Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dream On

And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted--you will find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times--but it has not formed part of our lives!  Dostoevsky

Pacifism, rather than being an idle philosophy grounded in a “Wouldn’t it be nice” mentality, often develops as a response to the direct contact with the realities of war. Many great peace activists come from countries torn apart by conflict and have resisted the eye-for-an-eye mentality and instead sought reconciliation through compassion. This desire to spread this vision is perfectly captured by the Vietnamese peace-activist Thich Nhat Hanh; "We who have touched war have a duty to bring the truth about war to those who have not had a direct experience of it . . . we will know how to look deeply into the nature of war and, with our insight, wake people up so that together we can avoid repeating the same horrors again and again."

Those who've had close encounters with life-altering illnesses often experience a similar shift in the way they perceive themselves and the world around them. Expressions like, "It gave me a new appreciation for life," "It gave my life new meaning," or "I live everyday as if it were a gift," point to a level of awareness beyond the normal duality that divides the world.

I have to confess that my own "awakening" in no way rises to the level where I can say that cancer has made me into a modern-day Gandhi; ready to sacrifice all for the sake of peace. However, like a lot of cancer survivors, I have developed a deeper understanding of suffering, whether it be mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual. (Despite this, it still annoys me when I get stuck behind someone in the express lane at the supermarket who clearly has more than the allowed items in their cart. Peace to them, peace to them . . . breathe, Mike, breathe).

When one considers the number of people who have experienced, first-hand, the war on cancer, or any other illness, and have had even the slightest shift toward compassion, it's a wonder that we aren't knee-deep in pacifists. Unfortunately, it seems that our fixation and fascination with war trumps the call for peace, both inner and outer. This pull back to the world of "us and them" is so strong that even those whose lives have forever been altered by their experience, find the idea of the world filled with love rather than hate, turning into what Dostoevsky called, "the dream of a ridiculous man."

What if it's not so ridiculous? What if suffering is meant to push us toward compassion, toward the realization that we are all one, to understand that an act done to another is done to the self? Talk about turning lemons to lemonade, bitter to sweet, lead into gold, and pain into joy. Now that's a cause worth taking up arms, legs, feet, head, and heart for.

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