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Deborah Schoeberlein David Headshot

Mosques and Mindfulness at Ground Zero

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The brain is the organ of intelligence and emotion, yet it doesn't automatically function with mindfulness, empathy or compassion ... And maybe this fact helps explain why so many tremendously smart people seem to lack wisdom when considering the proposed mosque in Manhattan.

In the days around September 11th, I'm especially sensitive to the actions of people who publicly profess their passion for justice and personally express bigoted anti-Muslim sentiments. This disconnect is jarring and destabilizing, in part because some bright, well-educated and generally progressive-leaning members of society are among the most outspoken opponents of religious tolerance at Ground Zero.

I'm referring to people who usually stand up for the rights of the oppressed and argue against intolerance. Only now, some of them seem to be standing on the other side of the line. What's particularly troubling is that they don't seem to recognize what's happened. Has the line separating ethical action from self-serving behaviors actually shifted? Or have these people crossed over and, if so, why do they not seem to have noticed? Where's the mindfulness?

To most of us media-savvy modern folks, the term Ground Zero refers to a particular location in lower Manhattan. Some of us were physically there on September 11, 2001; the rest of us were emotionally and spiritually close. The term identifies the geographic center of the searing events nine years ago. As such, the term is historical and it reminds us to remember.

The question I ponder today is, "remember what?" Obviously, we recall the victims and their loved ones. We might also reflect on all who have suffered in the fall-out, and in that number I count people -- not nationalities. Then there are questions of place, the significance of what is rebuilt and that which is built anew, albeit at a symbolically charged location. And, there is something further to remember: that Ground Zero can be understood as a space of mind, a destination that invites us to attend with humility and humanity.

Ground Zero in the mind is the place from which a phoenix can rise. Getting there psychologically and/or spiritually is a journey through pain and fire. There is no other way, and there is often little choice ... it just happens. Sometimes outer tragedies trigger this inward journey and other times inner upheavals pave the way. Movement toward Ground Zero of the mind does not ever, in any way, justify (or diminish) the reality of the trigger. In other words, that healing can rise up out of hatred does not make the hatred less hateful. It just "is," in much the same way that September 11th, 2001, "was."

When you hit Ground Zero in the mind, there's only honestly left and nowhere to hide. And from there, you can choose to rebuild purposefully, mindfully and compassionately -- or not. Having visited Ground Zero is no excuse for choosing to leave behind ethics and morality, and move in the direction of fear and loathing. This is true for the inner movement, just as it is in the public domain.

Those who reference the physical place of Ground Zero in justifying their bigotry against Muslims and their opposition to the proposed Mosque, neglect the deeper lessons of Ground Zero in the mind. In ignorance, they fuel the momentum of devastation.

In contrast, those who speak out in favor of religious freedom and support religious tolerance honor the journey to the inner Ground Zero. In their wisdom, they create peace for the world.

In some way, these issues can help us understand pilgrimage -- both to a place on the map and to a realm in the mind. Lower Manhattan has become a present place of pilgrimage for those who remember the past and hope for a more gentle future. Perhaps thinking about Ground Zero, on the map, can launch the rest of us on a pilgrimage of the mind -- to the inner Ground Zero - to the space in which we face what "is" and decide how to carry on.

Religious structures symbolize both the process and outcomes of pilgrimage. They are places to which we go in body, so that we may travel in spirit. I can think of no better place for a Mosque -- and any, even every, other type of sacred structure than Manhattan's Ground Zero. And, where better, than such a space, to make and return from an inner pilgrimage of the mind -- bringing peace, compassion and tolerance back home.

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