Since the joy of the election and yesterday’s inauguration, I’ve been having a song go around in my head. It’s a song from my own youth, from one of our premier spokespersons:
Hey Hey, Woody Guthrie, I done wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny old world that’s a comin’ along
Seems sick and it’s hungry, it’s tired and it’s torn…
It looks like it’s a’dying and it’s hardly been born. –Bob Dylan (paraphrased in my head)
The emotion of these past weeks has been, for me, like waking up to springtime after a long, dark, cold winter, and I am well aware that I am not alone in this. I am one of those people who, deciding that there is no point in trying to fix what seems unfixable, tends to pull the covers over my head and wait for the dawn. I do not recommend this, but it is the way I am. Currently.
I find myself wanting to do what we’re all doing, which is get all teary-eyed and sing praises to Obama, but I thought I’d try to resist that and reach down to a deeper need, which is to consider all this on a–hopefully–more cosmic level. The voices in my head are like beads that have fallen from a string, confused and clamoring against each other as they fall and land and I pick them over… comments from my children, my husband, friends, colleagues, news commentators… various beads, various themes, evoked by the real strand of meaning strung by time, and several stand out: the first one is the length of time and the amount of damage it has taken for us to get to this day. It was so heart-breaking for me to hear that Ted Kennedy had had a seizure and been taken to the hospital. It brought up the night, long ago, when his brother Bobby was shot and I, a lonely and alienated teenager, sat up all night listening to the radio and praying. In a sense, I feel fortunate to have lived in times when such astonishing events have happened, facilitated by those who stepped up to the plate: the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, the many brave figures of the civil rights movement in general, the Sixties… I feel as if I ought to mention so many names here, all golden beads on that strand. And then there are the Presidents who stand out: Jimmy Carter, a true humanitarian and bona fide Holy Man (yes, upper case intentional), Bill Clinton, a man flawed but capable and caring (and let’s not forget Hillary, who ought to come first, and we’ll see if she can get out from behind the shadows of those who would push her back into them)… and slipped onto that strand that ripples and breaks and reforms endlessly, the dark ones, too, most notably He Who Must Not Be Named, as he has long been known in our household. My own lifetime, as all lifetimes on this planet are, has been filled with blood, guts and glory, as they say, and perhaps most of us ask ourselves time and time again if it’s all worth it. Moreover, what does it all mean?
This is where we get cosmic, because it seems to me that rather than think, at this moment, in terms of people, personalities or events, it is the overall meaning of them that is important to consider as we charge forward, hopefully being pulled by the future rather than pushed by the past, to borrow a phrase from my beloved teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. Moreover, it seems important to consider them in the context of an entire ontology of Being, to whatever extent we are able to conceive of that. And yet, I find myself wanting to consider the idea of time in general, and the endless battle we fight throughout time, fighting darkness, our own and that of the Other, fighting for progress, for healing, for renewal; and within all that, to know that there is meaning in it all.
Paraphrasing wildly here, I remember Ram Dass saying something to the effect that if we look at our struggles within the context of eternity, or at least from the time when something resembling humankind, as we know it, crawled out of the primordial ooze (who said that?), well… we tend to relax. There’s plenty of time. Ah, but then what about the aforementioned blood, guts and glory, and the people out there living and dying for the sake of our continuance as a species, the idealist in me wants to ask. And I am reminded of quantum theories of time and reality.
If you think I am going to offer any version of intelligent explanation of these, you are barking up the wrong tree, but let me direct you to a very nice web site called “A Lazy Layman’s Guide to Quantum Physics,” (http://www.higgo.com/quantum/laymans.htm). And if you want a little more entertainment with your popcorn, I highly recommend the film “What the <Bleep> Do We Know?” (http://www.whatthebleep.com). Neither of these will satisfy you (nor will this little epistle) if you are one of the people out there who actually understands this stuff, but I believe it can be understood intuitively, and it provides a vastness of perspective that really blows the present moment out of the water. There is a growing body of understanding out there about all this, but what seems important to me, here, is that in briefest terms, what appears to be happening is pretty much just the tip of the iceberg, and quantum theory shows that while we tend to be awake only to what we perceive as the present moment, in reality our consciousness lives in parallel universes, all of which are progressing simultaneously with their (and our) own histories, even as we muddle on here. Quantum theory shows that consciousness reduced to its smallest subatomic particle is inseparable–and therefore affects–everything, i.e., other subatomic particles. Very heady stuff, but as I make each successive attempt to understand it, I am reminded of all the New Age stuff we read in the scriptures of the ancients and parroted to each other and the world when I was first starting on this particular path: we are all One. We are inseparable from God, and God is who we are. My (your) heart is the key to all hearts. Yadda yadda, blah blah (and by the way, I happen to believe all this, even as I poke fun at it). The notable part about that last statement is those “scriptures of the ancients” I mention: you can find the seeds of this understanding in the holy scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity (yes, it’s true)…and, as my own spiritual mentor would say, in the teachings of “all those who, whether known or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.” (Inayat Khan)
There is nothing new under the sun, and the sun continues to rise every morning, shining on ever-renewing universes that may not even have suns, or rather, have suns of their own.
