On Charlottesville and Spirituality


This is the story of the two travellers. The first, looking for a place to live, arrived in a small town, and wanting to get a feel for the place, went to an old local man for advice.


“I’m thinking of settling here,” he said to the old man. “What type of people live in this town?”


“What type of people live where you come from?” replied the old man.


“Well, that’s why I want to move. They’re all cheats and liars. They’ll con you as soon as look at you. They sing loudly and off key (usually while drunk), and it seems that many of them don’t bathe!”


The old man smiled and said, “You will find the same people live here.”


A while later, another traveller came upon the town and approached the same old man.


“I’m thinking of settling here,” he said to the old man. “What type of people live in this town?”


“What type of people live where you come from?” replied the old man.


“Well, that’s why I hate to move. They’re wonderful. They’re kind and considerate, they sing loving songs to each other. They dance and celebrate every occasion.”


The old man smiled and said, “You will find the same people live here.”


As is the case when recent events bring a lot of focus to my mind, I find that writing about it seems cathartic. The events in the last week in Charlottesville have been weighing heavily, so some catharsis is needed, I think.


I freely admit that I haven’t watched any of the videos. I find videos of angry mobs wielding torches and chanting racist slogans distasteful, and videos of people getting hit by cars to be antithetical to my peace of mind, so my information is limited.


What I do know, however, is that there was a white power rally, and a group of counter protesters, and a white supremacist (allegedly) hopped in his car and drove it into a crowd of people, killing one, and injuring 19.


I’ve heard reports that some of the counter protesters were charging the white nationalists with clubs, or that they were throwing rocks. If that’s true, then let me state that I’m also against violence of any kind, in all but the most extreme and necessary circumstances (what exactly those circumstances would be, I don’t know, as I haven’t encountered them yet, but I like to leave myself a little room in case there was no other option).


Again, if true, that doesn’t excuse murder and attempted murder, and it doesn’t address the underlying cause of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. A large part of me (again, ignorant of the full facts of the case) says that it’s the same as when a woman gets raped, and people say, “Yes, but you were drunk, and dressed slutty, so what did you expect?” Even if you feel someone is “asking for it,” you still need to be accountable for your own actions. If someone’s throwing rocks at you, you have the right to defend yourself, but you don’t have the right to murder and attempt to murder a group of people.


So, since I have a lot of thoughts going through my head, let’s address this from two angles: the spiritual, and the real world, because both thoughts are present, and both lead me in different directions.


From a spiritual perspective, I understand and can see that everything is divinely perfect just the way it is. This glorious planet of ours gives us the opportunity to move between the lowest depths of humanity, all the way up to enlightenment, and as the Buddha said, it’s a great blessing to be born human. But you can’t tell that to the wounded.


I also know that we are all eternal beings and that while the physical you can be killed, the larger you, the spiritual self, cannot be. As the Gita says, you were never born, you will never die. But you can’t tell that to a mother who’s just lost her child.


So there’s a part of me that’s at peace with it, and is willing to let it go and chalk it up to human foolishness, the combined illusions of separateness and superiority that creates most of the discord and violence in our societies.


And then the other part of me is the part that lives in the real world, that sees the pain and hurt and wants to do something about it. I grew up idolizing Superman. He was the first, the best, he was the one that always knew what to do. He fought for truth, and justice, and — as I remember it — the good of all mankind.


And then I get hear the President of the United States of America, a country I always looked up to as — despite its flaws — a beacon of light upon the world, say that both sides are equally at fault, that there’s some really nice people inside this gang of white supremacists who call for ethnic cleansing and a white state no matter the cost. This was supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; a country where, despite being founded by slave owners, was dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal. The ideal was commendable, despite the hypocrisy.


And then I had conversations with people where they defended the white supremacists and said that the counter protesters were coming at them with clubs so what were they supposed to do?


Again, part of me takes the spiritual perspective, and says that it’s all just human foolishness. But then there’s the part of me that wants to help end human suffering. Whether I do or not, I figure it’s a worthy goal.


The other part of me, again, the part that lives in the real world is simply this: don’t defend the freaking nazis. If there’s one group of people that pretty much everybody in the world can agree on, it’s that the nazis were universally bad people, and Hitler was one of the worst people that humanity had to offer.


Again, spiritually, I understand that Hitler went to heaven (a phrase used in Conversations with God), because Hitler did nothing wrong. But even though Hitler went to heaven, countries around the world banded together to help stop him.


Despots must be stopped in their despotism.


As someone who wants to live a peaceful, loving life, these two sides of me are at odds, but I think I’ve figured it out. People choose to incarnate in their lifetimes to fulfill whatever experiences the soul wishes for them to experience, some of that is, for example, to experience what it’s like to be a racist or white supremacist. It’s not for us to judge or condemn that which we disagree with, since we don’t know the soul’s purpose.


However, without judging or condemning, we can observe and say, “This is not who you are. You are not this. I am not this. We are not this.” And always keep in mind that our existence and what we are doing here is done in concert with other people. This is very essence of what Jesus taught about loving your enemy and if someone strikes you on one cheek offer them the other. It gets back to the unity of all. I recognize that they (the white supremacists, etc) exist so that I may better know myself. And if I can know myself, I know them, because we are one and the same.


Like the two travellers in the story above, you create the world you wish to see. You can see it as a blessing or as a curse. You can see the light in everyone or you can see the darkness.


While I agree that despots must be stopped in their despotism, and there is NO moral equivalency between the nazis and those that fought the nazis (it’s very simple: nazis – bad, those that fought the nazis – good), as humanity, we must work to eradicate the mindset that allows these kinds of events to happen.


First and foremost, we must keep in mind that superiority does not exist in God’s universe. Nothing and no one is superior to anyone or anything else in the universe. The fish is not superior to the bird, the sky is not superior to the ocean, the star is not superior to the planet, the tree is not superior to the flower, male is not superior to female, white is not superior to black, straight is not superior to gay, young is not superior to old. Superiority exists solely in the ego, and as the product of the ego, it is a LIE. The ego’s purpose is to lie to you, and it does it very, very well.


Secondly, we all must commit ourselves to acts of love. The power of love is greater than the power of fear. The energetic vibrations of love vibrate at a much higher frequency, and are intrinsically more powerful. Spread love, spread joy, spread peace. If we all commit to this, we can, and will change the world for the better.


Lastly, we must fight, not with condemnation, but with compassion. We must understand that hurt people hurt people. White supremacists and their like are very, very damaged. They have been taught to hate, either in this lifetime or a previous one, but always they have the same choice we have: choose love, or choose fear. We must continually remind them of this choice. Again, using the sample of Jesus, when he was asked if we should forgive someone even as many as 7 times, he replied, I say 70 times 7, and more still.


Again, this is not the spiritually naive notion of entering a lion’s den thinking that God will protect you or that armed with peace you will be safe. It’s been said that it’s better to be a warrior in a garden, then a gardener in a war. Even people like me who prefer the peaceful path, may one day be called upon to show ourselves as people of peace by doing that which we consider unpeaceful.


We can look at those who would do us or others harm with compassion, while still living our lives as an example to others. Where possible we can engage those we disagree with by asking them who or what has hurt them so badly that they must hurt another to try to heal it. And lastly, we can face them with courage, and stand up to those that would harm others, those who talk of ethnic cleansing, to fight for truth, and justice, and say, “Never again.”






Tommy Heiden is a family photographer based out of Maple Ridge who, when he’s not caring for his amazing wife and two beautiful children, is occasionally found taking pictures of other peoples’ wives and children, and even more often, speaking and blogging about how to add more love to your life.