Once upon a time I did a lot of cruising in different ocean-going, continent-and-island visiting sailboats. See the sails at the bottom of my “lighting-the-way” painting, above? The tip of the sails are passing from the safe harbor from where “the vessel” of our story sets off … on a voyage that, even though we might not always know where we want to “end up” … we can never, ever anticipate all the many things that might happen to us along the way.
This metaphor is exactly the way it is in our individual life’s journey.
Some of us don’t even know what “our destination” might be, but others of us, after many years and sometimes decades, have at least ruled out where we don’t want to end up.
In my case, I’ve learned that the outer journey doesn’t matter so much to me anymore, as the inner journey does.
I’m not obsessed so much these days, as I was once, with traveling and adventuring, investigating different places in the world, experiencing as much as I could, discovering more and more epiphanies of how life could be lived to its fullest. Searching for New Thrills. New Discoveries. New Cultures. New New New! That’s what I craved.
So … why am I not so interested in the outer journey, or the next new thing these days?
Because … after having sought and discovered the “inner journey” and especially by working with trusted teachers who have shown me how to tap the inner delights through different meditative techniques — I realize that nothing, simply nothing on earth, compares with the astounding adventures of living connected to my innermost being, that state of being that has many names — but let’s call it “Inner Peace” here and now.
Okay, sometimes I forget what a sensationally satisfying state Inner Peace really is. Sometimes, I admit outer sources knock me off my game, and I flounder, dis-connecting with Inner Peace, and wind up feeling mad or scared and other confusing feelings.
That has happened most recently by a family crisis that arose, like they always do and always will. Sometimes crises come and challenge us beyond our immediate family or intimate circles. Whatever challenge our lives get, it’s all integral parts of our spiritual journey. And “the end” result of this journey, the destination we’re all heading for is … Inner Peace
Yesterday I met two gorgeous women who looked to be in their late thirties. Both of them walked in together at a women’s luncheon I was attending, their long straight black hair flowing down their strong, shapely backs. Their robust fecundity was startling to behold in their modest, yet bust-revealing tight print, mid-calf length dresses. Both ladies smiled a lot and wore heavy Mary Kay-type makeup. They both could easily have been movie or TV stars with the studied polish and self-esteem they shined to all as the other women at our group warmly greeted them.
As each of us went around the large table telling who we were and why we were at this luncheon, whose sole purpose was to promote interfaith understanding and compassion for others in our small seaside community here in Florida, the two women identified themselves as sisters. They chose to sit apart as the story they told had all of us sitting on the edge of our seats.
“My sister and I,” the one with a lighter complexion, who identified herself as the younger, started off, “are immigrants from Afghanistan. Unlike you American women, who so obviously have thrived in your blessed and free lives, we spent our youth just trying to survive.”
Gasps from all. Such a heavy, penetrating statement. To look at these beautiful, ultra-glamorous and without a doubt, voluptuously exotic ladies, one would never suspect what they went on to share with us.
“Our father was a world renown celebrity. Back in Afghanistan we lived in a mansion and had many servants. Our teen cousins in the city wore beehives and miniskirts, never a burka. But in the countryside all of us Muslim females used burkas as means of personal freedom, eliminating threats from men’s stares and intrusions. Our father was a world champion bodybuilder. People recognized him wherever he went. He was well known even in Russia.”
Ahh, I said to myself, this might explain these exotic beauties’ impressive stature, robust bustlines and overall striking physicality. I know my own father was a bodybuilder back in the 40s. I always wondered if my ease and interest about maintaining a comfortable balance between physical and spiritual pursuits could have been passed down by his natural inclinations as well as my own self-discovered passions.
The beautiful ladies continued, the older one (who was 7 at the beginning of the war) and the younger (who was 5 then) took turns, often finishing each other’s sentences. They described the hardships their family endured as they escaped Afghanistan in 1984 when the Russians invaded their country. To escape capture and the mandatory enlistment of their father and young brother in the Army, the family chose to leave everything behind. To escape, they often traveled by foot, sometimes the females covered in burkas and their father disguised, to hide their identities. Many times they had rifles pointed at them. Eventually the males and females got separated, jailings happened, more escapes, a reunion from secret codes passed and help from sympathetic prison guards, many close calls to ensure survival as they journeyed, hungry, scared, fearing for their lives — until they made their way to Pakistan, and then, eventually, to the States. To Morgantown, Virginia, of all places. It was there the family had an uncle who taught at the university, who vouched for them in the long and involved immigration process.
These two now-grown Muslim women were, after 30 years in the United States, totally integrated into the Western world. They spoke without a trace of accent. Both were married to Muslim men they met here, other immigrants. United with their entire family now, they swore to never be separated again. Most importantly, they both had showed up at this luncheon because they are part of a growing movement of many people.
Muslims, Christians, Jews, non-religious people, too, who want to show the world that Muslim people are not to be judged or feared by the frustrating conflict going on the Middle East. Right now, between their own Sunni and Shiite sects, and since 9/11, from the radical fundamentalism of a few, very few in comparison with the worldwide population of Muslims, of intolerant Muslim fundamentalists who have created so much misunderstanding and fear between different peoples of our world.
These two women showed up at our small luncheon table of twelve (like apostles of peace, or zodiac stars shining in the dark sky of worldwide fear) as they also show up at other places: to help non-Muslim people in America to understand more about people of their faith and culture.
We didn’t talk religion at our luncheon. We women who attended this vegetarian potluck, as we nibbled on salads, grains and fruit dishes, munching on cakes and cookies — we talked about the commonality of us all. The wonders of being human.
We all agreed: honoring our humanity is all that counts.
When people gather, whether in small groups, a couple, or when crowds of uncountable numbers meet to demonstrate, when we can all remember what it means to be human, all goes well.
It’s only when we forget the specialness of our humanity that things go awry.
When one group tries to overpower or control another, things always goes amuck. When just a single person lacks compassion for another, this plants an evil seed. We need to remember that even though we all have different stories, different faiths, different passions — we all share the story of our shared humanness.
And in my own experience, going deeper into the inner world, becoming more familiar with Inner Peace as I’ve chosen to do these last few years, instead of wandering here and there around my part of the globe, trying to find more thrills, more New things to discover — my own humanity, shared with every single person on this swirling blue ball in space, is the greatest discovery of all I’ve ever made.