Repeating Myself

Sometimes I wonder if the Source, or whatever name you use (the energy of life, God, the I AM, the unmanifested one, the universal consciousness, Mother Earth) has created the Coronavirus to give us human beings the opportunity to recognize our interconnectedness and interdependence.  Or our “interbeing,” as the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, would say.

If you follow the emergence, re-emergence, first, second and third waves of COVID-19 around the world, you will notice that as soon as we humans begin to let down our guard, we experience another outbreak. When we put individual desires and wills ahead of the common good, we start down the path of another “surge.”

The refusal to wear a mask because it is “my right” to choose whether or not I do, puts those around you in danger.  The need to “open up” as fast as possible for the sake of the economy (this all-important economy in which the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer) precipitates another surge in COVID cases.  The refusal to be vaccinated sets us all back on the road to “herd immunity.”  The current competition for vaccines worldwide and the disparities in vaccination rates in rich and developing countries flies in the face of the truth that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe—from anything.

The Coronavirus goes on, mutating, developing new strains, dodging, and eluding all our attempts to beat it back. Should we ultimately succeed in defeating COVID, when will the next pandemic strike? What will the subsequent super infectious disease be? And the next?

Could the lesson we are avoiding be—everything is entirely dependent and interdependent? Huge disparities in health, wealth, and resources only create instability that ultimately undermines everyone’s safety, security, well-being, and perhaps even our continued existence.

(See also: I Dream a World, COVID Sacrifice, Cleansing or Transforming?)

Deep Listening

The other day, a friend asked me to join a conversation group to discuss ” how to reach out” to those with opposing political views. I confess we are both liberals and those to whom we might reach out are radical conservatives – the far right. As the following cartoon satirically depicts, post-election, some liberals express a desire to “heal the divide” in our drastically polarized country. 

This aspiration sinks right down to the personal level where friends and families, neighbors, and co-workers hold opinions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Four years of the Trump presidency and the vitriol of the 2020 election have split apart some close relationships. Many, mostly liberals, believe it is time to mend our families, communities, and the country’s torn fabric.

The issue is not a burning one for me personally.  I do not know many ultra-conservatives, and I do not plan to plow into the company of Alt-right strangers waving an olive branch in my hand.  With the two to four I do know I have an amicable relationship, which does not include talking about our political views.

I have erected some barriers to protect myself from those whose political, social and economic views differ from and oppose my own. Frankly, many of them scare me.  I am afraid of everything from awkwardness to physical harm. But, I feel, given the opportunity in a setting that feels safe, it would be closed-minded and rude not to engage with those who differ. 

Why? On a microcosmic level, I acknowledge the interconnectedness and interdependence of us all.  I know we are more alike than different.  I know we all suffer; we all want to have enough, be happy, and be free. 

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, nominated for the Noble Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., suggests an uncomplicated approach   He encourages responding to those we might consider enemies or opponents, because they have the potential to cause us harm, by listening deeply and compassionately:

 “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

And:

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less.”

Listening deeply involves letting go of my need to be heard and of my preferred outcome. One must have no other agenda than listening to understand. Deep listening eschews judgment, labeling, denigration or mockery. The listener is patient, calm, open-hearted, receptive, and compassionate.

I do not deny this is a tall order, but I tell myself I must begin somewhere with someone.  If I do not, the healthy unity of differences, the tolerance and respect we desperately need in relationships, communities and nations will be an empty and vain hope.