"Not Christian or Jew, Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Zen. Not any religion or culture system. I am not from the East or the West, not out of the ocean or up from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all...I belong to the Beloved, have seen the two worlds as One and that One call to know, first, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing-Human Being."
Several years ago I led a group of individuals on a sacred journey travel experience for an 11-day journey to China. To this day my mind is still processing what my eyes witnessed and heart experienced in a land and culture that is so profoundly different than I could have ever imagined. From the beginning, with a total of 38 sojourners in our group, "The Ancient Wisdom" tour took on a life of its own. Upon arrival in Beijing we hit the ground running and never stopped. Our group seemed to move with a singular sense of elegance, grace and flow that very much reflected the energy of the culture in which we were being immersed. Each historical landmark and ancient structure we visited seemed to top the one before in its immensity of scale, detail and beauty. Every experience of contemporary China added a new depth of appreciation for a culture that has adapted amazingly fast to westernization while still maintaining its ancient roots.
Each new day I kept anxiously waiting my "next" experience of China, assuming it couldn't possibly be greater than the last. I mean, what could possibly be greater than the Great Wall itself, or more stunning and breathtaking than the Forbidden City? Then, one day during lunch, at a small local (non-tourist) restaurant in downtown Beijing which Yin, our guide, referred to as "The Shouting Restaurant", it happened. My peak experience for the entire journey divinely exploded before my eyes. The name of the restaurant was appropriate enough; with everyone conversing at the top of their lungs while different courses of food were being served in rapid-fire order, the energy was absolutely magnetic. No, my epiphany didn't happen while drinking the dead snake-in-the-bottle wine or eating a fiery spice-soaked dumpling; it was in the eyes of a small child, perhaps two or three years of age, who stood motionless outside the restaurant peering directly into my eyes through the window.
In that magical moment time stood still. I could see her mind at work, thinking about me ...as if she recognized me and was trying to remember if and how she knew me. Then suddenly, as if she realized I was a member of her own family, her eyes lit up even more, she giggled and cracked a big smile that bridged any possibility of a chasm between cultures, age and language, dissolving all barriers between us. In that pristine moment she and I truly did know one another. We had connected with something we both inherently had in common -- our humanity, as well as our oneness in something infinitely larger than life itself. At peak moments such as this the veil between the two is very thin. When we can look beyond size, age, gender, nationality, color, culture, religion or any of the other many labels we tend to place upon others and ourselves, we realize we are all very much the same. We all are born; we all die. We all laugh; we all cry. We all know joy; we all know pain. We all share the same planet and we all share the same name: Human Being. And all it takes is a simple gaze into another's eyes while we remember that who we are really looking at is actually some aspect of ourselves, followed, of course, by the universal language of a smile to bridge any perceived communication gap.
Only after having this peak moment was it that I looked up, at first somewhat startled to see the child's mother standing there grinning from ear to ear. She no doubt took great pleasure in witnessing her daughter's delight in our encounter. Clearly this child had a great role model for openness to others, who, at first glance, may appear "different". About that time everyone sitting at my table got in on the action and began smiling and waving to this beautiful child and her proud mom, who both replied with more of the same. It was one of those profound moments that will be indelibly etched into the walls of my mind and heart forever.
So there I was, 7,000 miles away from home fully expecting to experience my divine a-ha moment while standing next to the Grand Canal in Suzhou, or doing Tai Chi with hundreds of others at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, or being mesmerized in the presence of the terracotta warriors or while sitting in silent prayer at the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, or gazing at the stunning nighttime skyline of skyscrapers along the Bund in Shanghai. No. All that it took was one small child who was willing to allow me to see myself and all of humanity in her.
I returned home from an amazing trip abroad once again humbled and reminded that at the end of the day life is really about relationships. Why so? Because, if we are willing to look deeply enough into one another, getting past all of our judgments and fears about our differences, we be able to see what we have in common. In short, we'll remember to remember there is only One of us here. Contained within the wisdom of this awareness lies the potential for a lasting peace in our world. How could we possibly conspire to do harm to another when we see ourselves in them? Do you need to go 7,000 miles to be reminded of this? Of course not. You need look no further than the next person you encounter today. The Sufi mystic Rumi summarized it beautifully when he wrote, "In any gathering, in any chance meeting on the street, there is a shine, an elegance rising up." May this be the day you meet and greet yourself in another. Just let it shine.
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