Evolution and the Anthropic Principle
Richard Dawkins vs Ken Wilber
Where Am I
The Cheshire Cat
I Could Have Been a Contender
What I Wish Id Said
Keeping Up with the World
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Power of Fog
Naming the Unnamed
Principles in Art
Spirit and Matter
The Enlightenment Conundrum
On Believing
Water? What Water?
Telling Stories 2
I believe in Rainbows
Whom Can We Believe
Patterns by Paul Simon and Douglas Hofstadter
Copyright Inheritance
Broad Minded
Beliefs Part Two
A Long drawn-out solstice
The Quest for, and the Illusion of, Certainty
To the Ends of the Earth
The Meaning Of Life
We Hold These Truths
There are Beliefs
Music and Language
Circular Thinking
Runaway World
Deep Playmate
An Alchemy of Telling
Cultural Genes
The Joy of Science
The Conundrum of Human Nature
No, The Computer Isn't Smarter than I Am!
A Rant on Religion
The West Wing Turning Right?
The Geometry of Spring
Music as Language
What is Art
Beauty and Spirit
You Don't Understand Us
The New God of Probability
Gene Hackman as President
Being Lifted Out of the Ordinary
The Head and the Heart
Pay Attention!
Music Poetry and Meaning
On Seeking Truth
Perceptions and Reality
The Marriage Bond
Taboo is a Right
Copyright versus Copyleft
Cycles of Transcendence
Ego and Self
The Big Picture
Mindfulness as Larger Mind
The Power of Words
The State of the Union
Out of My Mind
Family Thoughts
One Life
Telling Stories
Small World
Bigger Realities
What Comes Next
Humor as a Higher Level of Consciousness
Sometimes Everything Goes Wrong
Emotional Resonance
Extraordinary Respect
Insight Meditation
Us and Them
Paradox and Paradigm
To Reach
I Don't Know
Don the Romantic
The Guy in the Blue Saab
The Sound of Silence
Eating is an Intimate Act
Evolution of Spirit
On Cloning and Other . . .
Creativity and Psychic Phenomena
Magic in My Life
My Difficulty with Aaron
Mindful & Mystic
Taste of Irony
Music Appreciation
Levels of Consciousness

Usóand Them

Since the September 11 disaster, Iíve been trying (as most people have, I suspect) to get a handle on how to fit all that into my life. I spent nearly twenty years studying community and how it enhances personal and social life. I discovered that the experience of "community"ówhat I call that sometimes-sudden awareness of deep connection among peopleóis very much like what mystics and teachers have described for centuries as "spiritual." Iíve recognized that in order to try to describe this feeling of profound connection, thereís a tendency to apply it to the group in which it appears. We identify with particular people. A concomitant tendency is to then exclude everybody else. The stronger this sense of community, the stronger the definition of its boundaries. Our instinctual need to categorize things in our environment then creates a concept of "us" versus "them."

It was pretty obvious on that day and immediately following it that many Americans felt personally attacked. Partly, that was a reaction to the assumed intention of the hijackers to hurt us as a people. "Us and them" became instantly prominent in descriptions, discussions and commentary about the event. Our survival instincts took over, and identifying the threat meant in a significant way identifying the enemy. If I think someone hates me, I am apt to focus on how he is different from me and how I can protect myself from this "stranger."

Politicians and media voices, of course, lauded the "uniting of Americans against the common threat." Patriotism became a positive value again after rather languishing for thirty years in the wake of an unpopular war. American flags began to fly all over the nation. This was not community in the sense of the word that I had sought to understand for the past twenty years. Perhaps, though, as someone said, itís merely the other side of the coin.

No, I think not, although itís easy enough for me to succumb to the emotional pull of "circling the wagons." My adolescence during World War Two was a mish-mash of romantic feelings as my hormones responded to a brave new world full of sex and battles. Even today, the feet in my head respond to martial music. Still, the deepest part of me, the part I am struggling to know better, the part that I believe is my real salvation, recognizes that connection knows no borders, no flag, no particular group even. There is no "us" without a "them," and there is, in the larger sense, no "them."

No wonder Iím lonely. The part of me that wants family, close friends, and intimacy reminds me every day of what I lack. Itís like that need to eat, even when I know Iíve had enough. That love affair with chocolate thatís so hard to resist. That tug in my gut when I see the swirl of long hair or the accidental, momentary meeting of eyes. Or the urge to belong. Itís not that I donít have these things. I have more than enough to eat. I indulge myself with luxuries. I am cherished, without a doubt.

If my hunger isnít really for these things, then, what is it? If "belonging" is really just the surface, what is beneath it, hidden from me, that I long for? Am I just another Citizen Kane, looking at a snow-filled ball of glass and murmuring, "Rosebud?"

I remember a time in my early childhood, one of those random moments that find a niche in oneís memory for no particular reason. I was with one or two other children, examining the heavy wires running down the side of a house and disappearing inside. We knew enough to avoid touching the wires themselves, but somehow I was drawn to the white, cylindrical insulators that held the wires to the building. I said that they looked like something I knew, something to eat, that I couldnít identify. Another child suggested "potato." No, not potato.

Thatís all there is to the memory. Years later, recalling that moment and my question, I answered easily, "marshmallow." At the time, evidently, I had had only a single experience with the soft, sweet confection. I remembered only the appearance and the pleasure. I knew it was something wonderful, but I couldnít identify it.

Thatís what this feels like. Iíve glimpsed something, just a few times, actually, that is outside my semantic universe. Once or twice, when Iíve been alone, Iíve suddenly and briefly "known" something very important. Where I fit. What I am. And then, just as quickly, it has been gone, leaving a memory as amorphous as a dream. And a number of occasions, in quiet moments among other people, usually after times of excruciating intensity in the group, Iíve felt something similar. A sense of well-being, of intimate connection, a rightness beyond anything I could put words to.

Thereís no way this sensing can fit into a war. Like most people, Iím good at distancing myself from people and situations that are difficult to handle. I turn my back on other peopleís suffering when I donít know what to do about it. I clutch my comforts around me and avert my head and my heart.

James Baldwin, the writer of The Fire Next Time once told an interviewer, early in the civil rights struggle, "Liberals feel guiltyóinstead of . . ." It struck home for me then, and it still does.

Maybe Iím haunted, not by my glimpse of some utopian dream of community where we will all know true intimacy and trust and connection, but by my own inability to abandon my defenses and be what I dream of having.


Donald Skiff, September 28, 2001

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