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Lions Roar : November 2013
spirituality and political life are intrinsically difficult. Each domain, fully lived, requires long apprenticeship and dedication, and they tend to expel each other. Men and women on rigor- ous spiritual paths have their own work and challenges. Par- ticipants in political life know that it is a hard-knocks world of competition, compromise, periodic humiliation, and frequent disappointment. “I don’t think it will surprise you,” Hammarskjöld once wrote to a fellow diplomat, “to hear that we all manage to remain in good health and in good heart, catching as they pass those bricks which can be built into the structure and dodging, if we can, those we fail to catch.” Realistically, how can spiritual practice— whatever that is—help? One tries to do a little good between elections. Isn’t that enough? All the more reason to care about Hammarskjöld’s example and thought. For him it wasn’t enough. For him politics was an exercise in awareness, empathy, and objectivity. It was grounded in a life of prayer and aerated by what he discovered in stillness and silence. Mind for him was a work in progress, an incredible instrument for discerning the way to the secret ground of experi- ence no less than the way forward in international life. Engage- ment in political life at the highest level of responsibility and risk became, perhaps to his surprise, an integral element of the way he followed. “Blood, grime, sweat, earth,” he once asked, “where are these in your world of will?” “Everywhere,” he answered. “The ground from which the flame ascends straight upward.” Bodhisattvas wear disguises. They must. Hammarskjöld had, in effect, thought this through. “While performing the part which is truly ours,” he wrote, “how exhausting it is to be obliged to play a role which is not ours: the person you must really be in order to fulfill your task, you must not appear to others to be, in order to be allowed by them to fulfill it. How exhausting—but unavoidable, since mankind has laid down once and for all the organized rules for social behavior.” The best will look like every- one else. There will be no obvious wings, no crowns of light. But look in their eyes. There is no settled path toward spiritual grandeur and effec- tiveness set against the immense difficulties and conflicts of our time. Hammarskjöld lived it in his way, unique in background, character, and opportunity for service. Others will live it in their own ways, entirely different yet under the surface the same. It isn’t something one explicitly prepares for. One trains as much as possible to be real and awake. One digs out one’s talents, some familiar, some unexpected. How all that fits with the world remains to be seen. “Forward!” Hammarskjöld wrote in Markings. “Thy orders are given in secret. May I always hear them—and obey.” This also is a hierarchy. The high orders secretly spoken, the uncertainty of one’s listening, the uncertainty of one’s willingness to obey. And the immense promise that, after all, we can know what to do and have courage. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2013 71