Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The patience to wait

Over the last couple of days I've had several conversations about shortsightedness and self-absorption, and their negative impact on communities. It seems to me that this natural human tendency to get caught up in our own needs and desires rather than attending to the larger good is the opposite of mindfulness and compassion, and lies at the root of many of the challenges facing our society today.

This morning I was reading Cynthia Bourgeault's wonderful little book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, and came across this quote:

"As we wander in perpetual spiritual adolescence, attempting to fill the hunger in our hearts with our needs rather than the divine need, creation itself pays the price."

These thoughts are on my mind right now because our little community is still reeling from a recent incident in which two or three teenagers -- probably under the influence of drugs and alcohol -- took what is affectionately known as "Paint Night" (in which members of our high school's current graduating class point out the driveways of their classmates with painted slogans on the adjacent roads) a bit too far.

These teens painted several police cars -- both at the local police station and at the police chief's home -- and slashed their tires as well, and now everyone is up in arms. The police, already defensive because many of them can't afford to live in the community they are charged to protect, are whining about spoiled teens and negligent parents. Horrified school officials are back-pedaling, parents are denying, historians are spouting precedent, kids are whispering (only one of the perpetrators has been arrested to date) and lots of people are using the incident as an excuse to promote whatever agenda they have already espoused.

Compared to what transpires in other, more urban communities, this is a relatively minor incident. But the implied violence of those slashed tires, and the fact that a portion of it was particularly targeted at the chief, has disturbed us all, and feels to many like a symptom of the larger woes currently facing the community: disorganized and/or incompetent leadership, an overspent budget, and numerous formerly-wealthy families in financially precarious straits.

Still small potatoes, compared to the larger challenges being faced elsewhere in the world. But at the heart of everything, both on the island and beyond, I hear the adolescent whine: "I'm not getting what I need/deserve."

So why this photograph? I guess I am struck initially by the apparent contrast between the silent isolationism of the cabin and the furious warmongering on the opposite shore. The cabin, built on stilts, is separate from land as well as water, and virtually inaccessible. Yes, there is a ladder, but it's not clear it goes all the way up. And there doesn't appear to be any door, only a window. It seems completely isolated.

And there, in the background, though it's not clear in this photo, they're building warships, readying to attack or defend. It's as if to say, when we get caught up in ourselves, life becomes all about protecting and defending the status quo, about keeping "us" in and the other out, and huge disconnects begin to emerge.

And yet, there is a peacefulness on this side of the water. The weeds are colorful, the water is still and blue... But then, I am not the one who built this cabin. I am the watcher, standing on this bank, not resolutely alone in the cabin, not out building warships. And this morning someone sent me the rest of a Lao Tzu poem I quoted in an earlier post. The full quote goes like this:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?"

Perhaps if we stay on this side of the water a little longer, feel the peace, examine the choices, and do not rush to defend or protect, deny or accuse, then the right action, the compassionate response which takes into account the needs of the whole community and of all creation, will emerge.

Do you have the patience to wait? To be still, to listen, to be aware? I don't always. But I'm willing to try.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

thank you for the stunning photograph and the wonderful Lao Tzu poem!