Perhaps it was the result of all those hours of meditation with Sophie, our wonderful Advaita teacher. She teaches that there is no separation between subject and object, "I" and the rest of the universe. In her meditations we experience our true nature, which manifests itself as absolute happiness, love, and beauty. I have gone to her classes for three years now and have felt at one with the universe while I’m there, but very much the same as usual in the outside world.
Today was different. I walk out of our apartment here in Girona into the crowded Carrer Nou and meet the gaze of an older man with a walking stick taking steps that are no more than three inches in length. A young South American woman is holding his arm. Suddenly, with no warning, I am seeing the world through his eyes. I feel how he is frustrated that his body doesn't respond as it used to. He can remember when he could walk, run, jump, and carry heavy loads. Now he has to concentrate very hard to connect with this damaged vehicle that he has always taken for granted. And he is ashamed. Ashamed to be dependent on this girl the age of his grandchildren. Ashamed to be a nobody in this crowded, foreign world that has always been his town.
My gaze shifts to his companion and I hear her thinking, “Only three more hours of living in slow motion. I know he appreciates me even though he often barks at me and calls me names. Never mind. The money is good and we need it here in this expensive country. I have to watch him every step because he is really unstable.”
All this happens in a second or two. Next my gaze falls on a baby in its carriage. All around is a world that is new and fresh. “I know nothing about this world, and I’m not sure I feel safe. Something hurts and I cry out. Mother doesn't come and I'm all alone. I am so afraid. Oh, Mother is here and it’s all okay again.” Somewhere deep in my being, before conscious memory, I resonate with that baby’s feelings and know that I was once there, too.
Then I see a toddler running and jumping with the sheer joy of being able to make his body move through space. And I see his mother, who is feeling a mixture of pride in this beautiful human being she has conceived and birthed, mixed with concern that he is getting into trouble and may fall or be injured. “How to let him explore the world and still be safe? That is the question.” I know how both feel with a memory that is deep in my bones. I’ve been in both roles in my own life.
Everywhere I look it is the same. Every person is living out their own story, but it is also my story because we are all one. I imagine that I am unique and am having this amazing life adventure, and that is true. But it is just as true that we are all having one adventure called “life,” on this planet at this moment. Suddenly the teaming masses around me are all fellow travelers, and we are all in this together, for better or for worse.
My teacher and friend, Tim Freke, speaks of being able to toggle between two perspectives: one where we are all one; and one where the world is filled with separate beings, and we have to negotiate our paths through this maze. Take either perspective in isolation and it is incomplete. On the one hand, you get the US legislator who doesn’t think we should fund prenatal care because he has never been pregnant. (But his mother was, you might retort.) And, on the other hand, you get the person that wants to guarantee everyone an income because we are all citizens of the richest country in the world. (And what about the millions of other people around the globe who deserve just as much?)
How did we get from Advaita to economic policy? I don’t know, but if we are all one, then it follows that, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Mathew 25:40) Sounds like an Advaita sentiment to me. I wonder why it is that the people who espouse a Christian philosophy seem to be the most willing to “do it unto one of the least of these” by limiting access to health care and other more or less essential services.
And me, how do I integrate the lesson of my sudden revelation on our street? Do I discharge my duty to “the least of these” by giving the beggar around the corner a coin each day? I don’t know the answers to my questions. I only know what I experienced. And I can say that it felt like the deepest truth to me.