Getting Beyond the Differences
I dreamt that I was at a convention. Many cultures were gathered. I didn't understand the customs of the Jamaican culture, and as a result I did something that offended the person who was representing that culture.
What I did was perfectly natural to our American way of life but offensive to his. The Jamaican was hurt, angry, and judgmental towards me. I didn't know how to change it because we didn't understand each other. He just stared at me and I felt helpless.
My dream had to do with cultural differences, but we all grow up in families that are as unique as another culture. Others don't really understand us nor do we really understand them, but we think we do.
We are like fish in water with our way of thinking so we believe it is normal and tend to judge others according to the way we see the world. We then wonder why some people think we are strange, and why they may even be insulted by what we say or do.
Our nation has been called a melting pot because our people come from so many different cultures and backgrounds. As a nation we are trying to get beyond our cultural differences and are working hard on being careful not to offend each other. I wonder though, if in some ways we are 'missing the boat.'
We try to understand other people and other cultures by coming from our own point of view, from our understanding of the way life should be, while missing the richness in really getting to know people, and what they have to offer. Censuring our speech, and excessively trying to avoid offending people simply is an outward gesture that is more insulting than respectful.
Recently I was involved in a program where we were with a group of people once a week for 11 weeks. We didn't know each other when we started, nor did we particularly like each other. As we gradually got to learn about each individual in the group by listening, and feeling their painful experiences, we bonded in a way that went beyond our differences.
Each of us have our story that goes so much deeper than what we show to the world. Listening and sharing our stories with each other are ways that help us to realize the sameness in our humanity and gives us a deeper understanding; a compassion that goes beyond the facade of politeness.
One time I was at a multicultural event where many foreign languages were spoken, and many different cultural practices were followed. I found it interesting that when I got caught up in trying to follow, and understand the surface of what was happening, I was lost, confused and frustrated. I didn't understand the languages, the cultures, nor did I understand the people themselves.
After a while, as we went beyond the language and cultural barriers and simply looked into each other's eyes, I noticed an authenticity and a richness that extended deep within the individual.
Something moved me in that silence that went deeper than any words could describe. The differences seemed to melt away and what was left was the language of the heart.
This incident reminds me of what the great Indian sage, Amma, * once wrote. She states; When there is real love, there is silence. There cannot be any words. There is only stillness. Just like a perfectly calm lake, there cannot be any ripples or waves when real love is experienced. Ripples and waves are a distortion, a distraction, a disturbance in the mental lake. Love ensues from stillness of mind. In that stillness one can experience silence. The talking of the mind stops completely. Real love is felt in that silence. Silence, silence alone, is the language of pure love. Real love exists in the heart. The love that exists in the heart cannot be spoken; it cannot be put in words. The heart is not the place for words.
So, in our attempts to understand each other's heart, it is important to put our way of thinking aside, while we feel the richness of what others have to offer. Coming back to ourselves we can then have a deeper understanding of our own inner world.
Each of us has an inner world, and an outer world. Thinking we know a person by what we see on the surface isn't really knowing them. Each individual is unique and complex, yet connected to all there is. Like the ingredients in a delicious soup, all of us add to the flavor of life through our sameness and our differences.
Love and Peace,
*Amma -- Mata Amritanandamay Devi
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,