Meditations: Sunday

jkornfield

What matters in life is simple. Are you free and loving? Are you bringing your gifts to the world that so badly needs them?

This is how Jack Kornfield opens his book, Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are. Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher and meditator from the US, and in the next week I’ll be writing a post each day relating to the content of the book. I’m calling them Meditations, though they are not about meditation, or Buddhism per se. They’re about that opening statement.

Today’s one is a story Kornfield tells about Dian Fossey, the woman who inspired the film, Gorillas in the Mist. This is what he says …

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Fossey [the field biologist] had gone to Africa to follow in the footsteps of her mentor, George Schaller, a renowned primate biologist who had returned from the wilds with more intimate and compelling information about gorilla life than any scientist before. When his colleagues asked how he was able to learn such remarkable detail about the tribal structure, family life, and habits of gorillas, he attributed it to one simple thing: he didn’t carry a gun.

Previous generations of biologists had entered the territory of these large animals with the assumption that they were dangerous. So the scientists came with an aggressive spirit, large rifles in hand. The gorillas could sense the danger around these rifle-bearing men and kept a far distance. By contrast, Schaller – and later his student Dian Fossey – entered their territory without weapons. They had to move slowly, gently, and above all, respectfully towards these creatures. And, in time, sensing the benevolence of these humans, the gorillas allowed them to come right among them and learn their ways. Sitting still, hour after hour, with careful, patient attention, Fossey finally understood what she saw. As the African-American sage George Washington Carver explained, “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”

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Many of us probably have someone in our lives who perceives rifle-bearers where they are none, or towards whom we do carry a rifle though we can’t see it. The temptation in such a case is almost irresistible, the temptation to give up and tell ourselves, “nothing is possible.” Kornfield’s story re-enrolls me in the possibility of possibility: the possibility of love and affinity through patience, respect and attentiveness.

Tomorrow: another Meditation on Kornfield’s book.

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