My New Blog Address

October 6, 2011 § 11 Comments

From now on my blog address is tracycochran.org. I am very grateful to everyone who reads and subscribes. Please find me at my new address. Until soon!

Harry and Jane

October 3, 2011 § 25 Comments

We are hard at work, pulling together a new issue on the many paths people take to find truth, and the articles in this particularly lively issue range from sacred music to the spiritual home that is Harry Potter.

Lately, I find myself pondering the similarity between Harry Potter and Jane Eyre. Jane, as some of us may remember (and as I am rediscovering) was an orphan who is grudgingly taken in by a resentful and nasty aunt. Little Jane is as viciously bullied by a fat spoiled cousin John as Harry was by Dudley, and is as wretchedly excluded and unloved by the whole family—she listens to Christmas parties while shut up in a little cupboard with only a doll to love. By her own admission (told many years past childhood), Jane isn’t as sweet or as loveable a child as little Harry. She is completely opposed to her adoptive family, “incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment….”

She doesn’t receive an invitation by owl that affirms what she knows in her heart to be true, that she is indeed very different than those around her. She is not whisked away to Hogwarts but to a wretched school called Lowood. And yet she finds in the depth of her misery, a spirit and a self awareness and self-acceptance that work a kind of magic. Banished to boarding school, abused beyond all endurance, she at last confronts her aunt as children never did in the Victorian age, calling her bad and hard-hearted.

“Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.” Even though Jane later feels that this act of vengeance was like a sweet but poisonous wine, it is as necessary to her future development as Harry’s rollicking escape from his tormentors with its dash of sweet revenge.
As Jane’s nurse Bessie tells her, at least some of the scolding that comes to her is “because you’re such a queer, frightened, shy little thing. You should be bolder.” If you cringe and dread people, if you hide yourself “they’ll dislike you.” Jane and Harry both have to learn to affirm and express themselves.

“You have to be someone before you can be no one,” this statement is repeated in Buddhist circles, and it is equally applicable in Christian, yoga, Gurdjieffian or any other kind of circle dedicated to inner development. It seems like the biggest paradox. If the goal of spiritual life is to be liberated from a sense of separation from life, why value separating, becoming individuals? Why not stay in the cupboard and skip straight to transcendence?
What is the value of affirming a self, identifying the life force as our own—of getting out there in the world and proclaiming ourselves and struggling and trying? We need to really be ourselves, to really live without holding back, or nothing can really be known.   Transformation is not a thought. It is a drama that must be lived.  Also–and I’m really interested in what you think of this–I’ve heard it said that holding back, being timid, not daring to step up and show ourselves and be responsible, is really a kind of negative conceit.  What do you think?

Be Your Own Angel

September 26, 2011 § 39 Comments

Every other Sunday evening for the past year, I have been sitting in front of a group of meditators in big, light-filled Yoga Shivaya in Tarrytown.
Last night it was more clear than ever before that the best material we have to share with our friends is ourselves.   I was speaking about the role of energy and effort.  I shared that the Buddhist word “viriya” comes from a Sanskrit word that meant hero or strong man (virile), but that the radical Buddha turned all that heroic effort towards an inner quest.  The ultimate quest is to be open to what is, to disappear into the receiving, to be a vessel and allow life to flow in.
 We all have our memories of moments when life opens up and it seems clear that our highest human purpose is bearing witness to with love and attention.  But how can we get there on an ordinary day, mired with work and dukkha (the bumpy, sticky turning of many wheels).   Achieving this open awareness is a subtle kind of hero’s journey, but rather than delve into that last night it came to me to share something I once tried with a friend at a retreat.  If you feel like it, you can try it too.  When you think of it, see and sense everything that is happening to you.  Now think of it as if it is a memory or a dream that you are recalling.  “Sati” or mindfulness means remembering.  “Right” in “right mindfulness, etc.” means recollected and/or collected, pulled together and one of the meanigs of “right mindfulness” is “right memory” or even fully remembered memory.   I invite you to try remembering your life as it is unfolding.  This experiment has an extraordinary way of shifting our focus, opening the lens.
If you do the exercise, you may have the feeling of being accompanied.   I think of it as being accompanied by the better angel of our own attention.  The passage below is from my friend and Parabola colleague  Lee Van Laer:
“When you close the door of your dwelling and are left alone, know that there is with you an Angel, allotted by God to every man, whom the Hellenes call the spirit of the home. He never sleeps and being always with you, sees everything. He cannot be deceived, and darkness hides nothing from him. And be aware of that, besides him, God is present everywhere. For there is no place or substance where God is not present. He is greater than all and holds all in his hand.”
Antony the Great, from “Early Fathers from the Philokalia,” Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Faber & Faber 1954

