Europe Is No Longer Our Playground: Witnessing What Is Happening Now

04/21/2016 08:51 pm ET

My love affair with Europe has spanned four decades, since my junior year abroad in Madrid led to a five year sojourn there. Since then, our small family has traveled there many times and delighted in the great food, wine, and vast cultural riches the continent offers. Those were simpler times, however. We just returned from a two week trip where we saw how strained Europe is from the assimilation of millions of immigrants over the past decade and more recently, the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

In the Amsterdam airport, about to return home, we found ourselves with hundreds of others in a prolonged back up at immigration caused by the heightened security since the recent bombing in Brussels. Many people had already missed their flights, or were about to, and were trying anything to get the security guards to let them pass to the front of the line. I could see the strain on the faces of the women with babies and small children in tow, the old man in a wheel chair, and my own beloved husband whose back hurts when he has to stand still for long periods. Those who were allowed to pass seemed to be selected randomly, but the majority were told: Nothing we can do, just wait.

Suddenly I was taken out of my ordinary consciousness to witness the scene and realized: I am a here, too. We are all in this together.


City Hall in Barcelona Spain
Mary Saunders
City Hall in Barcelona Spain


I was humbled by this brief glimpse of both the helplessness refugees must experience at every turn and the reality of Oneness I was shown.

Two days later I am finally in my own bed, having traveled approximately 7,500 miles and 12 time zones each way, when jet lag wakes me at 4:00 am with the words and experience that follow, in total waking consciousness:

We must dismantle the beliefs that keep us trapped in an incorrect view of the world.

In my mind’s eye I clearly see the dark metal bars of a cage around me. I somehow know this cage was created by my own faulty perceptions and I explore them a bit. My weary brain quickly decides this is enough awareness and pleads to go back to sleep. 

Not going to happen! I have had this type of experience before so I know my psyche, or my Higher Self perhaps, is trying to show me something and I decide to pay attention. I shift my attention back to the cage around me and it expands to include the bed and my husband lightly snoring next to me. I know the experiences we have had in 25 years of marriage, and our habitual reactions to them, have formed a cage that is holding us back from what could be possible now in our relationship.

The experience continues to include our neighbors and friends. Habitual phrases we use when talking about the people we love are creating more cages. In rapid succession images come of the airport scene, of recent terrorist events, and of the young men willing to blow themselves, and others, up in service to an idea, a belief. I feel the full weight of knowing we are ALL trapped in our own individual cages of conceptualization. Each group we join creates its own collective cage of shared beliefs about how the world is. This gives us a way to belong to, and make sense of, the world. We stand with those in our group and confirm, “Yes, this is the way it is.”

Now I see the world’s cages. There’s the Trump camp. Bernie’s and Hillary’s groups too. Greedy corporations take up a lot of space. Environmentalists are in their own cage. Drug addicts, too, but then the rest of us who are addicted to products, food, sensory stimulation, pharmaceuticals, the Internet, and social media are also here. More cages created from the beliefs held by the military, ISIS, and on and on and on. Yes, some cages are worse (much worse!) than others, but what I am being shown is that ultimately, a cage is a cage.

Out of the depths, I hear these words:

A greater love, one that includes everything, is the way out.

Now the bars of the cage begin to dissolve around me. I feel myself being lifted up and freed, at least momentarily, from the persistent belief in separation, the cultural myth that keeps us from experiencing Oneness. The experience ends and I turn to tenderly embrace my husband and tell him I love him. He sleepily responds, "Who, me?" in a way that makes us both laugh before he is falls back into unconsciousness. I realize that, at least for us, it can be this simple: Moments of loving presence, repeated over time, will get us out of our cage. 

As dawn breaks, I write down these thoughts as I know witnessing is a powerful practice, one that allows us to be available to life. To witness what is present in the moment, with this person, feeling, or situation, is something we can all do. With daily practice, we attune our consciousness to the reality of Oneness: As human beings, imperfect and suffering, we are all in this together as we strive to make sense of this rapidly changing world. And in our striving, however well meaning we may be, we often create more suffering. Yet when we take a step away from our conditioned beliefs and concern for ourselves, we may participate in the tremendous creative potential that is available at this time of transition.

It is almost impossible to be free of all beliefs and conditioning, but we can aspire to be as conscious as we can about how they inform us. I ask you to join me in the practice of witnessing, in making a commitment to be here now and to pay attention to what is happening around us and within us.

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