Shared Unity

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher who knows all about bringing people together. The unity he fosters is not about folks crossing the gap from one separate being to another. It’s not about being a good listener or being compassionate to someone outside of yourself. The communion instead is people being immersed in the same reality, feeling as if they’re one body, pouring love to the fingertips and toes … and far beyond.

Another thing that’s really made a difference, for me and so many people who have undertaken a path of practice, is to have a place to practice and to have friends (sangha, community) because when we lose it someone else reminds us. I’ve been reminded as much by all the people who come on retreats. And the level of courage and the beauty of people’s devotion to awakening or genuineness, I see over and over again.

I’m thinking of myself being up there on retreat. There was a woman in the community whose teenaged daughter had died and she was on the retreat a year afterward over the anniversary of her daughter’s death. So it was really a tough, grief-filled time. And the day came and I talked with her. I said “Why don’t you do a little ritual? This morning while we’re sitting quietly, why don’t you go out at the time you know that your daughter died, and ring the bell 108 times – the great big bell that’s up there? It’s a traditional way of paying respects or honor. 108 is a kind of mystical or sacred number in India. It means everything included. Ring the bell 108 times in her honor.”

We’re all sitting in there meditating, and all of a sudden I hear her ringing this bell right outside the meditation hall. People have been quiet for a long, long time. She was really hitting that bell, as if the sound of it could somehow reach her daughter.

Usually we have the bells to begin or end sittings or call people together, so people were kind of wondering “What’s happening?” In the middle of the sitting, I said “The bell you’re hearing is because someone’s child has died a year ago today, and she wants to honor her.”

I heard this woman ring the bell, and everybody else was sitting there listening, with tears streaming down their cheeks, as if she was somehow needing to talk to her daughter’s spirit. Then she came back and sat with us.

The Old and the New

The Toronto subway is such a teacher. I was heading to a concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music tonight when people appeared before me. Foremost were three young adults – two women and a man. One woman especially was immaculately dressed. Her rich green sweater was adorned with a gold pendant. She took selfie after selfie of her and her friends. The smiles looked plastic to me. The other lady was majorly preoccupied with her hair. She brushed back this and twizzled that. Our modern life doesn’t require mirrors. A smartphone will get the job done nicely.

There was nothing wrong with the preening. Still, it seemed like such a symbol of “me” and the supreme importance of what you present to the world. It feels like we’ve been walking down this road for a long time.

The return trip presented me with another cultural icon – the ear buds. After entering a subway car, I sat at right angles to a fellow deeply immersed in his music. I must have been too close, for he soon moved two seats farther away. The recipe for happiness is clear: push Beethoven or Iron Maiden into your eardrums and create an island for yourself. Go away rather than go towards.

Narcissism and separation. Am I missing something here or are these lousy representations of well-being? There must be another way.

Just before the concert was to start in the Temerty Theatre, I felt the call of nature. An usher directed me down the hall, where I came upon a bathroom sporting both the male and female symbols. Was that the handicapped room? A quick scan revealed that this was the one and only washroom. Inside were five totally enclosed cubicles, and the sinks were being visited by both male and female hands.

I smiled at my companions and marvelled at how I was having a hand-washing conversation with women for the first time in my life. This was novel, fresh, simply new. We were striding into the wilderness instead of following a well-worn path. And we were having fun. Together.

I vote for breaking new ground with other human beings. Who knows what magic can happen when we climb up to the summit and gaze upon the vista revealed? Let’s find out.