That's Impossible. Keep Going.
In William Finnegan’s masterful surfing autobiography, the author describes what it’s like to be one of the first humans to ride what is accepted as one of the most perfect waves on earth: the right at Fiji’s Tavarua Island, known in the surfing community as “Restaurants.”
He and his traveling buddy had been on an extended surf pilgrimage in the South Pacific in the late 70s and had happened upon a small group of surfers with a boat. They said they had discovered it. Bill, the author, teased the location out of them, no small feat. He and his companion subsequently found the uninhabited island, small enough to walk around in ten minutes, and stayed there for weeks.
One evening well after sunset, Bill was out surfing alone, trying to wring a last ride out of the day. A set--a group of waves--appeared on the horizon, but from an odd direction. He paddled to the largest wave and caught it. As he did so, he pumped hard on the face of his board to gain speed and stay ahead of the overhead curl. Then something happened he could not have imagined; the wave seemed to be simultaneously growing in size and bending out toward the open ocean. In this critical situation, going as fast as possible on a large, thick Fijian wave breaking over a shallow reef, Bill had no time to think. A single sentence flashed through his mind.
“That‘s impossible. Keep going.”
By doing so, Bill made it out of the wave, emerging from the barrel to a starlit south Pacific sky as the wave sunk into a channel.
When I heard that line, read by the author in the audiobook, I had to pause the playback to consider the parade of situations immediately presented to my mind.
We live in a complicated world. From my point of view, those of us who are enveloped within and identified with the Temporarily Dominant Culture are reactive and fearful. Otherwise, the nation would not be faced with Trump and Clinton as the most probable citizens to be in the White House early next year. We would not look to war as any kind of long-term solution. We would be more able to look to those we pronounce as our spiritual heroes – not to mention the supposedly omnipotent God of the Christian nation – and walk in faith as so many of us are wont to proclaim as our reality.
But this is not enough. At the risk of seeming like a media junkie, I quote Morpheus from “The Matrix” as he watched the savior Neo begin to do unimaginable things within the dream world: “It is one thing to know the path. It is another thing to walk the path.”
So what is the path?
Well, what would our spiritual teachers say, looking at our current state of affairs? Let’s take Gandhi, for instance. If he is not one of your spiritual heroes as he is mine, you might want to see how his actions match up with your heroes’ teachings in the following instance.
If you haven’t seen the movie “Ghandi,” don’t see another one before you do. At the beginning of the movie he is an English barrister, traveling first class on a train as he always had, when he runs head first into white South Africa in the mid 1890s. Used to the privilege of his class, he refuses to move to third class simply because of his skin color. He is unceremoniously ejected from the train at the next stop. Thus begins his personal interest in British racial law, and an uneasy movement begins to form behind him. At one point early on, he stands before a rowdy crowd of mostly Muslim and Hindu men. He recites a new law made in response to his complaints: all Muslim and Hindu men must be fingerprinted. Only Christian marriages are valid, “making their wives and mothers whores, and every man in this room a bastard.” (By the way, is this ringing a bell for those of us who follow presidential politics?)
The men are enraged. A few stand up and say they will die fighting this law. Some say they will kill. Gandhi, however, says in effect, “I admire your courage, and I hope to be as courageous as you. I also am willing to die fighting this law. But while I am willing to die, there is no cause for which I am willing to kill.” A confused silence reigns.
He then recites the rules of the movement which he leads. “Whatever they do to us, we will attack no one. We will kill no one. But we will not give our fingerprints, not one. They will imprison us and they will fine us. They will seize our possessions. But they cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.” A man, frustrated with this kind of talk, stands up and yells from an upper balcony, “Have you been to prison? They will beat us and torture us!”
Gandhi calmly replies, “We will not strike a blow. But we will receive them. And through our pain, we will make them see their injustice. And it will hurt, as all fighting hurts. But we cannot lose. We cannot. They may torture my body, may break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body. Not my obedience.” More silence. With two of his advisors on the stage with him, a Christian and a Jew, he continues, “We are Hindu and Muslim. We are children of god, each one of us.” And in the following moment, Gandhi challenges them to accept a solemn oath to disobey the fingerprinting law. One by one, as any movement must be, each man stands to accept this challenge. He then leads them in singing, “God Save The King.”
In the fight against this immoral law foisted upon them by an immoral government and backed by the un-awakened culture supporting it, Gandhi decided to start a movement to free his people on his own terms, without taking up arms, while retaining his dignity as a soul-embodied human.
That’s impossible. Keep going.
Jesus spoke similar words. He was living as a Jew under Roman law. If you are a Christian, you likely believe that at a certain point in his ministry, Jesus knew of his status as the Savior of Mankind, the embodied Creator of the Universe. Whether you believe that or not, if the Bible is to be trusted at all, at he at least came to understand that he was a teacher with a following. In other words, he had a certain kind of power, the kind that is feared by unethical rulers, religious, cultural and political. He was starting an essentially subversive, grass-roots movement away from the powers of his day (and arguably, it turns out, ours). Yet he sought no personal safety, no wall of weapons or mortar, and required his disciples to walk among the people in a likewise manner as Gandhi would do two millennia later. In Luke 10, Jesus sends his disciples out “as lambs among wolves” to bring people back to him so he could help turn them to God. Far from arming these poor followers with the weapons of the day, Jesus told them to carry no money, no extra clothing and to seek no unnecessary emotional support that might have been garnered by a visit to friends on the way out of town on their missions. His advice was to serve, without regard for the Self. It was to love. It was to walk as he did.
In the end, after being severely beaten and lashed with a whip that had metal and bone attached to the ends to more effectively tear his skin, Jesus was nailed to a cross and crucified. Yet he forgave the Roman representative there enforcing the law that would kill him. He forgave from his heart the very man who nailed him to a cross.
That’s impossible. Keep going.
We, each of us in this nation, face threats from many sides. Part of the reason for this is because we have allowed our government the ability to implement some terribly immoral foreign policies, sprinkled with others more positive that might assuage our otherwise moral sensibilities. And, as there are no controls for the kind of power we've granted our government, karma is coming around to teach us. For me, it is easy to trace ISIS back to our foreign policy gaffes. I believe members of this renegade organization use religion as a reason to fight, as a way to gain members and to control them. They have made it a holy war in order to gain the hearts of the people when their complaints are actually largely political. In time, this nation will do the same. If we continue this path, the time will come when you see the “Christian” version of Sharia law in this nation. It has happened before in powerful governments and is the natural reaction to the fear that terrorism, for instance, produces. It will happen, that is, if we bow to the fears to which Jesus and Gandhi would not. My question is, Where do you stand?”
It is one thing to know the path. It is another thing to walk the path.
Do you see? We are in a position to bring peace to the world in the face of unimaginable violence. And even though I can write these words and I can feel this way, I don’t have the answers because they come moment to moment as the karmic stream flows to us as individuals and as a nation. We can continue our current path: anti-Christ, anti-Gandhi, anti-Thoreau, anti-Martin Luther King and anti-most of the wise teachers the world has known. That is our choice. Or we can put down our weapons and bring peace by first necessarily finding peace within ourselves and eventually radiating it to the world, by accepting our part in the current condition – including ISIS – and then saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” We can embrace our privileged condition with gratitude and reach out to the world--not with bullets, drones and missiles, but with deep compassion coupled with the self- respect and love about which both Gandhi and Jesus spoke and by which they lived.
That’s impossible. Keep going.