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The International Writers Magazine
: Modern Lives 80

The Forking Path
Josh Davidson

Amongst the countless questions arising from the recent U.S. elections, there is one which keeps entrenching itself inside my own, and I believe, many others’ consciousness. I’ve come to realize that it could not have disappeared no matter what the outcome, because it runs deeper than the fleet of political offices changing hands, and from its roots sprout both our anger and nervous concern for those just on the other side of the border. It is like a burr stuck in our collective understanding of the world, of justice, of our most fundamental role in life: who is to blame for all the manifest suffering in the world right now?

Indeed, since September 11th, the practise of blame has become so integrated into our world view that we actively search out new plots and subplots, new conspiracies, new sources uncovered by new investigations and documentaries. We are becoming increasingly passionate in our search to uncover the source, the origin, the start of all this misery. After all, when it comes to the war on terror, what constitutes the gorge separating the Bush-ites and the anti-Bushites? It’s simply the origin of their respective arguments. The war-supporters believe the source of all the instability is the fanatic act of the terrorists who flew the planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11. The anti-war faction finds its starting point in the White House’s deceitful self-interest, which has led to the killing of thousands of innocents in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Discourse on the divisive state of the world naturally falls into divisive patterns: choose what you feel to be the origin of the current suffering, and expand your argument of blame from there.
For a mind overwhelmed with the futility of such fragmentary thinking, there is perhaps only one true escape route. The latter fell into my hands on a cold blustery day on College St in Toronto last week. Wandering aimlessly in the day following the election, I passed in front of the modest, nondescript Zen temple near Bathurst St., where a calmly smiling man handed me a brochure. I pocketed it distractedly and moved on. Not until the next day did I tug the crumpled piece of paper out. The message on the cover read, "Your mind has healing power for a conflicted word." In the face of the recent bloody rampage of Fallujah, these words have since refused to dissipate. For this, I hope, I shall be forever grateful.

It seems that to truly have an effect over our situation, we need to start moving in the opposite direction of blame—as foreign, even painful, as this might seem—and take responsibility for the world we experience each day, an experience which can only be subjective, unique, entirely ours to transform. While we’re looking at the war through a Buddhist lense, consider the simple yet perfectly timely words of well-respected American teacher, Venerable Thubten Chodron.
By blaming and hating, she writes, "we put more anger into an already hostile environment. Here, too, our mind has become like those whose war cries we dislike, just the object of our hatred is different. We see the world in terms of ‘us and them,’ denounce one side and praise the other, and wish harm to those who disagree with us. This does no good at all, either for ourselves or others."

Spurred on by the potential of such an profound perspective, I immediately found echos of it in a film which seemed to give it human form. Significantly, it took place on the eve of Remembrance Day—in which we pay respect to those who sacrificed their lives to heal conflicted worlds.

The Time We Killed is New York director Jennifer Reeves’ experimental feature, which I happened to stumble into at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Jackman Hall. Reeves’ unique, handcrafted and organically-evolving film is a sort of living diary from inside the mind of central character Robyn (poet Lisa Jarnot, whose impromptu prose helped to form the character throughout the filmmaking process).
Robyn is a recluse whose psychological scars obstruct her from stepping outside her apartment. She has emerged from suicide, first to a psychiatric ward in New York, then to her own small place. Ears to leaking radiators, she eavesdrops obsessively on the tenants around her, but dreads the thought that the slightest noise of her own might reveal too much of herself.

At one point Reeves’ constructs a brief montage interspersing Robyn’s sleeping face with filmic, almost surreal, footage of a man jumping from the upper reaches of the World Trade Centre. The sequence suggests that the meaning and ensuing power of these events is dependent on our individual and collective minds, something rarely approached in our current discourse on the post-September 11th world.
Upon waking, Robyn takes a typically eccentric view of the terrorist attacks. She sees them as an opportunity to reconnect with New York, fearing that if she doesn’t take to the streets soon, she might never get a chance to see her beloved city whole again. And so she wanders for three days, soaking up each lamppost, each pigeon, each passing car. But her fragile psyche cannot hold up to the ensuing political climate. "Terrorism got me out of my house, but the war on terror brought me back in," she muses, once again returning to life as an avowed shut-in.

Though it confronts issues of post-9/11 paranoia only in passing, the film’s unique placement inside Robyn’s unrelenting mental environment presents a striking allegory of the subjective experience of being under attack, and watching others under attack. Robyn’s perspective on her own inner demons shifts constantly, and is testimony to the vast power of transformation of the human mind. On some days she succumbs to her neuroses and chooses to live in fear, but on others, as she says, she awakens to the awareness that "the only way to escape the darkness is to dive into it."

As I listened to Reeves’ soft-spoken commentary after the film, it occurred to me that we have this same choice facing us each time we perceive an injustice in the world today. As Robyn says, "I am afraid of catching the amnesia of the American people."

It is our amnesia, too, by the look of it. For any act of blame involves a certain measure of amnesia, of omission and is therefore always a deluded and fragmentary point of view.

We hear it again and again, yet we refuse to live it: the outer is not separate from the inner. And because we refuse to live it, we witness our personal power, not to mention our sense of peace, disappear down the hungry and insatiable channels of blame, cynicism, and apathy. Therefore, instead of lashing out at the latest link in the chain of causation which has led to the state of the world we perceive today, it makes far more sense to wake up to the fact that we experience the injustice, therefore we have the power to let it transform and expand our mind from a state of self-involvement, to a state of compassion and connectedness to others. This simple alteration of our view is the most significant act we can undertake today. It adds a profound dimension to the adage, "think globally, act locally."

If we think of how many people we touch each day–consiously or unconsciously–we see that doubting the effectiveness of such a change in view is the same as doubting the efficiency of the law of cause and effect. As so many "peaceful revolutionaries" have done in the past, we must have faith that such a simple change will be more contagious than the heavy bouts of amnesia currently circulating the globe. We must take a good look at history and see that this is the only way true and lasting change can occur: from the inside-out.
© Josh Davidson December 2004

And we pray for justice in the Ukraine as well

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