Walls — Disassembly Required

You walked into the party
Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf, it was apricot
— Carly Simon, You’re So Vain

I am perhaps the least clothes-conscious person you’ll ever meet, so Carly Simon’s lyrics don’t precisely refer to me. And I’m not sure “vain” is the right word, but when I walk into a party, or another group of strangers, my walls are up. I’m looking for the other-ness of the people I’ll meet, and of course I’ll find it.

I’ve known some extroverts who so genuinely love meeting new people that they seem to transcend the primal human instinct to quickly classify the other with fight or flight in mind. I wish I were one of them, but I’m not. So my task becomes disassembling my walls. You know the walls I mean, the ones that put the “other” into a category to keep me from feeling my connection…and my vulnerability.

Here is one place where my Buddhist practice of mindfulness comes into play. Weeks, months, even years of mindful meditation don’t automatically lead one to walk around mindful most of the time. But after decades  of practice, I am indeed living more mindfully. So I notice my walls, and the attitudes with which I fortify them.

wallHow does one disassemble the walls we erect between each other? Once mindfulness shows us the tricks our mind is playing on us, the next step is metta, or loving kindness. And metta starts with oneself. Before we can extend loving kindness to another, we need to experience it for ourselves, walls and all. But we who grew up in Abrahamic religions easily feel guilt and self-condemnation, a relic of our original sin.

What we learn, though, is that anger at an aspect of ourselves only strengthens it and weakens us. So first we must accept — love — who we are, the product of our ancestors, our history, our evolution, and our environment. In other words, our karma. The important thing is that, in every moment, we have free will. Once we see the way we erect and fortify our walls, we can disassemble them and reach through.

That enables us to extend metta — genuine loving kindness — to the strangers we meet. In most of the Western World, race is one of the first things we see in the stranger, and there are lots of other categories — gender, gender conformity, able-ness, age, attractiveness, accent, type of clothing and hairstyle, speaking style, and on and on. Many ways to hide behind a wall.

On his website beyondprejudice.com, psychologist Jim Cole lists 22 things we can do to break down walls and reduce prejudice. Modern research and writing on racism focus on its systemic nature, which can’t be denied. But I don’t know how to re-engineer a culture or redistribute its power.

I do know how to break down walls and feel my oneness with all beings. That’s what I intend to keep doing. And recommending.

— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)

Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine

5 Comments Add yours

  1. pjlazos says:

    I am constantly playing the role of extrovert in this situation to hide the fact that I’m an introvert, bit the thing that wins out every time? My overwhelming curiosity. I always want to know people’s story. Maybe that’s why I am a writer. I know the Buddhists don’t believe in past lives as different species, but I think I may have been a cat.🐱 Nice post.🙏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. melhpine says:

      Thanks. I have that curiosity but not the drive to express it. People think I’m an extrovert, but I really fall in the middle of the scale. Many Buddhists do believe in previous and future lives as other species.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pjlazos says:

        Didn’t know that. I thought I read
        that the Dalai Lama said it wasn’t possible.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. melhpine says:

        The Buddhist approach to rebirth, or reincarnation, is complex, and the various schools of Buddhism approach it in different ways. Wikipedia gives a good overview here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebirth_(Buddhism)

        Many of us in the West may interpret reincarnation as a metaphor, or at least as figurative. The Dalai Lama is really a pretty Western guy and has said a number of religiously liberal things to Western audiences. I have not come across his saying that humans and animals cannot be reborn as each other, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he did. What he has been saying recently is that he may not be reborn. I think he’d like to see the line of Dalai Lamas come to an end, but I don’t know what he sees as replacing it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. pjlazos says:

        I heard that and I felt very conflicted about it.😩

        Liked by 1 person

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