Monday, May 21, 2012

Karma at the OK Corral

In the few days' run-up to his visit to Canada this time round, HRH Prince Charles published a letter in this week's Globe entitled: Service to Others Builds Strong Communities. He defines service variously as 'thinking about how we can use our own positions to help others'; and later underscores that 'the most effective way to foster cohesion (amongst ourselves) is to build partnerships (generating) community capital -- that invisible but vital element that holds communities together'.

Somewhat ironically, and standing in marked contrast to HRH's lauding of 'best practices', modeling of community cooperation and sharing of 'good ideas' as the basic tool set for overcoming skepticism and deadlocked standoffs, is a saga unfolding in our own newspaper: the 'dirty little story' of the Haig St. joust. For those of you that may have missed it, dueling dentists lined up at 40 (or so) paces distance, armed not with picks and drills but with backhoe and entitlement, letting fly in the local press. At stake evidently is the right to 'farm' on Stratford's waterfront row and, equally, the opposition to same cloaked in issues of child and public safety, trespass, noise-law violation, and all around dare met with double-dog-dare retort. My, my, my . . . what a mess (to borrow from a Tommy Lee Jones' favourite line). 

Begged is the question: where did the violation and/or thwarting of the respective rights of each stop and the need to oppose, challenge, and dominate begin? With no intimate knowledge of either individual (or their entourage), I turned to first hand quotes of slashed tires, roofing nails (that ne'er saw shingle), and toxic cocktails in fuel tanks on one hand; and property infringement and denial of access on the other for some sense of history backgrounding this OK Corral tableau. And came away with a feeling that perhaps the current shootout had deeper roots; and that a pile of sand may just have been the straw that broke it (to allow some mixed imagery). Indeed it seemed that opposition to vs. cooperation with and accommodation of were more central issues with some longstanding precedent lurking in the shadows (of late night high jinx).

Be that as it may, and as this is purportedly a blog on mindfulness practices, I cast about for some alternate ways of proceeding -- not all that different from HRH's sentiments; and came upon this lovely little quote in Lama Surya Das' Awakening the Buddha Within. 'Karma means that you don't get away with anything; we all reap exactly what we sow. . . (T)he word actually translates as action and reaction; there are no accidents (like nails or slashed tires). In very simple terms, the Buddhist Law of Dependent Origination means that every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause' (p 109).

In a very similar vein, Bhante Gunaratana, as part of his commentary on Lovingkindness meditation, describes this process as an 'antidote' to two principle distractions to effective practice: greed and hatred (aka, attachment and avoidance; grasping and rejecting). He is quoted as: 'if you sit down to meditate while in the grip of some strong obsessive attachment (my right to 'farm') or if you are in a black fury over some recent insult (tractor tire evidence on my property), mindfulness will have a very rough time' (p. 90; Mindfulness in Plain English).

I found myself pondering the future of our little community and the choices with which we are frequently presented -- when, as a friend used to query, what does one do when Captain Karma comes a callin'?  Well I suppose we could strap on the leather one more time, wait for high noon, and stride out into the street; bent on righting the wrong of some presumed insult. Or perhaps we could, in the spirit of HRH, model behaviours spawned in cooperation and service to others, compassion, forgiveness.

For me, the abiding image of this whole affair -- and quite possibly the only redemptive element therein -- was that of an eight-year old child, broom in hand, sweeping up the remnants of 'the dirty little pile on Haig'. Helping daddy -- perhaps; or just finding the middle ground and doing her small bit to heal the rift that older (and presumably wiser??) players had insisted on widening.

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