My Prayer for a Beautiful World in Distress

My Prayer for a Beautiful World in Distress

By Joan Tollifson

I’ve been wondering if I want to address the murder of George Floyd, or the riots that have happened amidst the largely peaceful demonstrations, or the pandemic that is still with us, or the mostly white men armed with automatic weapons screaming in the faces of police, demanding their constitutional right to work (and to infect others), or the cacophony of conspiracy theories and differing opinions that are clashing on social media and in the streets about all of this. Obviously there is a great deal of suffering happening right now, and many people are hurting in many different ways. Many are pushed to the brink economically and in terms of the stress they are under. I feel compassion for everyone on all sides—and yes, sometimes I too get triggered and feel anger and behave badly.

And yet, in the midst of all the horror, there have been some remarkable moments of human spirit: the police taking a knee (Colin Kaepernick style) in front of the protestors, police in some places joining and marching with the protesters, the man in Washington, DC who welcomed over 70 protestors into his home overnight when they were being cornered and tear-gassed, the Go-Fund-Me page for the Somali woman in Minneapolis who had used her retirement money to open a small restaurant that was destroyed by those who were raging and looting.

Since I’m supposedly a nondualist, maybe this is a good time to share what nonduality does and doesn't mean to me and how it might relate to all this. As I see it, nonduality doesn’t mean we are all the same, or that we have no feelings or opinions or preferences, or that we live in some kind of blissful utopia, or that we avoid feeling pain by adopting facile beliefs that everything is okay. Nonduality doesn’t mean pretending that multiplicity and apparently opposite energies don’t exist. In fact, life can ONLY show up in polarities, variations and contrasts!

Nonduality means that we don't see up and down (or left and right, or good and evil, or relative and absolute) as enemies, or as separate things that can be pulled apart, and we don't imagine that up must (or could) defeat down, or that we could have only up and no down. Nonduality means we see the larger harmony even in the apparent disharmony, the way it all goes together as one inseparable and interdependent whole.

I’d say we need that perspective right now, that bigger view that understands both the Black community and the police, that understands the frustration and desperation that drives people to destroy and loot, or to mass inside state capitols with their automatic weapons and their swastikas. We need that bigger perspective that understands the old Chinese farmer story and the way things go together in mysterious ways—the way the mud brings forth the lotus and how the defect is where the light gets in. Maybe sometimes anger is a healthy thing, a necessary thing to wake us up. Maybe a global pandemic is also a great wake up call. Maybe we can see that we don’t actually choose which views seem right to us, or which news outlets seem credible to us and which ones don’t, or whether our fear and rage becomes so overwhelming that we find ourselves smashing windows or waving a Confederate flag.

I smashed up a whole house the last night I was a drunk, back in 1973. I know what rage feels like and how it takes you over. I get it. And I’m so deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to find a path to healing, and that I had the time and resources to pursue that. I’m not the author of 5 books about nonduality and awareness because I’m a better person than those guys with their automatic weapons and their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, or those guys smashing and looting, or that police officer with his knee on a man’s neck for almost 9 minutes. It’s not because I’m better. If I were a desperate Black man without a job, tired of being profiled and threatened, I might be one of those looters. If I were a white man who had worked hard all my life and maybe fought in wars and came home with PTSD only to feel ignored and unheard, I might be out there with my automatic weapon and my Confederate flag. If I were a police officer having to make snap judgments about life and death and deal day after day with the ugliest things that happen in our society and a dangerous and stressful job, I might have my knee on someone’s neck.

I know there’s racism in me, even though I don’t want it to be there, and even though I’ve worked against racism, and even though I had parents who taught me racism was bad. Still, it’s there. I think we all have it. And we have sexism, and heterosexism, and all kinds of prejudices and stereotypes that we didn’t choose and in many cases don’t want and have worked to uproot, not because we’re bad people, but because we’re conditioned. It’s all the result of infinite causes and conditions, and none of us are in control of it. Whether we’re moved to do social justice work or take up meditation, or whether we’re moved to loot and smash or wave a Swastika flag or be Donald Trump doing exactly what he does—it’s all an activity of the whole universe.

My mother always said that we all need to love each other. She had friends of every race, economic status, social class, sexual orientation, political affiliation, age, gender, religion—she had friends from the wealthy suburbs and friends from the housing projects, friends who were Republicans and friends who were Democrats, and a queer one-armed daughter who was once in the radical anti-imperialist left. Every year on her birthday, my mother would invite about 80 people of every imaginable variety to a party in her not-very-big apartment, and amazingly, everyone would have a good time. That was my mother’s gift, the gift of love. Oh, I know she’d be disgusted by Trump. She could get angry! And she worked for many years in Chicago against police brutality. But her default position was always love.

It’s not easy to love our enemies, as Jesus preached. It’s not easy to love ourselves sometimes. It’s not always easy even to love our dearest friends or our partners or our children or our parents. Or the people who disagree with us on Facebook. Life is challenging, and some people get a really challenging life. I’ve been very blessed and I know it. But not everyone is so lucky.

May we all have compassion for every one of us being exactly as we are in each moment, and for the world being exactly as it is. May we forgive the world and each other and ourselves for disappointing or hurting us. May we find the path from hate to love in each moment, from judgment to openness. May we see that we are a Net of Jewels, each of us a reflection of all the others—that we contain multitudes. May we see that the world we see is like a mirror showing our own face. May we have compassion for that face with all its blemishes and defects. May we see its beauty and its wholeness. May we embrace it with love and recognize that it is never exactly the same way for even a split second. May the heart be open and free. May we learn to love each other and ourselves. That is my prayer.

Can a nondualist pray? Can a nondualist embrace the world with love? Who is embracing who? Who is praying to who? Who is speaking right now and who is listening right now? These are great questions, not to answer with facile nondual platitudes, but to live with and to explore in the deepest possible way, not knowing what we might find or what THIS moment might reveal. When we’re awake, we’re always being surprised! We don’t really know what any of this is, or why it’s all here, or what we’ll think or do in the next second. And we never know when our apparent enemy might turn out to be our friend, or our own Self in thin disguise.