Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What makes you come alive?

The struggle for spiritual growth is the struggle to get out of the narrow box of our conditioning.  Last night I watched "The American Experience" on PBS about the paths that led Martin Luther King to intersect with James Earl Ray.  I lived through all those years, a young adult, and watching the documentary I remembered my life then, and saw how much the Civil Rights struggle influenced me. After King was shot, the adults in my very small circle stopped criticizing him, and a great silence fell, for it was clear we should be mourning this event.  I observed their unspoken shame.  I learned how much so many people admired him, what he meant as the point man in the Civil Rights movement.

This morning I heard from an old friend, a white southerner who goes to an African-American church.  He referred me to a Dr. Howard Thurman, who preceded King, who met Gandhi and advised many people in the Civil Rights movement.  Here is a bit from the Wikipedia summary on Dr. Thurman -
For some unexplained reason, the following quote by Dr. Howard Thurman is widely and incorrectly attributed on the Internet to one "Harold Thurman Whitman" (which is, in fact, a fictional name):
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Thurman was a Christian minister, but it sounds Buddhist to me. (Also sounds like John F. Kennedy read it, doesn't it?)

So does Billy Joel in the above song, which gave me a group spiritual experience in around 1975, sitting around a table in a bar with other crazy people when it came on the radio. We all burst into song on the chorus.  We were all people struggling by now against the culture - one friend was gay.  It was 1975.

"Crazy" - coming alive to the truth that persists beneath the culture.  Sometimes it looks like delayed adolescence. The people around you aren't going to like it, the way people didn't like King's call for change.  A person who is alive ripples through the entire culture, the world.  I think of Shunryu Suzuki, the small, humble Zen teacher who seeded America with teachers.  Or think of King, whom I knew only on a television screen, whose marches I was too confined psychologically to think of joining.  But you do join the march of culture, you are changed by the songs you hear, really hear.

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