The journey to find the authentic self, the self you were created to be is not always easy. It is as W. Somerset Maugham wrote about like the razor’s edge. This novel, The Razor’s Edge tells the story of an American, Larry Darrell, who, traumatized by his experiences as a fighter pilot in World War I, decides to search for some transcendent meaning in his life. This is the story of a man who refuses to conform to the ways of the world, rejects conventional life, and searches for his authentic self. This is the story of one man's quest for inner peace and enlightenment. It is the tale of one person’s spiritual journey.
Maughan's message was clear: the spiritual journey is a solitary one. The best one can hope for is to achieve some kind of enlightenment or transcendence, but one eventually needs to return to society, to interact within the strife and chaos and live out his or her new world view and values within the everyday realities of common ordinary consciousness.
Thinking about this desire for that place of peace beyond understanding, that place where there is no drama and trauma, that place where everyone is united in one place brought me back in time to a book I remember my father reading me when I was a young girl. It was written by James Hilton and called the Lost Horizon. It was the story of Shangri-la, an entire civilization that existed, totally self-contained and hidden away from the rest of the world. It was a society where people treated one another with respect and love -- a society free from all strife. It was a place where all people were gifted with the characteristics of compassion and wisdom.
The problem is that we live in a world that seems compassionless at times; a world that seems to be surrounded by fear and violence. There are so many examples of hate in the newspaper and on television every day. Globally, people are struggling for a land of their own and for homes for their children and future generation. People are struggling for freedom from repression, from injustice, and from civil war . Each day we see faces of refugees seeking sanctuary, fleeing from death and horror in countries around the world. We see blatant terrorism ...guns fired from embassy windows, political kidnappings, and torture. There are domestic crisis, resulting in violence and abuse. We see young people and adults ensnared in a drug culture, cities overtaken by deafening noise, people forced into welfare, into homeless shelters, into swamps of despair.
As I think about all that is going on in our world, in our community, and in our city, I often times find myself questioning how the spirit of compassion becomes actively involved in this jungle of human misery? As we heard earlier, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
Sometimes, in the midst of the storm, we begin to see ourselves as individuals and independent. We forget that we need each other to survive. We forget that we are connected to each other. We forget that we cannot say “I have no need of you, because each of us is an important part of this world. This is not just a spiritual reality, it is a biological reality. The biologist , Lewis Thomas writes: "the new, hard problem will be to cope with the dawning, intensifying realization of just how interlocking we are. We are not just made up, as we had always supposed, of successively enriched packets of our own parts. We are shared, rented, occupied. Our interdependence is exactly that... .a dependence among one another. We do not have solitary beings. Every creature is, in some sense, connected to and dependent on the rest."
We need to remember that everything is connected to everything else even when we do not realize it. Every time I think about how interconnected we are I am reminded of a very silly joke. The joke asks the question: "Why did the elephant sit on the marshmallow"? And the answer is, "because he didn't want to fall in the chocolate sauce." While we might want to think we are sitting on a marshmallow, the reality is that we are completely in the chocolate sauce, marshmallow and all! And our very survival is based on our learning this lesson that we are all in the chocolate sauce. Our very survival depends upon us being compassionate with each other.