I’ve been in the nation’s capital for two months now and have seen and experienced many things of interest. The city has been a maze of contradictory dead ends and open, sunlit welcomes; of smiling faces and wild, shifting eyes. I’ve witnessed more traffic accidents and heard more blaring horns in two months than I had in a lifetime previous and have walked more on the streets of the District than in any lived abode before arriving to this space and time of my life. All of this said to say, there is, most definitely, a DC state of mind.
A state of mind that is particularly apt to descriptives that encompass the philosophical aspects of Buddhism. I have witnessed those surviving within the animal realm, to whom the meeting of the most basic needs are the order of the day and to whom make it through the passage of time to another sunlit marker is a triumph of the will as well as an indication that dark destinies have been defeated once again. I have also met those who seek higher ends, fellow seekers along the path, also culled from various stratum and realms of societal production, brought together synchronicitously to share in the sublime joys of spiritual work and potential growth.
The juxtaposition of cultures is marked in the Northwest region of the District where I reside. The forces of gentrification and urban renewal have combined to create a cityscape peopled by the most diverse of populations, resulting in a potpourri of ethnicities, colors, ages and inclinations as my sojourns down the “U Street Corridor” attest to on a daily basis. The Dharma, or truth, of these intertwined “realities” can be stark on the surface as individuals from totally different cultural backgrounds mix, meld and merge within the context of a smart “urbanicity” that marks the District as unique as the children of privilege rub elbows with the sons and daughters of the diaspora, as well as the descendants of the enslaved.
It is said that karma descends logically from the past into the future through the present, its sequence a step-wise movement from thought into action, from action to habit and from habit to destiny, which is our karma. Our lives become “written all over our faces”, apparent in the movement of our bodies through space, challenging time as the weight of history struggles with the needs of the present and the possibilities of an uncertain future.
Breathing in the life of Washington DC can, therefore, be a lesson in Tong-lin, as the pain and heartache of those trodding the well-worn streets of the city breath in and out of our awareness: the bright eyes of a homeless individual meeting the shifting gaze of a renovated row-house dweller, both neighbors, inhabiting the same physical space but totally different conceptual and ideological spaces, their shared membership in some greater DC populace a vague subtext to the immediacy of otherness, distance and social propriety.
Still, despite these perceived “realities”, there has been a kindness to my experience of the city. Smiles and polite greetings, head nods on the streets, in the metro stations, on the buses. Random conversations and grumbling gripes and mumbled complaints over one thing or another, the acknowledgement of shared humanity and the commonality and baseness of human experience at its core. The kindness of strangers, the curiosity of children, the perceived enjoyment of a bright day or temporary shelter from a sudden storm, all have elicited moments of shared gnosis, of realization.
The Human Realm is a special condition of incarnation, a place of extraordinary possibility, where the path toward enlightenment can be accessed in a way that is not possible through other incarnative states (animal, god, etc.). The experience of this human life is just this, the drudgery of the daily grind, the momentary experiences that make up the day, the nested choices within choices that we must make on a daily basis often at the unconscious level as those of us concerned with movement upon a spiritual path seek to achieve more consistent mindfulness and awareness of our journey, thereby gaining control over what is an emotion-fraught and distraction-laden existence, filled with the misery of desire and its resultant suffering.
But these are the days of our lives, and this is the life we have chosen. To walk it is a blessing and a curse both, our careening between the extremes of happiness and sadness the measure of our growth as we slowly come to the realization that the extremes obscure rather than reveal the path to Enlightenment. The measured consideration of the state of Self becomes an imperative that becomes more and more difficult to deny, over time. Observing the condition of humanity is a marker upon that road, a signpost on the highway of life, leading one toward a greater understanding of others, through the understanding of one’s own self.
Spiritually speaking, then, the DC state of mind is one of potential, of gross possibility. A state of mind that encompasses the status of the city as the nation’s capital, magnetic lure to individuals from all across the globe. The sheer diversity of the city only bolsters its modern mythos as its continued evolution as an urban realm continues to manifest, the cityscape itself reflecting the changing nature of its population as the old and new meet and greet, expressing both harmony and discord along the way, as is the nature of experience.
As I continue to explore the city and it’s offerings, the continuity of my journey will be expressed through my views as a nascent proponent of Buddhist philosophy. The many contradictions I’ve experienced thus far will most certainly give me much cause for rumination and the journey promises to be one of constant revelation and immersion within the very “stuff of life”. To walk the streets of this city and to listen to them whisper its secrets during the nights and days, bearing witness to the continuous movement of thought and intention through its streets, self-aware and observant, committed to the ideals upon which this country was built and upon which its promise has been disseminated throughout the entire world.