Will and Grace

September 21, 2011 § 6 Comments

Last week I wrote about the experience of being lost in the woods around the Garrison Institute on the banks of the Hudson.   Someone commented that I were never truly lost, and this is true: we wandered just far enough off trail to have a nerve-tingling, sense-heightening experience of  waking up from the dream of knowing who we are and where we are going.   It was a shock, and shocks have a way of posing big questions like “Who do you think you are?”  and “Where do you think you’re going?”   Shocks have a way of showing us what we are made of–not just in the usual sense of revealing character traits like good humor and courage or the opposite, but that we are made up  parts that don’t quite mesh–we can be brave in one way and timid in another.  And at any rate, we don’t add up to an inviolate whole.

The Buddha compared people to chariots, and this analogy is very significant because it turns out that the Pali word “dukkha,” which is usually translated as suffering really means something like “bad wheel” and it refers to the hole in the hub that often got clogged with dirt and grease so the wheel didn’t turn quite smoothly–so there was always a slight bumpiness or unease: life is dukkha means that life rolls along in a way that is always a little less than smooth for us chariots, always a little bumpy and anxiety-provoking.  Gurdjieff compared people (at least those who tried to see themselves) to cars with their hoods up–the point was not only that we are actually a collection of parts but this mechanism is not a pretty or smooth-running sight when you see it up close (unless you are a skilled mechanic).   When I was lost I had a glimpse of this situation–that we are made up of parts like cars and chariots and these parts don’t purrrr along in perfect harmony with each other and the world around us.  I triggered a surge of energy, a definite sense of being here and now.  And now I’m reflecting on the experience of being found.

In Buddhism, the experience of mindfulness or “sati” (which literally means remembering) refers to a sky-like state of awareness.  Mindfulness can include everything that arises, inwardly and outwardly.  At different moments and in different instances, however, mindfulness may reveal different aspects or qualities.   One factor is investigation, which is that probing quality of attention that arises, say, when are lost in the woods and seeking the path–in classical Buddhist terms, it refers to investigating the way things are and the way things happen, the lawful unfolding of things.   Another factor is energy, which was referred to in anciet Sanskrit and its street variant Pali by the word “virya.”  In the Rig Veda and other ancient Sanskrit texts “virya” referred to a hero, one who was virile (you probably guessed that).  As in many other instances, the clever, radical Buddha recast or liberated this word to mean the special energy and effort it takes make the journey to liberation.

We still need to be heroes, but the quality of the effort required isn’t so, well, effortful.  It has to do with opening to what it is, to letting be.   I’m about to make what might seem to be a wild leap, but this is the fun of blogging and I do have a point, so please stay with me.   Towards the end of his journey, Hamlet becomes at last reconciled to his particular tragic situation.  His friend tries to talk him out of accepting the challenge of a duel that both sense is a trap.  But Hamlet has come to understand something profound about the nature of reality–that we really are not in control in the way we dream we are:

“If it be / now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be /now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The / readiness is all.”

Hamlet came to see and accept that reality was determined ultimately by a greater lawfulness, by God.  He came to see that our true freedom, our true sense of place and empowerment comes from letting go of our own will (Shakespeare knew a Bible that uses “readiness” for “willingness”) and being willing to take our true place.  We find ourselves, our true purpose and path, as we learn to stop leaning forward, effortful and anxious–when we fall back on God.

