I chose steadfast radicalism. The days there confirmed I am not alone. It also confirmed we need more radicals. There is still room for me to rise up and step into my values. We can all continue to strive to embody and live our values. There is still room to step out of belief systems which don’t serve us anymore and live a life aligned to our truth. Although it seems to be the basis of being human, in today’s world doing that can even be radical.
I have left not with a tangible answer to the persisting question I shared in the opening circle. I leave with more questions and further curiosity. I have realized, in each moment, I do what I know to do. I’m doing my best to navigate this vast territory and all there is to do now is to keep on.
“To the extent that we believe in a more beautiful world, we can serve it”
Keep pushing on. Bow to your gifts. Be steadfast. Be radical.