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.
How 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