Lost in the Woods

September 13, 2011 § 19 Comments

Last week, I was at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley, experiencing another retreat in Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s “Community Dharma Leader Training.”   Why an editor of Parabola would undertake such a training, what I have learned so far and what I hope to gain–the Parabola sangha I hope to create–I’ll be getting into that in the weeks to come.  For now, I would like to describe how I managed to get lost in the woods.

It rained for days.  The beautiful former monastery had begun to feel a bit like a gloomy English boarding school, and I had begun to feel a bit like Jane Eyre, doing my best to keep my chin up and my spirit alive.   Finally, there was a break in the weather and many of us went outside.  As stood there, feeling a bit lost and lonely (as one does at times on retreats) a friend came up.  “I’ve found the path you’ve been looking for,” she said.  She was referring to a conversation we had the first day, when we were both looking for a walk in the woods.   I knew this.  Yet, in the container of the retreat hearing “I’ve found the path…” was irresistable.  I set out after her.  We hadn’t gone far when we picked up a third hiker, also looking for the perfect path.

It was glorious, the perfect path through the woods, complete with a waterfall and tumbled down rock walls.  As we walked, we talked about life and about our lives…and the next thing we knew we had lost the trail and we were lost.  It was fun at first, and then we really couldn’t find the trail and we grew a bit frightened.  We worried that we would miss dinner, which is a huge source of comfort on retreat.  We fretted that the retreat organizer would have to call for volunteers with wildnerness skills to come looking for us.  I wondered about using the GPS app on my phone as a compass.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves,” said Thoreau.   This was another one of those times when the trance of the ordinary was suspended.  My true vulnerability, my true lack of connection to the real world was suddenly painfully exposed.   It was glaringly clear that I live mostly in my head and that I have very little in the way of practical knowledge.   I saw that I am a collection of parts not a whole, and that these different parts are often pulling in opposite directions, driven by different motives.  And yet I saw that this very act of seeing, this opening to what is, called up—literally recalled–a different quality of understanding and intention.  A more spacious quality of awareness appeared that was quicker and more sensitive than my usual thinking.   I didn’t magically become an expert tracker–it was my companion who found the trail–but I felt as if I was assuming an inner attitude—a way of being with life–that was more whole, more deeply human than the way I usually operate.

Not only did I feel that body, heart, and mind were more aligned and working together, I felt the three of us start pulling together.  I’ve written before about noticing a glow inside, the glow of our own life force and our own capacity for awareness.  I’ve written that it can seem very faint, like a candle or a nightlight.  But when I was lost in the woods around Garrison Institute, I discovered–or rediscovered–how we can pool our light and find our way.

After I made it safely back to the dining hall (and in time for dinner), I reflected on how important it is to have a journal and a community like Parabola–a place where people who are walking different paths or searching for a path can come together and have an exchange about what we have found.   Due to forces and conditions beyond the control of our loyal band, we are struggling as never before.  Please consider subscribing or make a tax deductible donation so we can continue to publish and become the sangha we know we can be.

Irene Lessons

September 1, 2011 § 14 Comments

In the wake of Irene, we lost power for four days.   For days, I collected sticks in the yard to burn as kindling in the wood stove, and hauled buckets of water into the house to flush the toilet and wash the dishes.   It was strange, being so cut off in one sense yet feeling so intimately connected with life and with the way much of the rest of the world lives.   Instantly, I was aware of how precious clean water is, and how much I usually waste.  Suddenly, I became aware that a house grows dark and cold at night without someone to build a fire and tend it.  I became the fire builder, the keeper of the hearth.  Anthony, my daughter Alex’s boyfriend from England, cooked food on the cast iron stove.  We all learned how long it takes to cook over a fire—hours!  And yet this was the center of the evening, the light and warmth from the fire, the promise of warm food, the common talk of how it was coming along, and then storieswe told as we ate.  We all learned what is elemental and crucial, and that these basic things can be hard work, yet there is something inherently good and right about it.  All beings deserve to eat and be warm and safe, and being mindfully engaged in this work can bring wisdom about life.  (For starters, a couple of highly educated young people here learned a little something about what it takes to build a good fire).

