Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Self Absorption

I was sitting in my car yesterday at the end of the workday. Usually when I am sitting and waiting anywhere, I love to watch people. As people walked up and down the sidewalk along 4th Street Live, the newest entertainment district in Louisville, I couldn't help but notice how many of them were totally engrossed in their Ipods. Each of them was in their own little world with their tiny headphones plugged in their ears, totally oblivious to the sounds of the street or the people around them. All they needed was personalized virtual reality goggles and self chosen smells and scents and they could have completed their self absorption. What is ironic is that on the opposite end of the street where I was parked, Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk and spiritual writer, had a now famous spiritual epiphany. This is how he described it.

"In Louisville, on the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali Blvd) , in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. I have the immense joy of being human, a member of the race in which God became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. If only everyone could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun".

This was a very important moment and realization for Merton because up until then he had been trying to escape the world by being in a monastery. None of us can escape the world. We are all part of it. This awareness that we are part of the world and cannot escape it is part of the reality check that young people go through when they leave home, finish college, get a job and leave the nest of Mom and Dad. Unfortunately, they do not always feel like they are "walking around shining like the sun". Many times they feel like they are walking around in the cold. I guess this might be the point I am making. We cannot walk up and down the sidewalks of our lives totally absorbed in the sounds of our Ipods all the time. Sooner or later we must be part of the world with all its joys and sorrows. As messy as people can sometimes be, they add warmth to what might feel like a cold world. I experienced this literally a week or so ago in Columbus when total strangers huddled together outside after the Eric Clapton concert to help one another stay warm while my friends and I waited for the shuttle buses in the windy and very cold night. Even now, the memory of that group experience, and the joy of being with friends, fills me with warmth and good feelings. Let's all walk around today shining like the sun!

Here is a Zen koan for you...

After you hear the music, where does it go?

No comments: