What does each of us believe about the value of one life? Does every life have value? If so, how do we honor every life? If not, how do we decide who should live and die?
The question looms in the background of our biased historical perspectives from time immemorial, where one side villainizes “the other.” The question pervades the fabric of class differences – those who can afford to live can live. This question has been answered, in part, by the legal systems of certain states via the death penalty. This question is answered by who we decide to help after natural disasters and wars. We express our beliefs by how we treat the elderly and our children. We express what we think by our social programs and their lack. We respond by how we treat the addicted or the mentally ill. We also answer when we do nothing and avoid thinking and feeling the lives of the oppressed, the hungry, the depressed, and the lonely.
It is clear that we, as the human race, do not believe that every life has value. And even if we do believe in every living potential, we often do not feel that their quality of life is our responsibility. And yet, many still quote: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
So, what is our responsibility for another’s quality of life? Perhaps, the answer is simple. Perhaps, we do everything we can within our sphere of influence to support others, as long as it does not require us to sacrifice our own lives. Individuality is different from self-absorption, and one must practice self-care.
Perhaps we always teach a man, woman, and child “to fish” first, and offer them loving kindness and healthy boundaries in the process. Perhaps we offer what we can of what is truly needed.
Our natural state is service that respects both the individual and the collective, but we are still learning how to navigate the perceived boundary between the one and the many. We are still maturing in this respect.
The root cause of having to even ask the question of which lives matter and who decides is the way we have tied up value with our economy and those at the top of the net-worth pyramid. Money is still power. People with money buy decisions. Things and people who make money are valued, even if the consumer culture rests on the toiling backs of the so-called expendable and the replaceable. So, we trade, buy, and sell – and this process has more perceived and tangible value than life itself. Yet, the system persists.
Until the system collapses due to its sheer insanity of treating people as disposable, service is the only option to honor life. Service is a challenging concept to grasp when one is not naturally in balance with the Whole. Proper service requires a profound understanding of oneself and others. What are our strengths? What are our limitations? Are our limitations real, or self-created and self-maintained? What do others really need? Have we properly listened, heard, and empathized with another’s experience? Then, life becomes about profound connections and less about status and turning a blind eye to status quo.
It is possible to over-serve at the expense of oneself, and it is possible to under-serve through overdeveloped self-absorption. The question of service requires a deep connection to the Web of Life, which expresses itself through all of us. Feeling this Web of Life as a reality and following Its guidance is the key, but what if one doesn’t feel It?
Prescriptive dogma develops when the dynamic flow of life is elusive. Rigid views and boxed strategies evolve from a lack of sensitivity. Until we, as a race, learn to know the dynamic moment, we will continue to write rules and laws for every occasion. Until our geyser of creativity bursts, our apparent choices will seem limited, as will our ability to engage situations.
I know that this is not the only way, and that we can evolve beyond prescriptive living into the nuanced awareness of our unique roles within the Whole.
Before we can build and rebuild, there must be a vision. What if the vision is for us to know one another so well that we can feel anyone’s pain as if it were our own? What if, when others spoke, we listened with the same focus we currently invest into being heard by others? What if we had a natural compass for appropriate boundaries, which do not violate our unity?
Meditation, as taught by an awakened teacher, is a way for us to break free of processed-and-packaged regimes. As the inflamed pustules of this world continue to rupture and expose the underlying dysfunction, a wave of true teachers will again walk among people openly to directly transmit the lost art of meditation.
Today, people are mostly interested in relaxing (or distracting themselves) from life’s stresses, rather than fundamentally transforming their relationship to life – to rest in the Divine (which redefines the whole experience of stress). Transformation is not yet seen as a viable, or even possible, option.
Make no mistake, what must be learned cannot be learned from a book, but through the living pages of embodied teachers who have already crossed the lake of transformative fire. Books are great at introducing ideas, but will not provide the feedback and support needed to transcend oneself – those going through the process will attest to its challenges and times that feel unbearable. For most, meditation is still a lost art. It is the meditation – communion with the Divine – that gets one through to an entirely new perspective on the value of our lives and any life.