As the third day dawned to no hot coffee or tea (unless I got up and built a fire and waited for three hours), it began to feel like an ordeal.  Alex was sick with a bad cold, our water supply was almost exhausted–and I discovered that those little moments of good humor—that impulse to forget ourselves and help someone else are as crucial fire.   On the third night, as I was struggling to light a fire with damp kindling, the neighbors came by with big pales of fresh water:  “We wanted to give you the gift of being able to flush the toilet,” they said.

Another neighbor came by and asked from my email address so she could forward updates about the progress of repairs and availability of water to my iPhone.  I saw how technology can help in crucial and elemental ways.  I also marveled at the way this common humanity–this pulling together–just arose spontaneously.  We innately know we can’t go it alone.  We neighbors who rarely have the chance to stop and talk stood outside together laughing and talking.  We even looked up at the stars that we commented were so clear without ambient lights…and…

And we marveled together at the roar of some of our other neighbors’ gas generators!  “It sounds like a carnival!” said one woman.  And it did!  It sounded like the county fair, with all the motors that power ferris wheels and who-knows-what—and all of that sound and all of the gas that went into it to keep their refrigerators pumping and the ice cream frozen and the laptops charged.   “This whole experience would have a different quality without that din,” she said. And I’m not pretending to be Thoreau.  I took several long drives (dodging downed power lines and trees!) to charge my laptop and  iPhone at a friend’s house and take a shower.  And yet, I came away from this experience knowing body, heart, and mind that we don’t need to use as much energy  as we think.  I glimpsed how life can actually be richer and better with less.

When the power came on (bringing a blessed silence), I took a long hot shower, realizing moment by moment what a pleasure and luxury it is to have such a thing.  I wondered how long I would remember to be aware of this. I washed dishes and cleaned for hours, experiencing it as a luxury, aware that by the standards of history and the world today, I am very privileged.  Alex and her boyfriend left the house to go shopping for college (street lights! No danger of fallen trees and wires and flooding in the dark!)  And when they came home the house was bright and cheerful.   Instead of gathering around the fire, they took to their laptops, and I took to my bed for a bit of CNN and a book.  Witnessing ravaged areas here and abroad, I felt blessed.

May I remember what I learned about the preciousness of water and warmth and helping our neighbors. May I not use technology to go numb.

Feeling the Earth Move

August 23, 2011 § 9 Comments

As I was writing this blog on my laptop—which happens to be about how oblivious we usually are to our interconnection—the sofa started to shake.  “Earthquake,” I thought, suddenly really aware that I was in was on the earth and that it was trembling beneath me.  I thought of the earth shaking in recognition of the Buddha’s awakening.  It was as if the earth knew that Buddha was awake and fully perceiving its life.

“It is fairly obvious by now that life on earth forms a vast interconnected and interdependent network,” writes Christian Wertenbaker in the “Seeing” issue of Parabola.  This really has become general knowledge.  Most of us accept (however grudgingly) that we live inside an ecosystem—and that we ourselves are ecosystems:  just as birds keep a hippopotamus clean, intestinal bacteria help us digest.   We are used to hearing by now that the building blocks of life—carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and the rest—“were formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars and distributed by the explosions of supernovae, as part of vast cosmic cycles of stellar formation, growth, and death.”

We are deeply embedded in life and we are made to participate in life.  Most of us get this, yet Wertenbaker reminds us that something more is possible.  We are also capable of resonating with (and therefore discovering) the underlying mathematical forms or laws of reality.   Wertenbaker draws on Gurdjieff who draws on a very ancient idea:  By perceiving consciously instead of in our usual state of unawareness “we are, or can be, part of a great cosmic ecology of consciousness….”    Just as our bodies are made of atoms, our inner life in the form of our conscious perceptions and reflection connects us to the Whole.

