Both of Me

May 14th, 2020

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people… that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation…This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…

If only everybody could realize this! …we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely… There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…

I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.

Thomas Merton

Ultimately, everything is just looking. The universe is a mirror looking at a mirror. The more we calm down, the more we are still, the more we can see that, like the surface of still water reflects what it is facing.

When we are stirred up, agitated, the mirrors multiply, like the facets of a diamond or a house of mirrors. It seems there are others, moving independently. They seem separate from me, and possibly dangerous. Fear is born.

It’s not like there is just one person moving through a house of mirrors. Everyone is moving. Rather, everything is one movement, the universe (the “one turning”). We identify with just a tiny part of it, one face of this giant disco ball (the Greek diskos is related to dikein, meaning “to throw or cast”).

Of course, life seems more complicated than a mere house of mirrors or even a kaleidoscope. Yet the life of the universe is indeed a single movement. Seeing it from a given perspective, a point in space and time, like a person in a big city, a cell in a body, or a species on a single planet, we tend to lose sight of this unity. We may not see the big picture, the much larger system that is who we really are.

The meaning of life is just this: unity in diversity, the One that is the many. The many is what Hinduism calls maya. Maya is the drama, the dream. The more I can just watch the drama, the less I identify with any of it, including myself. There is no self, or it’s all self: it’s all just mirrors, all just eyes. Or I’s. This is the meaning, as I see it, of Namaste.

The practical value of this understanding is that the lack of it causes division, and division is destroying the world. It seems a lot to ask, nowadays, to identify with your neighbor, much less the entire universe. But the task is to identify less, not more. We can’t love more without fearing less.

What reduces fear is stillness, calm. Not constraint, lockdown, but settling. Not struggling with your situation, your thoughts, or your emotions — or rather, the situation, the thoughts, the emotions. They aren’t yours; they just are. And when you can just be, you can see that. You’re free to be you and me. Both.