I stood by myself watching the sunset on the cliffs of Santa Monica, immersed in my own thoughts. Van Morrison cooed on half volume through my earphones. An old man pulled up next to me on a bike, said something along the lines of “lovely night eh?” and began to initiate a conversation with me. My initial reaction was to avoid speaking with him. I was polite, but short, and kept my face towards the sun. But he just kept talking and asking, and slowly I recognized that not only was this another human being, but an incredible one. I leaned on the fence and turned my shoulder to face him. We dove right in to a vibrant conversation about the universe, nature, evolution and the stars. He is an evolutionary scientist and explained in detail how different parts of our physical makeup are from different stars and far away explosions of the past. How the illusion of being separate is just that..an illusion. “Human existence is the universe experiencing itself”, he suggested, searching my face for a reaction to this “far out” concept that I met with an understanding smile. We discussed how incredible our eyes are. How they are created from stardust and are miraculously able to perceive the various expressions of stardust in front of us. Our sun hit the horizon and skillfully painted colors on the canvas of clouds with a sunbeam paintbrush. A graceful bow and surrender to the moon.
Since then, I have been thinking a lot about our inability to open up to other people and how that hinders our growth and depth of personal experiences. Our unwillingness to meet a stranger with compassion. Especially when we perceive them as different from us. Our tendency towards jumping to conclusions about the “other” people. I have thought about the fact that my initial reaction to this person was “he must be crazy, why is he talking to me”. Why was that my first thought? I am ashamed of that. I began to realize that this is quite relevant to our current state of affairs. We get so attached to our own ideas and beliefs that we become unable to see the other possibilities. We forget that a different perspective is not always wrong. We close in, shut down, and reject. We feel an imaginary divide along “party lines” and forget that most of us want the same exact things. I believe the recent developments in American politics has forced us into experiencing the thoughts of “the others” more so than before. It is a challenge. A challenge to meet every person you interact with with compassion. A challenge to understand. A challenge to remove yourself from your own shoes, and attempt–kindly–to understand the things that you currently cannot. A challenge to grow and transcend petty differences. This is about us, as humans and our opportunity to shatter the glass wall of contempt and hate. This is bigger than one man. I believe this is a catalyst for unified progress and impassioned mobilization. When we choose to see the bigger picture through the lens of wonderstanding, our human differences become irrelevant.
Can we come together to take care of each other and our earth? Can we aim to alleviate other’s suffering and live with compassion? Can we learn to recognize other beings for their soul instead of their skin or religion or appearance? Can we transcend politics and differences in mind? Can we learn to be grateful for this absolutely incomprehensible miracle of life? Can we wonderstand? Can we heal ourselves and guide our neighbors when they have been mislead? Yes, I just said “we”. Not they. Not them. We. Because we are one. As duality would have it, this world objectively has it’s darkness and light. But imagine if every single person was shown the love and kindness they deserve. While I acknowledge that that is a highly idealistic concept, I challenge you to embody that love and kindness. That we can manage. It’s easy to be nice to people who you understand and agree with. It’s easy to speak and see things from your own perspective. It takes focused intent to speak with kindness to people you disagree with. It takes effort to see through someone else’s eyes and be bigger than your past experiences. If you still can’t understand, that’s okay–individuals with hateful and closed-minded views actually need your kindness more than anyone. The way you treat people is a direct reflection of your relationship with yourself. Every time you put even a drop of hate or anger into this world, you are actively taking a step back.
The old man parted ways with me by sharing his favorite word to describe it all. Wonderstanding. To live in wonder. And to do that is ultimately to understand. This man was nearly blind with a glass eye, but it was apparent that he could see more clearly than most. And I’m so glad I gave him a chance.