Many of us resonate with this.  Yet many of us treat having an inner life as a solitary pursuit, something we keep to ourselves.  Is that not strange? I wrote last time about being young and learning that it was best to be a kind of secret agent, to keep my innermost thoughts and perceptions to myself, to keep my vulnerability hidden under a cloak of cool (or at least an attempt at cool).  None of this is unusual in this culture.  Nor is the love I had of outlaws who were secretly pure and innocent—from the Kerouac to Count of Monte Cristo (who was intent on revenge for his wrongful imprisonment, but that’s another story).  This is a pretty standard part of growing up.  But it is also intensely ironic, because even these romantic figures (certainly Kerouac) were seeking a sense of interconnection and resonance with higher laws.

Solitary as the spiritual search might seem, there inevitably comes a moment when I find myself sitting with in a shadowy hall somewhere.  Wrapped in shawls or yoga blankets, sitting still with backs straight on cushions, we look like the earliest humans, at least as I imagine them.  Or maybe we just look like earliest humans in the sense of being like children again, facing life with our whole beings.   At those times, I know that for all my shyness, all the defenses I have picked up over the years, I am still capable of real connection with the others, all of us coming so far to be together—and not just New York and California but through all kinds of difficulties.  And all of that common effort made just to risk trying for greater awareness–for a consciousness that isn’t attached to memories and feelings and views, that isn’t separate from life by being attached to being a particular “someone” who needs to be defended.

“There is no way out; there is only healing,” a teacherwho really knows what she is talking about said to me.  There is no escape from our situation.  Everyone has their reasons, their wounds.  There is nowhere to go but down into our common humanity.   There usually comes a moment when I am sitting in a room full of fellow humans, all of us drawing our attention to the breathing (among the most basic and easy to track exchange with the outside world), when we can feel like we are descending into a vast subterranean cave full of forces and energies unknown to the ordinary thinking mind with its obsession on protecting and defending.

When I go on retreat (even if it is just a moment of turning inward during the day) I see that my own attention was weak, just a kind of dim, flickering light, but I am always certain that if I just keep following it, leaving the known world of my thinking for the unknown, I may come upon wonders.   In such a moment, I begin to grasp something that the great spiritual traditions teach, that we and our ancestors all the way back to the beginning of humanity are one.  They exist in us. We resonate with the same rhythms:  the day and night, the heartbeat, the breathing.  And some of us we have another possibility also, to resonate with the laws under reality, to be the eye that reflects the Whole.


The Ascetic at the End of the Bar

August 18, 2011 § 15 Comments

In college I read a book that was modeled on Dante’s Inferno.  Charting the progress of a young African American man through various American cities, the tale made the point that we have rings of hell right here and right now, and that we have our own poets and storytellers (Dante travelled with Virgil) to bear witness.  By now (thanks to the lectures I listen to in my car) I realize that Dante was radical himself, filing his tale with bold examples of corrupt popes and officials but the image from that  masterpiece that stays lodged in my aging brain is the image of the deepest ring of hell and Satan frozen, utterly incapable of movement.  The idea that evil was being outside the flow of life and that freedom had to do with being in alignment or obedience to the higher laws of life—freedom as obedience–this was a huge paradoxical news flash.  But I intuitively knew it was true; think of addiction, think of dreary nowhereness of life on the lam.

What stayed lodged in my heart and mind from the modern urban inferno was an image of a young black man sitting in a rough bar, playing the tough guy, harboring a secret asceticism under his ragged coat.  I was a dreamy white girl from the sticks and I identified with him!

