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Submitted by shankardesai on Tue, 9/11/2012, 3:24pm
How will the eleven-year 9/11 memorial shape us?
Just as the date will arrive once, every year, forever, will the wheel of violence also turn eternally?
Will this annual reminder harden us to more viciously pursue our goals of retribution in an ever-expanding 'axis of evil'? Or maybe we'll operate with greater savvy, seducing key players to our feast of assets and artillery?
Potentially great questions, but I, in fact, no longer care. I have so little influence over U.S. foreign policy that I only end up feeling impotent when I question it.
I'd like to play a part in actual change, not simply add to the decibel level of frustration and criticism in our country.
I want action, meaningful action.
And so, I put faith in the belief that if we can cure the sickness of our more basic, daily existence -- our patterned thoughts and behaviors -- I pray the difference will reverberate to eliminate distant symptoms such as the international situation.
Yes, it is a faith in Gandhi's words, "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him … We need not wait to see what others do."
And so, on this memorial I am choosing to discuss something a bit murkier with less national attention, and though far more elusive and nebulous, equally important: the role of honest self reflection in personal and cultural transformation.
The greater we question and understand ourselves, the more we immerse ourselves in reality, the better we understand the ebb and flow of existence. And as we descend from aimlessly floating in alienation, the more we realize our immediate power to transform.
With this perspective, maybe we will be able to look forward with hope to a future that is free from so much violence.
From the Beginning: Death
Mass death jarred the American consciousness 11 years ago. As the gamut of emotions took hold of me immediately after the tragedy - confusion, despair, and then anger, I think my initial reaction was the most honest. My despair and anger were attempts to avoid an inevitable and inexplicable Truth of Life - Death.
Instead of engaging my pain and loss, I reacted with emotions that placed distance between myself and the nation's actual wound, the death of fellow citizens. I found a false security and foundation with those defensive emotions.
However I soon found them difficult to maintain. Aside from the energy they drained, I sensed the people who had died were not gripped with the same emotions I clung to.
As time passed and my anger dissipated, my confusion resurfaced, and I was unable to ignore it. In exploring deeper that confusion, I stumbled upon doubt, an overwhelming experience of fear, and ultimately isolation.
My thoughts about why they had died diminished, and questions about what it meant to die arose. Not being able to understand definitively what happens in death made the "Truths" of my life less absolute.
There was no way to frame this Unknown.
How was I to know that everything I stood for and considered myself to be was not somehow flawed? "Wealth, Competition, Patriotism" - were these American virtues not important?
My paralyzing fear ultimately gave away to a new calm.
Upon continuing to meditate on Death, stepping towards that fear instead of shying from it, I submitted to the fundamental uncertainty of life. The vibration of that Unknown resonated for the first time in my conscious life -- and I felt more free at that moment than ever before.
As the uncertainty, the fluidity, the impermanence of everything washed over me, my experience of life shifted. Without certainty, without fixed boundaries, without hardened identity, I felt for the first time … connected.
My interactions with other people changed. I saw our founding principle of equality -- difference within oneness -- replace our other founding principle of comparison -- difference as a measure of better or worse.
Intuitively sensing the nature of Death created a life inspiring and liberating experience. I became more comfortable with failure, success and my own contradictory identities. I learned to refrain from judgment.
Experiencing a wave of peace, I soon felt the undertow of dissatisfaction.
To personally sense a deeper connection with life and then awake to the path that my country was taking disconcerted me.
We were answering hate with hate. Terror with terror. The attack by Al Qaeda represented an unfortunate but inherent darkness in man that in retaliation manifested itself within us.
Why were we as people, as individuals and as a government espousing such overwhelming, singularly directed actions?
How was I as an individual contributing to it?
How could I as an individual make a difference?
Politics seemed married to dysfunction. My questions led to observations, and my observations led to insight.
Our society, not only our economics, looked liked the free market. Roughly, in a supply and demand economy the price of a good -- or it's value -- is set by the supply and the demand for the good. Somehow this model seemed apt in describing our human condition: a determination of self-worth based on others.
And we have bought into this system. In fact, this is our American culture, and it is rapidly globalizing.
The idea of inherent, intrinsic value, independent of a person's utility seemed lost.
But is my worth not something basic and inextricable? Or does my value arrive only with my capabilities, my production, and my accomplishments?
Fostering a notion that our existence alone gives us value shifts the attitude with which we experience life. People become less means to an end and ends in themselves. I, myself, became less something to be chiseled for the sake of others but valuable unto myself.
I felt, once again, connected.
And I am at this moment both daunted and hopeful.
The change I continually have to make is undoubtedly radical -- and against the tide of my culture -- but it is in my control.
And questions remain. Will other people will make this decision as well? Is to act as an individual, to act collectively? Will our culture echo these changes?
Now is a time when our nation should remember 9/11 with sadness but have the mass deaths facilitate introspection.
Let that self-reflection and inward journey change the direction of the world but begin by changing our own lives.
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