The Divine Community
The impact on us of the correspondence between our expectations and our lived experience is cumulative. Over time, we build a “stance” toward our lived experience. This occurs because our understanding recognizes a pattern in the correspondence between our expectations and our experience. For example, “I never win at checkers.” Our will receives these conclusions and presents them to our attention. Over time, our stance toward playing checkers, for example, is developed in this way. In the future, our will may choose not to accept an invitation to play checkers because it has formed a pre-disposition toward whether our experience will match our expectations—to continue with our example, we may refuse to play checkers because we know we always lose at checkers.
When a person creates expectations of future reality which correspond to his actual experience, that person is even-tempered, or at least, “realistic.” On the other hand, when a person’s expectations are unmet by his actual experience, there are two common responses. First, the person might adjust his expectations in light of his experience, so that in the next episode, his expectations correspond more closely to his experience. Such a person becomes “flexible” in his expectations.
Or else, when our expectations are frustrated repeatedly—as when we try to control situations, and fail, or when we trust that someone will behave in a way that’s beneficial to us, and they don’t—we might respond with bitterness. In this case, we stubbornly refuse to give up or to change our expectations. Rather, we expect that our lived experience in the future will change. If our future experience does begin to conform to our expectations, we feel arrogantly victorious over our destiny. On the other hand, if our expectations continue to be frustrated, we react negatively. Our bitterness causes us to recede into ourselves and to consider the external world as hostile to us. This is the source of the barrier of separation that we feel in such cases between our inner world and the external world which we hold to treat us badly.
This barrier between our interior experience and our experience of the world beyond the barrier prevents us from feeling included in the outer world, that is, from feeling a sense of participation in that world. We may feel that we are living several seconds behind the “live action” occurring in the outer world. We might feel betrayed by the outer world. In any event, we set up more and more resistance in our hearts to the impact on us of the events in the world around us. And in this way, the barrier grows “thick.” We become “hard-hearted.”
In this process of becoming stubborn, our will rejects the possibility that we should revise our expectations of the world, that is, that we should be flexible. Rather, our will causes us to demand that the exterior world behave in a certain way. We insist that the world change, not that we change. When this does not occur, we hold the exterior world accountable for not satisfying our demands.
For some of us, then, our will sustains those expectations of the outer world which we stubbornly refuse to surrender, in spite of the apparent contrary experience. We build our expectations, and then we retreat into ourselves with bitterness and recriminations when our experience of the outer world does not fulfill those expectations. These recriminations, built on the foundation of wounded expectations, can easily manifest themselves in the outer world as anger and vilification, and then as violence. The end of the hope for attaining peace.
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The process described here—the process of becoming hard-hearted—does not necessarily call for a condemnation of hard-heartedness. It’s true that no peace can be had while any of the parties see themselves as victims, or as dealing with opponents. But on the other hand, hard-heartedness is sometimes justified. Often, the contending parties can each make a case for its own hardened stance. Consider, for example, the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews. Both parties have a vested interest in the same piece of land, which each calls its “homeland.” The Palestinians feel aggrieved because the Jews displaced them in 1948 from the land they had lived on for two thousand years and had dominated since the 7th Century. The Jews, on the other hand, make an ancestral claim to the same land, calling it a sacred gift from God which their ancestors had dominated for fifteen hundred years until the destruction of the nation of Israel in 132 A.D., which “the world” (represented by the United Nations) restored to them in 1948, and which they have successfully defended as their homeland ever since.
The point here is this. There is a set of preconditions for genuine and sustained peace. The first among these is justice. Justice means that each person has a right to what is his—and therefore, must be given what is his—simply because he is a human being, possessing human dignity. These rights include the right to life, to adequate food and shelter and medical care, to productive work for which the person is justly compensated, to refugee transit across borders in order to escape violence and persecution, to live at peace in one’s native land, and so on. When people believe that their basic human rights are being denied to them or are being ignored, they begin to feel oppressed and soon, they rebel. Because of this justice precondition, then, a coerced peace or an imposed peace is no peace at all. It is artificial. It is, in fact, oppression.
