Mining for Wisdom

I'm not a religious person, but I grew up in Judeo-Christian culture and in a family that cultivated Confucian values. Much later in life, I encountered Buddhist teachings through yoga. I don't harbor the most favorable view towards institutional religion, especially the Catholic Church for its protection of their predatory priests over the healing of their victims. Having said that, I have drawn on the wisdom of the world's faith traditions on my own healing journey. One of my favorites, which I came across at a critical time when I intuitively understood the need to forgive but had no idea how, is this video by animator Hanan Harcol:

Yesterday, I sat in on a online session featuring Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He talked about ways we can heal our polarized societies (check out his Politics of Hope video), and made a reference to Schopenhauer's Porcupine Dilemma:

“A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance.”

And this is the dilemma we humans are constantly faced with. We need the warmth and connection of being in supporting, loving relationships with other people. But because we are also imperfect, unskilled human beings living in societies that foster competitive relationships rather than cooperative ones, we are stuck in a negative feedback loop -- we've been hurt or are afraid, we distrust, our distrust and sometimes even contempt becomes the toxic soil in which we try to grow a healthy relationship. Is it any wonder why we continuously fail and create more suffering for ourselves and others? Instead of the porcupines who learn to maintain a healthy distance, we have decided to keep pricking each other expecting that somehow we will develop immunity or numbness from others' pricks.

In this article which I came across after Rabbi Sacks' session, Rev. angel Kyodo williams calls on us to examine the stories we are told to get to our deepest hopes and aspirations:

"Every one of us—we’re born into a family, a time, a region, a culture. We get handed a story about what we look like. As we express our capacities we get stories about whether we are more or less capable. Not only do we get individual stories, we get collective stories. We miss a great deal when we only pay attention to the story that’s been handed to us and we’re not intimately connected to the deeper story of who we really are—as Buddhists say, before our mother was born."
"When we withdraw belief in the destruction, it will collapse. We have a deep habit. All the new books in science say if you want to stop a habit the best way is to replace it with a new one. If we can begin to work on strengthening the habit of tuning into, and moving, in love and self-care—healing the places of generational pain and suffering; healing the places of division in our own hearts that keep us separate from the people in our lives, and the people across the road, and across the border—if we develop those habits it will be much easier to divest ourselves of the habit of belief in this system of destruction."

Forgiveness is the touchstone of a system of self-healing. And as Hanan's father says, forgiveness is "the most difficult thing to do" (especially for those of us who have experienced deep hurt and betrayal). But as he goes on to explain, "that's why the rewards is so great." He reminds us: "We all make mistakes, but we always want other people to forgive us, while the key is learning to forgive others."

The rest of Harcol's Jewish Food for Though animation series is worth watching as he tackles many of life's prickly issues.

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