On Sunday I went out with the dogs into the forest. My mind is busy and we get lost. Correction: I get lost; Aussie always seems to know where she is and the path to the car. This has happened lots of time in the past, no problem, but bushwhacking your way down is not pleasant.
At first, I blame my mind’s distractibility for getting lost, but when I finally find my way, I notice that a tree had fallen. We’ve had lots of rain, tree roots get soaked and weaken, roads and paths get blocked. This one had fallen over the path right where another was crisscrossing it, and I followed in the wrong direction.
Circumstances and conditions of my life change, and I change with them. Often, I feel lost and unable to get back to my regular life. Maybe, as a consequence, I’ll find a better path, maybe I won’t. Regardless, I no longer walk in the same way I’ve walked before. What I have is trust that if I put one foot ahead of the other, I’ll find out. I have confidence in walking rather than standing, worrying, or opining.
This is how I start the days now: I call family members. Sister, brother, a niece or nephew. Nephews are all in the army, nieces singlehandedly taking care of lots of children. I need to know how they’re doing wherever they are—Jerusalem, south by the Gaza border, their homes, the West Bank.
I want to hear and listen to everything, uncensured by personal fears and apprehensions. I hear terrible stories, see horrific videos, and resist the impulse to turn away or close my eyes. Not because of an appetite for violence. You need to see things, I remind myself. You need to listen and see.
After family, I talk and listen to others.
Pogroms are mentioned again and again. I don’t agree, I tell my brother. What took place on October 7 was horrific, probably worse than anything done in East Europe and Russia many years ago. But those old-time pogroms were perpetuated on small communities of Jewish families, impoverished and powerless like their neighbors, often used as scapegoats by the aristocracy and local churches. They had no agency.
That’s not true here. Jews in Israel have had plenty of agency and need to question their assumptions and decisions. Context makes a big difference. He doesn’t agree with me, we have words but no blame. It’s an old, old argument in our family.
Luckily, both of us don’t take our own opinions too seriously. Something more important is at stake here, much more important than opinions.
I was puzzling over why it suddenly became important for me to help create spaces for different people to express feelings and views on what is happening in the Middle East. This afternoon I talked at some length with poet and teacher Peter Levitt. He described a meditation space as one where you actually witness thoughts and opinions come and go, one after another, identities and attachments coming up and leaving, followed often by more and more, sometimes not.
At some point you realize you are not those identities and statements, something else is at work here. Those tight opinions bind you like a noose, preventing you from seeing anything else. When you can ease yourself out of their clutches you see that life in fact goes on without them. There’s a life force at work, and if you can free yourself from that mental siege, you sense the direction of that life force more clearly and can align yourself and your life with it.
Talking about this with Peter, I realized that that is the space I try to create when a group of us, each one different, sometimes from different religions, cultures, or countries, meet on Zoom to talk. Views come and go, opinions are exchanged. One arises, then there’s quiet, another arises, more quiet, and another, more quiet, etc.
The more views, the merrier, I say. No need to be spiritually correct, no need to modulate anything. If you’re forceful, be forceful. Angry, be angry. You want to cry, cry. Here’s a space where everything is permitted. Opinions and feelings arise and fall, come and go.
Meantime, something else becomes visible, something that’s always there but in the background, obscured by the bedlam of the mind. Peter says that people think that enlightenment is when the Buddha comes in the front door to the sound of big trumpets and fireworks, but she usually comes in the back door, quietly. Sees who’s around, who’s paying attention. Who’s listening for her. When we’re very upset, we don’t listen or sense anything till we’ve had our say, expended energy. Only then can we see who else is in the room.
I’m so grateful to Peter for that talk. We’ll have another such gathering this coming Thursday, October 26, at 2:00 pm US Eastern time, or 14:00. I’ve already emailed the link to all those who’ve attended before; if you wish to attend, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Henry, Aussie, and I got lost that morning, things felt chaotic, certainty gone, absent sense of direction and therefore destination. In the middle of it, I looked out and saw a small pond with groups of ducks and mallards floating on the water. Many were males, with green heads and yellow beaks, unbothered by the dogs, unbothered by me, swimming in large circles, their young ones following.