I am leaving Prague this morning. I will miss the city, though I can’t really explain why. Perhaps because I know there is so much more to learn here. Nevertheless, I am going home, most likely never to return.
This was, at least in my mind, to be my last trip abroad. I don’t like long plane trips, and Prague was the last city on my “Cities to See” list, so I could realistically say I am done with overseas travel. But I doubt it. There is too much work to be done: within and without, at home and abroad, and I find myself called to participate in all of it.
But why? This question haunts me, and since I have completed packing my bags (one roller board bag and one carry on) I thought I’d take a stab at answering it. At least for the moment.
When I was in my teens I believed that the key to personal and planetary happiness was enlightenment. For many years I chanted daily the Bodhisattva Vow, “Though sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to save them all.” By “saving them all” I meant “saving myself,” and by saving myself I meant “getting enlightened,” and by getting enlightened I meant… well I had and have no idea what enlightenment means, but I was certain it would save the innumerable sentient beings.
I have long since abandoned both the hope of enlightenment (for me, not for you), and perhaps because I have, I have shifted to valuing something else: conversation.
In her wonderful book, Turning to One Another, Barbara Wheatley writes, “I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving debate, or public meetings. Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.” I believe the same.
I haven’t given up on silence, conversation needs deep silence out of which emerge and into which to sink its roots, but I am no longer afraid of words, of saying the wrong thing, of mis-speaking, of having to rethink and reconfigure my ideas and how I express them. I am not afraid of the politically incorrect, or even of being hurt or hurting another’s feelings as long as we both continue to talk and work beyond our hurts to a greater sense of understanding and respect, and a greater commitment to the dignity of all beings, both sentient and nonsentient.
This is the work I have been doing most of my life. I talk for a living. In a sense I live to talk. And beyond this I talk to enhance living, to enhance life. Talking, the kind of talking Barbara Wheatley is writing about can do all of this. It isn’t a panacea, of course, but it is more than a prelude to something else. It is an important practice in its own right. Read Martin Buber and David Bohm on dialogue. Read the dialogues of Krishnamurti, and Dialoging with Hasidic Tales by Maurice Freedman. Read the dialogues of Plato.
So I have come to value conversation, and cultivate the curiosity and wonder that make it possible. I feel no need to defend my religion or my beliefs, though I am happy to share the knowledge I have and correct any misunderstandings others my have about my religion and beliefs. And I personally feel no need to attack the beliefs of another, no matter how terrifying and dangerous I may find them. Instead I want to know why a person believes what she believes, what he gets from believing as he does, and what the implications of those beliefs may be for the well–being of all being.
I am not looking for THE conversation that will repair the world. Conversation itself is an act of tikkun (repair). I seek only to keep the conversation going, and to expand the circle of participants. So I will go where I am invited to do this work. Even it is means flying long hours in coach.
I want to thank Dena Merriam, Janelle Surpris, Marianne Marstrand, and the Global Peace Initiative of Women who have called me into their circle of global conversation. May they go from strength to strength.