I realize now that I have treated having a spiritual like being in a rough bar.  Picture the bar in Star Wars or any other archetypal rough bar, full of strange characters.  My sense of having a spiritual life was that it was best lived as a kind of secret agent—outside seeking to be a woman of the world, learning things go, finding a place, a craft, then being a worker among workers;  while inside seeking truth, exploring what it might mean to be in alignment with higher laws.   The sense that having a spiritual search was best kept under wraps was born of a sense of how quickly consciousness gives up its freedom, attaches itself to images, memories, thoughts—especially thoughts about self.  I was wary of identifying with a spiritual path, of assuming the role of follower or teacher of any particular way, because even as beginner (especially then) it was easy to see how people lost the openness of beginner’s mind as they identified with a role.   It seemed to me that it was best to live a double live, to be a kind of secret agent of transformation.  I longed to know a greater life, a life that I felt certain was lived by other beings in other times.  But I didn’t want to deceive myself, to lose the life I was seeking by grasping at it.

It took a long time and many experiences of loss and gain to realize that we find the path to freedom in those moments (really, in moments) when all separation falls away.  Almost everyone has had a few “if I get out of this alive” moments.   In those moments, for me at least, there is no more inside and outside, no self and others.  There is just the understanding that life is fleeting, burning–it really is an inferno!  There is no time in such a moment to care about who we are–there is  just  a wish to join in and be helpful, to be one more pair of hands on the bucket  (or broom or sandbag or feeding) brigade.   Separation is hell, and there is a way out.

She Teaches the Torches to Burn Bright

August 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

from the NY Times

Unexpectedly and at short notice (which is the best way to do many things), a friend invited me to see “Romeo and Juliet” performed by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  From the moment  I filed into the cavernous Drill Hall, I felt I was participating–not just passively observing but actively engaging–in something very special.   I climbed winding stairs to a tier overlooking a stage in a replica of its main theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon–shipped from England in 46 shipping containers (“Millimeter for millimeter, it’s pretty much the same as what we’ve built in Stratford,” said Michael Boyd, artistic director of the RSC, told a New York journalist).  Surrounded by beautifully dressed people (one young woman nearby wore a dress that seemed to be made of silken white petals and sky-high white heels) I witnessed a drama that was more than a spectacle in space:  what unfolded was an event that reminded me that human lives can contain moments of “timeless time. ”

The Yale professor and author Harold Bloom teaches that there is no greater portrait in the Western tradition of literature of a woman in love than Juliet.   Her constant generosity is a model of the utmost capacity of the human heart to hold and give a force, an intelligence beyond what we humans know as feeling.   In describing Juliet, Bloom quotes the modern philosopher Wittgenstein, who came up with this aphorism: “Love is not a feeling.  Love is put to the test, pain not.  One does not say: ‘That was not a true pain, or it would not have passed away so quickly.'”

This RSC production put Romeo and Juliet in slouchy, sloppy modern dress while all around them are players in Elizabethan garb.  This decision  underscores the way Shakespeare smashes stereotypes and explodes easy summations.  He took a well-known story about the rebellious impulsiveness of youth and made it a celebration of the possibility of transcendence in the midst of lives doomed by the mechanical turning of many wheels.  He put into the mouth of a 14-year-old girl lines of extraordinary wisdom and beauty; and he showed how Romeo’s very being was changed by her capacity for love. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.”  I left out the customary slash marks and capitalizations so you might better appreciate the insight under the poetry.  She understood what it might mean to enter the timeless.

Naturally, the New York critics had any number of things to say about this production and I agreed with some of what they said–I too wanted the transforming purity of Juliet’s love to rise up and be a still point in the turning world.   And yet the RCS production came at just the right moment for me, a “teachable moment.” Flames and smoke shot up when the Montagues and the Capulets circled one another in the heat and passion of anger; flames and smoke shot up when the men and women at the Capulet’s masked ball circled one in a courtship dance–while powerful drum-driven music evoked the playing out of inexorable laws of nature, of blood and tribal loyalty.  And in the midst of it, something brighter than fire, a timeless moments of clarity, of love.   There I was, heavy-hearted about the riots in England and the seeming hopelessness of the way things are going here and here in the midst of the doom and gloom–and in an American armory of all places–were 41 English players and the Globe itself unfolding this timeless event–the opening to true love.   I remembered that such a moment can change a life.  I remembered why Shakespeare stays fresh and why his work calls people to make such extraordinary efforts.

