You are coming out of your house where, for a good part of the last two years, you have been encouraged to sequester as much as possible.
As you step out into the sunshine, you see the familiar face of a neighbor you have not seen in all these long months. You smile, but as you gradually move towards them, the following dialogue begins in your mind…
I wonder if they are vaccinated?
Where have they been? Have they recently been exposed?
Shouldn’t they be wearing a mask?
I wonder if they are wondering if I have been vaccinated or not?
Do they think I should be wearing a mask?
Should I walk up to them and give them a hug or a handshake?
Should I just fist or elbow bump or just wave from a distance?
Would it be best that I just kind of nod and walk over to the other side of the street?
And all of this happens in the moments which, before, would have been worded with greetings and questions about family, health, travel, neighborhood concerns, or the dogs.
In this pandemic era, Zoom, Skype, Messenger, and FaceTime have been saving graces. And yet, they pale as means to feel intimacy, camaraderie, or community. And with all these looming questions and doubts in just seeing or being with each other, is it any wonder why we feel more up tight and uncertain at the most basic physical level of being human in the company of our fellow specie members?
Putting aside the political, philosophical and religious polemics fueled by fake news, propaganda, slick marketing, fear tactics, and denial, the chasm of news/opinion between Fox and MSNBC, our moral and intellectual discomfort is intensified and made even worse when we cannot, at the most basic level, trust or feel comfortable in our own skins with friends, neighbors, let alone those we disagree with, but would have – in a different time – made efforts to understand and perhaps, even work with.
And then, to make matters less under our control, there is global warming and the inevitable cascade of geological and ecological shifts and changes that occur and which we only exacerbate in our ignorance and hubris.
It is difficult to ascertain whether we as a species have ever been in as much peril on seemingly all levels of our collective existence.
In my examination of our collective conundrum, I see four essential steps we can and must take to preserve the best of what we have and rebuild – in the future – all that we have lost.
For, “moving forward” – the theme of this month’s reflection – is NOT about a return to what was or a comfortable illusion of “normalcy.” Moving forward in the most positive way involves four key ingredients; mindfulness, morality, civility, and endurance.
Mindfulness as a term is bandied about all too glibly. Sadly, it is used as a band-aid, rather than an ongoing mental state of peaceful, attentive, focus. In a world where cleverness, sarcasm, and one-liner sound-bites are the dominant drone in our ears and brains, it takes effort and discipline to seek out and practice mindfulness methods which have existed and proven effective over the ages. Without such mindfulness, the discernment to know the best possible options for moving forward is not possible.
Morality. At the most basic levels of our being, we all know what brings us more light and what leads to greater darkness in our lives. The transcendent qualities and principles known in the secular tradition of Freemasonry are an essential distillation of what every wise and life-affirming spiritual path espouses; brotherly love – our altruistic loving nature – relief – our realization that there is more joy and happiness in seeing others well and happy than the mere satisfaction of self-centered drives for pleasure – and truth – which does, indeed, set us free. These three tenets – brotherly love, relief, and truth – become fortified and make an impact on the real world when the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice are sincerely studied, practiced, and embodied. When well-considered through mindfulness, morality lightens our load, lightens our being, shines out from within.
Civility. When mindfulness is wedded to morality, it is not difficult to engage others with skill, wisdom, and compassion. The compassion we speak of here is where we – with passion – engage others where they are and for what we hope is the best possible outcome. This can take on many faces – peaceful, empowering, well-intended persuasion, even confrontation when deemed regrettably unavoidable. Thus, while mindfulness and morality are more of the inner work we must engage in, civility is the countenance and demeanor that makes for the best possible outcome in our human transactions.
Endurance. I once read a sign on a church that read, “This is the past that someone in the future will long to go back to.” Hence, I think it a waste of our precious energy in these times to hitch our wagons to some “normal” that we think was there prior to the time we are in now. In truth, many of this world have and continue to live in dire circumstances where sickness, poverty, and warfare have been the context in which they have lived their lives, possibly from birth. It is just that now, in spite of all of what most in the world would consider privileges, we seem to be unable to escape and are seemingly joining the multitudes in their struggle.
If ever there was a call to empathically embrace and act in the common good, it is now.
But to do this, the mindfulness, morality, and civility I speak of here needs to be more than lip service or qualities we fashionably embrace to show how progressive we are. For, these times are not going away and – more than likely – will become worse before a better day arrives. Thus, we need to exert ourselves, step out of our comfort zones, and with discipline, learn how we can make durable and powerful the mindfulness, morality, and civility we need to make our life and the lives upon which we are interdependent better.
In the Tibetan tradition, the word for discipline is the same as joy. Why? Because when we live wholly and fully with our eyes wide open, practicing what I have outlined above, joy naturally arises as one of the result. Thus, to joyfully move forward, we shall need discipline to repair and transform our world.
The light is not at the end of the tunnel. It surrounds us. It is what we ourselves are inseparable from. With mindfulness, transcendental/spiritual moral principles exemplified in the four cardinal virtues and three tenets, and civilly reaching to others, that light will become more evident here and now. And as that happens, as we move forward in that way, we shall – from our own efforts – hasten an awareness of that light and the beauty we need but awaken to for it to become so.