I worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years, and was so fortunate to travel to many incredible places around
the world. Paris was one of them.
When I heard that Notre Dame was burning, I was initially shocked about the potential loss of such a grand and historic landmark.
I found myself immediately fascinated by the mesmerizing photos, trying to remember what I had seen in person compared to what I was seeing now. My memories brought forth vivid colours, smells, sounds, visuals, senses, thoughts, and feelings.
Despite the initial shock, I eventually fell back into the feeling and understanding of my insight from a few years ago. Instead of continuing to feel surprise and loss, I moved into the deeper
knowing of life that remains solid and unbroken and impersonal and unconditional... a tangible foundation to stand on, no matter the apparent loss or chaos of our human lives.
This knowing is simply the awareness of the inexplicable spiritual "part" of life that can't be touched by the changing world of form, no matter what form it takes. A foundation that once realized or glimpsed, can be felt and held and leaned into.
And so quickly enough, my emotions settled from the personal to the impersonal... from a personal emotional shock to an impersonal reflective understanding of the event and of
I thought about the inevitable impermanence of everything in form. I remembered that the significance of any object comes only from the continually changing
perceptions and emotions I attach to it, arising and falling with each moment of my changing attention and changing thought.
From the space of this deeper understanding
of life, I can see that the cathedral will be built again, or it won't. Architects and artisans will get new work, or they won't. Events and ceremonies will be celebrated there again, or they won't. Visitors will come to see the ruins or the rebuild, or they
won't. Money will be spent to clean up, or repurpose, or rebuild, or it won't. And without exception, every single one of us will have the creative power of thought flowing through us, forming our uniquely personal experience of whatever happens in each subsequent
The richness and complexity of the form of life will continue, while the formless foundation of life will still hold true, no matter what passes on and what
appears anew. A piece of the form of life is now permanently and irrevocably lost, and yet that simple movement is foundational to all of life itself... the passing of one form to allow the appearance of another form.
When I heard how people and businesses were immediately pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild this object, it gave me another pause for reflection. I was wondering what I would do if I had millions of dollars,
and what events would spark strong enough emotions in me to immediately part with something that previously seemed more important to hold on to, and perhaps less important to apply to any of the unlimited number of other burning causes.
I then reflected on the relatively LIMITED feelings of shock that I felt as the recent series of Red Cross posts passed through my social media feeds, detailing the loss and suffering of human
life after Cyclone Idai impacted Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
How is it that my emotions come out so strongly for the loss of an object, while they rest somewhat in indifference
to the suffering and loss of those very human lives? Why is a familiar object more emotion-sparking for me than an unfamiliar life?
In a way, I know the answer.
My human mind naturally chooses preferences in order to navigate life. The likes and dislikes, the attentions and dismissals give me a direction to go in, and a preference to
choose. I can't choose everything, so my preferences offer me a guide. The familiar... from my memories, my experiences, my connections, my culture, my beliefs... they all offer up emotions when some sort of personal connection is made. And from there, my
actions tend to follow.
From the perspective of the formless, of the impersonal and unconditional, no direction or preference that arises within me, is right or wrong.
I respond to the energy of thought that flows through me in each moment, in forms both secure and insecure.
At the same time, I do participate in this human world
of form. My preferences and choices contribute to the community and world that I live in. And with a little glimpse of the illusory nature of thought and emotion, I'm learning to navigate whatever arises with a bit more grace and with a little less collateral
damage... with a bit more love and a little less fear... with a bit more security and a little less insecurity.
I know that I will never be able to offer my service
or my money for EVERY event that causes suffering or loss. But having some awareness of the variable and often illogical nature of my personal thought, does give me enough pause to notice myself experiencing more emotion over an object than a life.
And of course, it's not always that way. I've chosen life over object on an innumerable number of other events and occasions. Perhaps this latest bit of awareness is just a reminder
to me to continue to make that choice, in whatever way the form of life happens to fall or arise before me next?