The International Writers Magazine: Modern Lives 80
Amongst the countless
questions arising from the recent U.S. elections, there is one which
keeps entrenching itself inside my own, and I believe, many others
consciousness. Ive come to realize that it could not have disappeared
no matter what the outcome, because it runs deeper than the fleet of
political offices changing hands, and from its roots sprout both our
anger and nervous concern for those just on the other side of the border.
It is like a burr stuck in our collective understanding of the world,
of justice, of our most fundamental role in life: who is to blame for
all the manifest suffering in the world right now?
Indeed, since September 11th, the practise of blame has become so integrated
into our world view that we actively search out new plots and subplots,
new conspiracies, new sources uncovered by new investigations and documentaries.
We are becoming increasingly passionate in our search to uncover the
source, the origin, the start of all this misery. After all, when it
comes to the war on terror, what constitutes the gorge separating the
Bush-ites and the anti-Bushites? Its simply the origin of their
respective arguments. The war-supporters believe the source of all the
instability is the fanatic act of the terrorists who flew the planes
into the twin towers on Sept. 11. The anti-war faction finds its starting
point in the White Houses deceitful self-interest, which has led
to the killing of thousands of innocents in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Discourse on the divisive state of the world naturally falls into divisive
patterns: choose what you feel to be the origin of the current suffering,
and expand your argument of blame from there.
For a mind overwhelmed with the futility of such fragmentary thinking,
there is perhaps only one true escape route. The latter fell into my
hands on a cold blustery day on College St in Toronto last week. Wandering
aimlessly in the day following the election, I passed in front of the
modest, nondescript Zen temple near Bathurst St., where a calmly smiling
man handed me a brochure. I pocketed it distractedly and moved on. Not
until the next day did I tug the crumpled piece of paper out. The message
on the cover read, "Your mind has healing power for a conflicted
word." In the face of the recent bloody rampage of Fallujah, these
words have since refused to dissipate. For this, I hope, I shall be
It seems that to truly have an effect over our situation, we need to
start moving in the opposite direction of blameas foreign, even
painful, as this might seemand take responsibility for the world
we experience each day, an experience which can only be subjective,
unique, entirely ours to transform. While were looking at the
war through a Buddhist lense, consider the simple yet perfectly timely
words of well-respected American teacher, Venerable Thubten Chodron.
By blaming and hating, she writes, "we put more anger into an already
hostile environment. Here, too, our mind has become like those whose
war cries we dislike, just the object of our hatred is different. We
see the world in terms of us and them, denounce one side
and praise the other, and wish harm to those who disagree with us. This
does no good at all, either for ourselves or others."
Spurred on by the potential of such an profound perspective, I immediately
found echos of it in a film which seemed to give it human form. Significantly,
it took place on the eve of Remembrance Dayin which we pay respect
to those who sacrificed their lives to heal conflicted worlds.
The Time We Killed is New York director Jennifer Reeves
experimental feature, which I happened to stumble into at the Art Gallery
of Ontarios Jackman Hall. Reeves unique, handcrafted and
organically-evolving film is a sort of living diary from inside the
mind of central character Robyn (poet Lisa Jarnot, whose impromptu prose
helped to form the character throughout the filmmaking process).
Robyn is a recluse whose psychological scars obstruct her from stepping
outside her apartment. She has emerged from suicide, first to a psychiatric
ward in New York, then to her own small place. Ears to leaking radiators,
she eavesdrops obsessively on the tenants around her, but dreads the
thought that the slightest noise of her own might reveal too much of
At one point Reeves constructs a brief montage interspersing Robyns
sleeping face with filmic, almost surreal, footage of a man jumping
from the upper reaches of the World Trade Centre. The sequence suggests
that the meaning and ensuing power of these events is dependent on our
individual and collective minds, something rarely approached in our
current discourse on the post-September 11th world.
Upon waking, Robyn takes a typically eccentric view of the terrorist
attacks. She sees them as an opportunity to reconnect with New York,
fearing that if she doesnt take to the streets soon, she might
never get a chance to see her beloved city whole again. And so she wanders
for three days, soaking up each lamppost, each pigeon, each passing
car. But her fragile psyche cannot hold up to the ensuing political
climate. "Terrorism got me out of my house, but the war on terror
brought me back in," she muses, once again returning to life as
an avowed shut-in.
Though it confronts issues of post-9/11 paranoia only in passing, the
films unique placement inside Robyns unrelenting mental
environment presents a striking allegory of the subjective experience
of being under attack, and watching others under attack. Robyns
perspective on her own inner demons shifts constantly, and is testimony
to the vast power of transformation of the human mind. On some days
she succumbs to her neuroses and chooses to live in fear, but on others,
as she says, she awakens to the awareness that "the only way to
escape the darkness is to dive into it."
As I listened to Reeves soft-spoken commentary after the film,
it occurred to me that we have this same choice facing us each time
we perceive an injustice in the world today. As Robyn says, "I
am afraid of catching the amnesia of the American people."
It is our amnesia, too, by the look of it. For any act of blame involves
a certain measure of amnesia, of omission and is therefore always a
deluded and fragmentary point of view.
We hear it again and again, yet we refuse to live it: the outer is not
separate from the inner. And because we refuse to live it, we witness
our personal power, not to mention our sense of peace, disappear down
the hungry and insatiable channels of blame, cynicism, and apathy. Therefore,
instead of lashing out at the latest link in the chain of causation
which has led to the state of the world we perceive today, it makes
far more sense to wake up to the fact that we experience the injustice,
therefore we have the power to let it transform and expand our mind
from a state of self-involvement, to a state of compassion and connectedness
to others. This simple alteration of our view is the most significant
act we can undertake today. It adds a profound dimension to the adage,
"think globally, act locally."
If we think of how many people we touch each dayconsiously or
unconsciouslywe see that doubting the effectiveness of such a
change in view is the same as doubting the efficiency of the law of
cause and effect. As so many "peaceful revolutionaries" have
done in the past, we must have faith that such a simple change will
be more contagious than the heavy bouts of amnesia currently circulating
the globe. We must take a good look at history and see that this is
the only way true and lasting change can occur: from the inside-out.
© Josh Davidson December 2004
And we pray for
justice in the Ukraine as well
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