Genuine peace must rest on all parties feeling that they are being treated justly by the other parties—that their demands for justice have been met. They must enter peace voluntarily, and they must feel that they are entering into peace as dignified human beings. Then they must extend these same considerations to their “opponents.”
Such peace, of course, cannot be attained as long as any of the parties remains in a hardened stance. Justice can only come from open-heartedness. Justice can only be accomplished when the will turns away from “I want it my way” toward “I want to live in peace, and I want to cooperate in finding the peaceful way.”
The process of finding peace, then, requires that one’s will cease generating demands on the exterior world and instead, place behavioral expectations on one’s own interior spiritual process. In a word, the will must surrender its grasping demands. In order to enter peace, the will must release its grip on what it selfishly holds valuable and open itself humbly, servant-like, to the opportunities for freedom and the unexpected solutions which come from the uncontrollable beyond the self, from Divinity.
To find peace, then, our will must turn toward God and surrender its personal desire for control to the Divine Will.
When we surrender to the Divine Will and open ourselves to what Divinity presents to us, we find ourselves living entirely in the on-going present moment, experiencing the creative power of God. Immersed in the awareness of God and accepting the Divine Will as it manifests itself in the present moment, we release the injuries we experienced in the past. We recognize that our mental reconstructions of the past, born of our frustrated expectations, are skewed visions, and so we release them as inaccurate. And we open ourselves to the possibilities of a future which will arise from the potentiality of the present as the Will of God creates it.
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Freed of expectations, we live in the on-going, unbridled present moment. It is in this present moment of freedom, unburdened by the affliction of the past and the frustration of unrealizable expectations, the moment dependent on the generosity of the Divine Will, that peace is found.
The present moment, lived in the presence of the Divine Creator, is the meeting place of those who desire peace. It is not doctrinal unity among our religions that we seek. We may never arrive at doctrinal unity, given the multitude of cultural and religious backgrounds we come from. And indeed, doctrinal unity is not necessary for peace. Doctrines, after all, are culturally conditioned attempts to express understandings of Divinity. They are experiences set into words. And the many different expressions used to characterize the experience of Divinity are secondary to the experience itself. And so, we release our hopes or expectations or demands for doctrinal unity, simply trusting that God will continue to draw us, all of us, into the Divine Presence in the present moment.
It is in the present moment, free of encumbrances, that seekers after God come into the Divine Presence, no matter what their religion, regardless whether they use formal religion or not. It is here, then, in the presence of the Divine, the Creator, the Universal Awareness, Being Itself, the Source, the Peace Beyond All Understanding—in the experience of Divinity—that we who seek peace can join one another in oneness of heart. Here we experience peace as unanimity—“one-heartedness”—as we come together in the Divine Presence in the on-going present moment. In the Divine Presence, we attain peace by living it there with one another. No special gatherings. No special ceremonies. Just day-to-day encounters with one another, lived out in the Divine Presence, and with the recognition of the dignity of every creature, treating one another with justice and respect at every encounter.
Many will not be convinced by this approach, even if we were to come together from many nations and religions, and live in this way. Those who are unconvinced will continue to seek what is valuable to them personally, and to refuse the path to peace. They will continue to have—and to make—enemies, to be comforted by conflict, to seek the power that comes from mayhem and killing, and to find societal cohesion in shared threats and shared fears.
We seekers after God, and after the peace that can come from unanimity in the experience of Divinity, should not be discouraged when others are not convinced, or when others persecute us, the peaceful, who do not share a love of violence, or when we are scorned or ignored. Unanimity in the Divine Presence—the “Divine Community”—appears to be the only hope of sustainable peace.
So we continue with this project of attaining peace, trusting that the example of peaceful living manifested in the Divine Community will pierce the terrible bombast of tyrants, and open an inviting way to those who yearn but cannot find a way to live in peace.
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