A Fork in the Road

unnamedI am, and I suspect many of you are as well, at a crossroads. This intersection though is ever present—where past meets future at the juncture of now. It happens every minute and in the broader sweep of decades and generations. Technology is a wondrous marker of these transitions that has us contemplate: “Do I keep my cassette tapes when I no longer have (access to) a tape recorder?” or even more revealing, “Do I leave stored those LP records when phonographs are only to be found in museums? Future generations will be asking the same question about our current technology soon to be relics—boxed DVD’s without players and laptops in a Smithsonian exhibit?


In spiritual terms there is the past that is the grounding of our learning and the future which is the flight of our yearning.* It all though gets enacted in this moment—a billion brain cells encoding, firing and messaging across trillions of synapses. The word that comes to mind is SLAVERY.


Fisherman use nets to haul their catch, bloggers, such as myself, fish the net (not be confused with the shady practice of phishing) to haul in their catch of the stories of the day. While I often set sail on my net fishing expeditions to the blowing winds of a google search, the first surfing I do is MSN (loaded as an APP on my soon to be obsolete laptop), a cannery of news stories culled from the seven seas.


The catch of the day (early morning of March 25) is a lead AP investigative report with the headline: “Are slaves catching the fish you buy?” in which I learned how little I know about the supply chains of fish that we eat—a supply chain that includes imprisoned ship workers on trawlers netting tons of fish in the seas surrounding Indonesia. These workers are caught in the snares of a slave industry that starts with the lure of a paying job. The AP report highlights though a crucial point: Consumers who buy the fish that has passed through a multitude of links in a chain are complicit, though unknowingly, of the links that chain those men aboard the shipping vessels they thought were their ticket to earning a wage.


A few stories later on MSN is more horrifying news from Nigeria—a story of slaughter and kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian women and their children by Boko Haram. Human trafficking takes all forms. This desecration occurs in the name of religion. To see how we are complicit in this tragedy, we need to admit to a far more subtle chain of links; our part in the enslavement and trafficking of these captive women and children.


At a conference late last year at the Vatican on Ending Modern Slavery, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we must first, “find the time to take care of ourselves, and to take care of the present moment. By doing so, we can find some relative peace in our body and mind to continue our work. We need to recognize and embrace our own suffering, our anger, fear, and despair so that the energy of compassion can be maintained in our hearts. When we have more clarity in our mind, we will have compassion not only for the victims, but for the traffickers themselves. When we see that the traffickers have suffered, we can help them wake up and stop what they are doing. Our compassion can help transform them into friends and allies of our cause. In order to sustain our work of compassion, we all need a spiritual community to support us and protect us – a real community, where there is true brotherhood and sisterhood, compassion and understanding. The roots of modern slavery run deep, and the causes and conditions, the networks and structures supporting it are complex. That is why we need to build a community that can continue this work to protect human life.”


I would add that we need to see the links in the chain of events—the roots that run deep either as the end consumers, who can claim they, along with all those in the distribution chain, are unknowing. We also need to acknowledge and reject beliefs and ideas that promote the networks and structures of fundamentalist religion—lest we be unknowing and unwitting accomplices. Liberating ourselves from negativity is also apropos—as we can get caught in an enslavement of thoughts that may depress us about a humanity that we are connected with and complicit in.


This past Monday I popped in a cassette tape in my car on the way to work. Yes, I said cassette tape, as I still had an unopened boxed set of recordings of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. Likely they are available on CD but the 1999 Toyota Camry I drive is a hybrid–it has a tape deck and a CD driver. So as I am driving down First Avenue I am listening to his words, “what is healing that is available in the present moment—we can heal ourselves and heal the world, so driving is also a practice. You drive and don’t forget the present moment, you can practice breathing in and breathing out and smiling and be with whatever is there in the present moment.” As I approached the light, which was red, I heard the next few words, “We may get irritated because of the red light, but in this practice the red light become a bell of mindfulness, you breathe in and breathe out, breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile. And you go back to the present moment, and the red light become a friend, a bell of mindfulness, something unpleasant become something pleasant. We have the habit energy of wanting to arrive, that is why we want to go as quickly as possible, but according to this practice we arrive at every moment—life can only be found in the present moment.”




*We teach in a class about the upcoming holiday of Passover that the distinction between Chometz-leavened products which we remove and Matzah-unleavened “bread” which one eats at this time–is an intentional shift to be present now and relinquish the hold of the past on us—to free ourselves from preoccupation or procrastination and from identities that no longer serve us and, by doing so, liberate ourselves into the present moment.



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