Love, Making a Difference, Ten Thousand Days

The Landscapes of Conflict

December 10, 2023

Photo: Stijn Swinnen

Day 3399 – Day 3403

One night this past week, I was scrolling and came across a video made by the actor Misha Collins, raising awareness about the shelling of Ukraine and I wrote a long comment.  I’m not a fan girl and can’t see myself ever being a celebrity fan girl.

I worked in the New York film business for several years and I worked with a lot of stars.  Yes, I was  excited to work with David Mamet and Paul Schrader – both great writers – but the only person who caused me to be tongue-tied and nervous was Francis Ford Coppola, when I met him, in passing.  Our office was in the famous Brill Building, on Broadway, on Paul Simon’s floor, so there were a lot of famous people that I met on set, in post and in passing.  I see stars for who they are – fellow human beings (with followers) who are very good at their craft (and sometimes very lucky) but humans, all the same.  Sometimes they have more fragile egos than one might expect, and it is for that reason – not because they are celebrities – that they might deserve extra kindness.

So, I suppose it was a combination of my nonchalant attitude towards celebrities, and the fact that I seem to share a lot of the same passions with Misha Collins, that led me to overshare by way of a contemplative comment on his YouTube video.  I don’t regret what I said, but I did realize that it wasn’t the right forum.  So, I deleted it – but not before I took a screen shot for myself.

There is so much conflict in the world and on the world stage.   I have friends and colleagues on both sides of current wars.  I don’t condemn anyone for feeling aligned with one side or another based on their lived experience.  I think that is natural.   But at the risk of attracting condemnation, I am becoming more resolved in my own impartiality.

There is a monument in London to Edith Cavell, a nurse who treated soldiers on both sides of the conflict in WW1 and who aided Allied soldiers to escape across the Dutch border.  She was tried by the Germans and shot for treason.  I learned of Edith Cavell during my time sitting in silent contemplation as a guest of the London Quakers.  I passed the monument several times a week, for years,  and the memory of her story left cracks in my heart.  I think, or I certainly hope, that I would have done the same as she.  In my heart, I feel that when we are called to love, it is a Holy call and our ego’s preferences can have no part to play.  That choice of impartial love can be a matter of conscience or faith or both.

This brings me back to the comment I made on Misha Collins’ video.  For context, I understand that he practices Buddhist meditation and he has a history of activism in both politics and projects aimed at making the world a kinder place.  We share a similar passion to change the world for the better.  Don’t many of us have that aspiration?  I assume that if you are hitting up this website, you are at least interested in gratitude, joy, oneness and service.  Perhaps, my friend, we are being called to a new army: an army of love.

I deleted my comment on Misha’s channel, partly because it wasn’t the forum for such a comment and partly because I thought it might be seen as a criticism, which was not my intention.  He was, in the video, in Ukraine, filming the torment of night time Russian shelling.  To some, it might appear that he has chosen a side, but only he knows the level of equanimity and compassion that he nurtures in his heart, for each side of the conflict.  Edith Cavell’s example reminds us that impartiality does not necessarily mean a lack of action, yet the landscapes of conflict are where our good intentions can be misconstrued and we can forget the good intentions of others.

In any case, I thought that you, dear reader, might find some food for thought in my slightly abridged words:

I wonder whether you struggle, like I do, to balance the spiritual call to be the witness, with your compassion and your activism.  This is not a criticism but a genuine question.

It is something that I wrestle with, on my own hybrid spiritual path.  My maternal ancestors were radical pacifists from that very region (Ukraine/Russia).  My paternal ancestors took a different tack on Christianity and lived more by the sword.  My meditation/spiritual teacher, in this lifetime, is a mystic of a different faith, where the tradition is both witnessing and radical love (but the sword has its historic place in the wider faith within which the mystic sits)

My teacher’s guidance is not to expend energy on outer activism, but to focus all our work on the inner…which is somewhat of a return to the path of my maternal ancestors.  It is heartbreaking and requires constant wrestling with the ego to truly be a compassionate witness and lover.  To do it wholeheartedly is not an act of complacency but I certainly don’t find that I live up to the call of my maternal ancestors or my mystic teacher.  I wonder sometimes if the inner work is enough.  And, just saying that feels like I need to do more inner work.

My maternal ancestors were labelled “Spirit Wrestlers” by the Russian Orthodox Church.  I really feel that moniker in my bones.  They have nearly died out now, globally, but it feels like now is their time.

Late night thoughts here but I do wonder how you manage the pull between the inner and outer.  I wonder how anyone on a spiritual path does.  I don’t feel I”m doing a great job of it in these times.

I’m not sure any of us are really doing a great job of navigating a world in conflict right now. Conflict seems only to be escalating, from inner conflict to family conflict to workplace conflict to road rage to a shooting at the local grocery store until entire countries and regions of the world are at war.

If we believe that there is something more profound than just ourselves, how do we reconcile the experience of conflict with our awareness of Oneness?  And how, then are we to respond?

I don’t have the answers.   I have inner conflict and there is conflict in many areas of my life with which I struggle to bring together both my worldly and spiritual truths.  I have some good questions and my faith to guide me but I am actively wrestling with them, for my own and for Spirit’s sake.

Even in this uncomfortable place, I find myself grateful.  I’m grateful for that video by Misha Collins that gave me the space to begin to put words to these questions.  I’m glad I made the choice to delete them and re-write them in this forum, as an invitation to contemplation.    I am grateful for my ancestors – even for the fact that their values were so at odds.  It has been a legacy I have had to contend with all my life. Perhaps it has made me more aware of and willing (sometimes not before I’ve dug in my heels and been dragged, kicking and screaming) to try to walk the tight rope between points of view.  And, finally, I’m grateful for my teacher and my small group of fellow meditators with whom I meet, fortnightly, to bear witness to it all.

My compassionate hope for you is that you, too, will find the gift of space to reflect and wonder, as you navigate the many landscapes of conflict.


For what are you most grateful, today?


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