Remember, best block, not be there. -- Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid II
Here, in St. Louis, in the weeks following events in Ferguson, we are daily reminded of the tensions within our own community, as well as the attention focused on us from around the world, as even the U.N. calls on the U.S. to end police brutality.
But, for those of us whose on-line community spans the globe, stories of tragedy and unjustness are just a click away.
Not that the news hasn't always offered plenty of disaster and devastation. But now, it's personal.
Now, the news arrives via links posted to Facebook by people you know, prefaced by their personal opinion. Now, the story is told in hashtags like #Ferguson, and you recognize some of the faces. Now, you would not only have to swear off watching the news to avoid the feelings of outrage and impotence about current events, you'd have to give up social media as well.
I've been tempted, many times, to take myself off to a mountaintop. On a remote island.
I could practice my art of stringing words together into new possibilities while sitting under a towering pine next to a clear, cold stream. I could meditate, with nothing but the sound of birds and squirrels to distract from my inner peace. I could read, study, dream. I could draw, or paint, with no one to ask, "What is that supposed to be?" I could be fully myself, fully present, fully aware. I could just be, the spiritual sort of "being" we associate with monks and yogis.
I wouldn't have to give up coaching, many of my client sessions are already conducted via conference line or Skype. So long as I have internet and a phone line, I can do my work, I can make enough money to sustain life with a few luxuries thrown in, I can free myself from the bombardment of things I care about, but that are not mine to change.
Last week I caught myself reading the comments on a friend's Facebook post. Heated opinions disintegrated into name calling. Perversely, I kept reading. Hoping for a voice of reason, someone brave enough to speak from a place of balance and love.
I didn't get that, but I did get an unexpected shot of comic relief when one of the nastier comments ended in, "So THERE!"
I read All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, but I don't remember a chapter on "How to Win Any Argument," so maybe this guy read a different version. I do have to thank him for jarring me out of a pretty deep funk, and making me realize just how immersed in the emotional stew I had allowed myself to become.
I gave some serious thought then to that mountaintop. Or at least to shutting down my Facebook page.
Reflecting on the peace of my imaginary mountain, seeing the rocky beach in the distance, hearing the cry of an eagle overhead, feeling the breeze embrace my skin, I was tempted.
I've been writing so much on what is wrong in the world, because I believe it is only by acknowledging imperfection that we can imagine and create perfection. I've written about events in Ferguson, I've written about George Will's stance on college rape, I've written about male survivors of sexual abuse, I've written about my own passage through abuse and incest. Perhaps, I thought, I've said enough. For now.
Then I was reminded of The Karate Kid II. And a lesson we were offered during a recent spiritual study.
In our study we were talking about "practical spirituality" and the challenge of embodying our true spiritual nature, while living in the midst of so much that is not conducive to spiritually-conscious living. You know, that kind of "being" that would seem so much easier on an island mountaintop.
Our teacher shared something she learned from one of her teachers. Who, when asked how she maintained her calm and loving outlook, said it wasn't that she never experienced the effects of the world around her, but that she had learned to be aware when an onslaught was imminent, and to spiritually move away from the emotional turmoil that was likely to follow.
Which reminded me of Mr. Miyagi, teaching Daniel-san the best way to block a blow. Don't be there. Not, don't be there for the fight. Just don't be in that place where the blow will land. Avoid it by an inch, but avoid it.
And yet, in our spiritual practice we learn to be present. Fully aware and in the moment. How can we be present, surrounded by so much hate and unrest, and not be where that emotional blow is going to land?
The answer is not on an island mountaintop. Because we don't develop resilience by avoiding exposure.
And the answer is not in disconnecting from our emotional response. Because when we disconnect emotionally, we lose our ability to empathize, and that is one of our spiritually highest traits.
The answer, I realized, is in being so present with ourselves, that we don't get lost in where the other person is. They are mired in fear, hate, distrust, need, and pain. But we cannot respond in a meaningful fashion by being where they are any more than they can.
When you see the emotional onslaught coming, think of it as an imminent blow. Recognize, acknowledge, respond.
Be present with your true self, see their pain, acknowledge it, but respond from where you are, not from where that blow is going to fall.
This is what I intend to practice. Because if I am not going to move to the mountain, the mountain will have to come to me.
Photo: Flickr/Hartwig HKD