I guess we are all familiar with the image of the sage in the cave or at the top of the mountain, and many have equated spirituality with solitude, with the inner self, with the turning away from society and relationships. This is true…up to a point. As we read sacred texts, we see how holly people and teachers seem to share the habit of finding moments to be by themselves, to reconnect with Deity, be it to meditate, pray or fast. Moses did it. Jesus did it. Mahomed (peace be upon him) did it. Buddha did it. So have done it ancient and modern shamans, saints, mystics, druids, wiccans, aboriginal people and modern spirituality practitioners. They went to deserts, caves, forests, monastic cells and wild places.
With very few exceptions, however (none of which include the masters mentioned before) after their time in solitude, they all returned to society: to their followers, students and disciples. They dealt with everyday situations, talking to regular people, dealing with the pros and cons of relationships, albeit in different manners. Some gave up on the idea of blood family to embrace that of a spiritual family, like Jesus and Buddha. Some made their blood family an intrinsical part of their spiritual movement, such as the Prophet Mahomed (p.b.u.h).
They dealt with friends and foes, with supporters and critics. Some faced their family’s resistance to their beliefs; some learned to relate to people from a different situation to the one they were accustomed to. They shared with people; they ate and laugh and sometimes even cried for the loss of a loved one. And most, if not all, of them brought to the table of their teachings and idea of unity, of brotherhood, of seeing the one in the other, and love, care, forgive and understand each other, as fundamental building block to their idea of holiness, of true humanity, of being that which the Divine once dreamed for us to be.
For, with all due respect to those who choose to live alone in the cave, being human is being a relationships creature. The others are our teachers; our hammer in the forge of self; the other hand that allows us to clap, to grasp; to come gently together in prayer and say Namaste. They push us, they pull us, they bring us up and brings us down. They hold a mirror to our face, so we can see not only our potentiality, but also our true selves. Some would say the complete us; others that they complement us, but in any case, they are necessary, not only for our survival, but for our self-discovery, expansion, thrive and fulfilment. For even those who found enlightment and happiness in the cave, where born and formed in the community.
Whatever in this moment you perceive yourself as creation or manifestation of God, there is a holly link between us and Spirit, which not only connects us to it, but allows to share in it, making us, directly on indirectly, one with it. Holly teachers and mystics, such as Rumi, have become so aware of this link, that they feel comfortable enough to call Deity “Beloved”. In their supreme awareness, they walk and live within the Divine, merge with it and disappear into it.
For the rest of us, this experience of intimate communion with the Goddess doesn’t come easy. We probably have moments, instants of total identification, of total consciousness of the Universal Presence. But they tend to be short and with long time-gaps in between. There is however, an easier way to commune with God. Yup, you guessed it –through our relationships with others. For if the Divine Sparks lives in us, it certainly lives in them. If I can see Deity on the mirror, I can see it in the eyes of my neighbour, my lover, my child, my parent, the stranger on the street and even my enemy.
I’m not saying that to do so is easy. Nor that once we have accept it, we will not forget it once in a while and screw things up. Or that there will not be days when humanity would make cave living look incredibly attractive. But the more we cultivate this inner truth, the more we will be able to come closer to these ideas of universal brotherhood, oneness and inner peace. Seeing God in the others, literally transforms this planet and this life into a holly experience. As nice, up-lifting and inspirational as it may be, we really do not need to go to exotic places or majestic temples to find, serve or learn from Spirit. Paraphrasing the Hindu spiritual teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda, when you see Deity in the other, everything you do is an act of worship, from lovingly cleaning a dirty little face to counting to ten before you say something offending or hurtful. Temple is your home, your office, the street, the shop, the cab. Life with others becomes the greatest monastic order and every moment is a lesson, a chant, mantra, prayer, bells tolling calling you to reconnect to the light within- and without.
This connection to the other goes beyond the Divine dimension. It includes our very human, very imperfect, very vulnerable nature. Whereas is true that in many ways each of us is unique, it is also true that we have many things in common with each other, from biology to archetypes. What changes is a combination of circumstances, education/beliefs (spiritual, emotional, academic, practical and experiential) and choices. We are X and not Y because of this, so it would be enlightening to asks ourselves, once in a while, if we would more like Y had we been in Y’s shoes and live its human experience.
I once read an article from Neale Donald Walsch, the author of Conversations with God, where he said that one of the best ways to see yourself in the other, was to sit and look at people, and say to yourself, “that’s me, walking the dog,” “that’s me having a bad day and feeling grumpy”, “that’s me, about to make a very big mistake,” and so forth. Even if you don’t yet believe in oneness as a spiritual truth, you can surely see how our human commonality can help us get along better. We all have had a bad day and felt grumpy. We all have made big mistakes. We all have found joy in little pleasures, such as walking the dog.
Of course, it is easier to see ourselves in others if they are being nice, or just a tad nasty. It becomes more challenging when it comes to identifying with people who seemed to be in really dark places, doing horrible things to themselves and the world. We all like to think that we would never act in a certain way or do a specific thing we disapprove. But what if our story had been different? Are we hundred percent sure that, in the right (or in this case wrong) circumstances we would no act in the same way, or at least very similarly to that person we are criticizing? I don’t know about you, but I have my doubts. Would I be much better than my local politician when it comes to saying no to the traps of power? Will I not screamed my head off to my child if it acted like that little kid on the street that made his mum lose her cool and yell like an ambulance’s siren? Personally I like to think that I will never kill anyone, but the honest truth is that I won’t know for sure until I am in a situation where that act becomes an option.