“The path of all buddhas and ancestors arises before the first forms emerge; it cannot be spoken of using conventional views.”  Translated from the great Zen master Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye by Kazuaki Tanahashi, this mysterious line appears in the current “Seeing” issue of Parabola.  Reading this line late at night after “Romeo and Juliet,” I felt certain that there always is hope for us, always a higher source of wisdom and compassion, and that Shakespeare knew this.  In his introduction in Parabola, Tanahashi explains Dogen uses the word “dream” to describe enlightenment.  Shakespeare knew how to dream.

Hunt for Bin Laden

August 11, 2011 § 10 Comments

“I suppose journalists try to look deeper into the pond,” says  Mark Boal in the current “Seeing” issue of Parabola.  “Sometimes they find ancient, brutal fish down there, sometims they just see a reflection of themselves.”   The investigative journalist and Oscar-winning screenwriter is very much in the news today because the current film he  is working with Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (the pair made The Hurt Locker) on a film about Navy SEAL Team 6’s hunt for Osama bin Laden.

New York Republican Congressman Peter King has called for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s cooperation with the untitled movie after Maureen Dowd wrote a column in The New York Times reporting that the film  received cooperation and help in describing a mission that was classified. The filmmakers released the following statement:

“Our upcoming film project about the decade long pursuit of Bin Laden has been in the works for many years and integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, as well as the cooperative strategies and implementation by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, the dangerous work of finding the world’s most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation. This was an American triumph, both heroic, and non-partisan and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal.

The film will be released in Oct. 12, 2012, in the midst of the U.S. Presidential campaign.  Politics–ephemeral, dirty, venal politics–very likely motivated King’s charge.  Yet the night that President Obama announced that bin Laden was killed, Boal and Bigelow were already working on a film that focused on an earlier attempt by the Navy SEALs to hunt down the Al-Qaeda leader.  The pair are passionate seekers of truth in their way and they had already done a great deal of research on the ground, so it didn’t take long to change the movie, especially the ending.

A White House spokesman called the charge that Boal and Bigalow were getting secret information or preferential treatment “ridiculous.”   I believe it is. Boal, an investigative journalist, used contacts in the military and the Middle East to add veracity to The Hurt Locker.  Why would they be less interested in helping shape a movie about the hunt for bin Laden?  Indeed, I know that the military has cooperated with many movies.  I wrote a story about a meditation club in the Pentagon years ago (perhaps I’ll share it here), and my contacts there proudly spoke of the military cooperation in many movies, including The Hunt for Red October, Top Gun, and other films.

Now to the important point.  Why should someone like me, working at a journal like Parabola comment on this uproar, so fleeting and soon to be replaced?  Why should I write about the riots in England for that matter?  Because we can reflect on the news in a different way, not reacting but reflecting deeply.  I’ve begun to see how we can learn to be still and let the stirred-up murk of the news cycle settle down so that deeper truths and longings can appear.   It is possible to be in the midst of a turbulent world with equanimity, to seek more awareness, not just more facts.  At a meditation group I lead on Sunday nights, a man described this quality of equanimity as being like a flow-through tea bag, allowing life to flow through us without resistance.  What can come from such an attitude, which I think of as stillness-in-the-world, non-resistance to all that is arising, joy and terror?   It is a preparation.

“The question is not what to do but how to see,” says Jeanne de Salzmann in “Seeing”  (probably the first time that name has been linked with the leaking of U.S. military secrets).  “Seeing is the most important thing–the act of seeing.”

Don’t shrink from the world; seek to see what is really happening. Seeing clearly, insights, even noble truths can appear in the midst of this burning world.

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