The Sacred Bridge
By: Jessica Burnham
Philosopher Hegel- upon dying of cholera said, “Only one man ever understood me … and he didn’t understand me.”
I’ve talked a lot in the past about perception, and how it divides us. The meaning we attach to what others say to us is a big part of this perceptional divide. In the beginning quote, the philosopher Hegel said: Only one man ever understood me…and he didn’t understand me. How often do we sit in a conversation, only to be led into some argument or debate because our interpretation of what the other said is contained in this jar of our experiences? When someone says something to us, how can we really understand them, and recognize that not everything they are saying has anything to do with us?
Sometimes people hurl criticism at us, yes, but then again- what does their criticism say about them, rather than us? Training the mind is a difficult task. It is programmed with so many experiences, not only from this life, that sometimes we can feel hopeless. We look at this daunting experience we call life, and all its suffering, and wonder- is it really possible to not attach meaning onto what they are saying, and just listen?
There is always the roping in of our ego. When we inevitably get sucked into the perception of someone else, and want to defend something. But what are we really defending? When all a perception truly is, is the sum of someone’s experiences, then how can you argue it? Is there any point? Or, perhaps we could make it our worthwhile, to look at the root cause of our mind’s disturbance. Why is our mind being disturbed by what someone else is saying? There must be a part of us that is resisting something. But, what is it resisting?
The mind is a fragile thing. It can be broken. And usually that encompasses suffering and all the other feelings we don’t want to be with. I am finding that the hardest thing I have to be with is hopelessness. It is a feeling I deeply resist. Of course, I resist it so much I do not wish to be around it in others at all. I judge their hopelessness. But, now that I can acknowledge that I am judging it, and that I can’t be with it- I can now look into my heart and see where the root of this rejection comes from and have a choice to be with it in the future. Rather than feeling controlled by the hopelessness.
So, this brings us back to how our perception divides us when we attach meaning to someone else’s perception. Whenever we feel antagonized by another perception, we are engaging in separation. Another’s world has no power over us, except the power we give it. It simply is. It becomes more than “is” when we define it by the sum of our experiences. People talk about agendas. They don’t trust those around them because they fear that they have an agenda. I do it all the time with my partner. But it is not always the case, it is my simple defensiveness and perception that get in the way of that intimacy with another.
The freedom lies in the understanding. When we come to an understanding of how self cherishing we really are in our listening to others, then we can begin to dissolve into another’s words, and simply view them without attachment. We can really love and open our hearts up to one another. We can live with all our internal stuff, yet know that it is simply our stuff- and not engage in projection. Projection is like a black hole. We get sucked into nothingness. And we waste our time creating more seeds of attachment within rather than good merit for ourselves. When we really listen to another, and ask when someone says a word we feel provoked by- ‘how do you define that for you,’ we can see how different everyone’s perceptions really are and allow the other to feel what they need to feel or experience without our experience getting in the way.
I truly feel that how we listen to another person is the sacred bridge out of our perceived separation. And in my hopefulness, rather than hopelessness, I engage with you now in this present moment with the words of the bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara, from the Lotus Sutra, Fourth Precept of Deep Listening and Loving Speech: “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech, and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.”