This is why spiritual masters, words the more, words the less, ask us no to judge our neighbours. Partly because we really don’t know their circumstances, the facts, beliefs and choices that brought them to the situation they are at the moment. And partly, because given the correct mix, we may very well end acting like them if we are not careful. Judging also opens the door to self-righteousness and closes the window to humbleness and mercy. And the moment we start seeing ourselves as “the betters” of our human sisters and brothers, we are giving our backs to God and His universal spark, present in them too. The idea of superiority if the key to injustice, cruelty, abuse and, eventually, events such as wars, conquest and oppression. Judging others as less than us is the reason for many of society’s maladies: racism, classism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, religious intolerance and so forth.
I would like to insert a note here, about what to me constitutes the difference between tolerance and respect. Every time people speak about prejudices, those naughty children of Judgement, the solution usually offered is tolerance. May be is a cultural thing, but I disagree with the use of that word in this context. In Spanish, my mother tongue, we use the word tolerance to talk about situations, people and things we don’t like, but accept to have around to “keep the peace,” if you will, in the family, workplace and community. But the fact is that, if it were up to us, we would get rid-off the annoyance and will probably do it the first chance we get.
Respect is an entirely different thing. Respect recognizes the right of existence of the other, be it person, thing or circumstance, within an idea of equality. Respect says: I don’t quite get you or don’t agree with you but you have as much right to be here as I do and I’m ready to work together so we can co-exist pacifically. Within respect there is curiosity for the differences, even a commitment to learn from the other and in occasions, admiration for something about the other. That is why there can be respect between adversaries, but no tolerance amid friends, for tolerance, as I have explained, does not foster true friendship.
Hence, the best remedy for judgement and all the prejudice it may generate, is respect and the recognition of ourselves in the other. Now, every time I speak about judgement, there is always a black-and-white kind of person who asks things like “does this mean we can’t have an opinion?” or “what about the judges in the legal system?” Obviously we are going to form opinions about a person. What non-judgement asks us is to not believe blindly our perceptions. To have the humility to consider that we may be wrong about out assessment. To find as much evidence as possible before deciding about someone’s character –and keep this conclusion flexible. To consider the circumstances that may have brought up an attitude and action. To acknowledge that there is a chance, as slim as it may seem, that maybe we can make the same mistakes other people have –and in any case, we have already made enough mistakes in our lifetime for someone to judge us and have a poor –and probably erroneous- opinion about ourselves. We are all doing the best we can with what we have.
As for the judge in the legal system, he or she is dealing with a different situation, that still can provide us with some clues or tips for our use. A good, fair judge, will listen to all the evidence available before making a judgement. He or she will, as best as possible, prevent personal beliefs and experiences interfere with his ruling and adapt such ruling to the law. Most of all, a good judge will act with the awareness of his or her responsibility towards the accused, the victim and the community, with the intention to restore balance. Perhaps if we acted more like a judicial judge instead of letting our prejudice rule our perceptions, we would truly have a fairer and more amicable society.There is another reason why cultivating non-judgement is so important. We touched this lightly on the past lesson. It has to do with our life mission or destiny and I’m going to ask for your indulgence to talk about some spiritual beliefs that may not be agreed by all.
I believe that most of the people we deal with come to our life for a reason. They are like characters in our story. Some are pivotal and some have only one line to say, but that line will move the story forwards. Now think about your favourite book. Can you imagine the heroine or hero actually achieving anything without the action of her or his adversary? Harry Potter without Voldemort would have been another kid in Hogwarts, probably rolling his eyes at his parents every time they showed him affection in public. Since he was not really academically inclined, all those adventures that made him hone his skills would have not happened, so he would have graduated without any particular honours or recognition. With his parents that first day, he would have not need to talk to Mrs. Wesley, which in turn may have not given Ron the confidence to ask to share the train compartment and the friendship may have not occurred at all. Moreover, with no moral need to defend Ron, Harry may have ended in Slythering and become Draco Malfoy’s best friend. And then the story would have been totally different.
You may see adversaries as souls that have accepted the role of the villain in your story, for their own spiritual learning. Or you may see them as villains, allowed by the Divine to bother, hurt or even torment you. In any case, the truth is that without them you would not be who you are today. They are your dark teachers, the electroshocks that force you to move from one place to the other in the maze of your life, as you find your way out. If, as I believe, these souls have agreed to let you live your destiny by acting as the bad guys, can we really judge them as “evil.” And if, for the moment, you are not ready to accept this possibility, doesn’t the fact that they were allowed by Deity to be your adversaries makes them less dark and mean? After all, they are being used as instruments for your self-discovery.
To be sincere, I personally don’t think that all the people that somehow are against us are part of our life plan. I do believe that people mess up things and we become their victims. Otherwise Karma or Restoration would make no sense. But it is my firm believe that most people in our lives are part of our Divine Curriculum and by accepting to play such a difficult part, they themselves have risked their own soul process, for, as I said, there is always the chance to make mistakes and straight away from the original plan. So deep down, in that place of light within, free from our human frailty, there should be a note of gratefulness to our foes. They are the bitter medicine that will help us become better –if we allow them.
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