Saturday, March 8, 2014

Out of it

"Is n't it terrible what's happened?" asked my American acquaintance as we sat down to dinner in Skopje, Macedonia.

"What?" I asked, thinking of the many things that might happen in this fragile new state in the mid-90s.

"In Israel!" he replied., "Rabin's assassination"!

My quizzical look elicited from him a surprised look and the 'reprimand', "You are really out of it"! (Rabin had been assassinated two days before).

As I walked home, I pondered as to what it was that I was 'out of'? I was sorry he had been assassinated (a sorrow deepened in retrospect) but I neither had any personal or professional connection with Israel/Palestine (I was only to visit it for the first time six years later) nor conceivably (outside of the boundaries of prayer) have any influence on the unfolding events whatsoever. I would have read about it on the arrival of one (or possibly in both) of my subscribed magazines (The Economist and the Roman Catholic weekly, 'The Tablet') and within those limits have become 'an informed citizen' having a view about 'the situation' (shaped by the usual twins of knowledge and prejudice).

I was thinking about this when reading Richard Smoley's 'Conscious Love: Insights from Mystical Christianity' and especially the chapter on 'The Special Function' on our personal vocation in the world. The book, as a whole, is a beautifully 'tough minded' reflection on the complex topic of love that both reveals how much of 'love' is transactional and yet how in heightening one's conscious awareness of that you can begin to kneed and soften it so that a deeper disposition arises that allows one to love one's neighbour as oneself and to love things as they are in themselves (even only in moments).

However, in 'The Special Function', when reminding us that we cannot help everyone, Smoley quotes Gurdjieff's wonderful phrase "vainly-to-grow-sincerely-indignant" rather to focus attentively on what it is I can do, and what I might uniquely, be called to do. I will think of this phrase every time I am tempted to read the 'Comments' section on online media! As in the Bhagavad Gita, the task is not to solve everything but to work at one's unique duty without thought of consequences or reward. To light a candle and not debate whether it will banish the darkness (to quote Tagore).

How many people, including myself, I wonder, have this week been distracted from discerning and doing their especial duty by vainly growing indignant - whether it be about Ukraine, or climate change or ivory poaching in Kenya - any or all of which might be the place of our labour, but probably not all of them, and maybe none! It might be as 'humble' as being cheerful (and efficient) at the supermarket checkout and lightening the lives of shoppers as they trawl home after a day's work (as the remarkably continuously polite and upbeat man is at my local shop)! Every fully incarnated 'duty' is one more strand in weaving a renewed world.

As it happens, in Macedonia, I was striving to build an institution that would help people start or develop small enterprises to feed their families and create employment, none of whom were bankable, and try and do that fairly across an ethnically divided, conflicted community. Whether or not it was 'my duty', it was the best proximate I could find at the time, absorbing of all (and more) of the attention, hope and indeed prayer I was capable of!

Better to focus on what is before us than fantasize about what we (or, more usually, them) ought to put right (however, remarkably tempting that is)!

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