And none of it matters.
And all of it matters.
I suppose what I am trying to say, here, is that this event is pretty much just one of many simultaneous events eternally happening, but sometimes, God (whatever THAT is) breaks through it all.
I spent most of yesterday glued to my computer, watching the inauguration festivities, and I smiled, when the parade started, and we all got to spy on the Obama family as they smilingly watched it, at those two little girls who could barely prop themselves up and were, no doubt, not fooled for a minute by any of it. And there was a sense that, viewed on some of the levels that I’ve mentioned here, it was just one more event among events. And yet, I have to say it: it was Important. It seems to me that it was one of those moments when, for however brief a time, the universe puts on its brakes and grinds to a halt and we all KNOW, and we KNOW that it is all meaningful and that a grace has been bestowed and that, messy and imperfect and adolescent as we all are, we must be loved somehow, and it all Matters. I could say something like “I hope we don’t blow it,” but quantum theory reminds me that we very probably will–and will not. We are always being called to awakening and lulled to sleep, and some of us stay awake a little longer sometimes and some of us don’t. But some of us, eventually, stay awake, and that is what it is all about, because we are creating, finally, a work of art of the dimensions and beauty we have not the smallest idea of consciously, but at the subatomic level, the picture is already painted.
I’m out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down.
I’m seein’ your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings. –Bob Dylan
The best part of all this is that I have a sense that Barack Obama knows all this, and this is why he is able to maintain his cool in the midst of it all. What a comfort that is.
Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind. –Bob Dylan
As I was writing this, I was sent the following news item from the India Times:
NEW DELHI: In a rare act of political alchemy, Barack Hussein Obama united a South Asian Sufi tradition dating to the 16th century with the 21st, as the strains of a special ‘qawwali for Obama’ soared into the night-time skies over one of India’s most important dargahs.
The qawwali, the first ever to be held anywhere for the inauguration of an American president, is seen as a sign of the intense anticipation heralding the accession to office of a man whom India and much of the globe believes will bring relief, if not redemption to a world weary of war and strife.
Dewan Syed Ali Moosa Nizami, chairman and pir of the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, where the qawwali was organised to herald “a new dawn of peace and hope in the world”, said when Obama is sworn in as America’s 44th president, “we hope it reinforces the Sufi tradition of peace and tolerance joining hearts, not cutting them asunder”.
The pir added, in a nod to the congregation that usually assembles for the weekly qawwali on a Thursday, that “everyone, and Muslims too, has great hopes of Obama”.
Some of those “hopes” were voiced by the pir’s nephew, Ajmal, who appeared to speak for many disaffected young Muslims, both aspirational and traditionally bred to a intense antipathy towards America. In a reference to the famous dismissiveness towards his political masters by Auliya, one of the sub-continent’s most influential teachers of Sufism, Ajmal said, “He disdained to meet kings and emperors, seven of them, but politics has always been linked to religion and we now hope Barack Obama will bring about a really new world order”.
But Ajmal’s youthful agenda for Obama’s brave new world came just as the 20-strong troupe of qawwals sang the customary sufi lovesong to the world’s one constant, God. In a possible reference to the fact the Obama era too will pass, lead singer Sultan Hussain Niyazi Qawwal chanted, “You (God) were here when there was nothing, not the sun, the moon, the stars, You were here, You’re still here, You will be here when all will pass”. — Indian Times, 21 Jan 2009, 0000 hrs IST, Rashmee Roshan Lall, TNN
In the Old Testament, God asked Job and Jonah, “where were you when I made the whirlwind?” Right here, evidently.