September 11th, 2001 was a day that left me all alone, completely and absolutely and eternally in this world, in a way nothing else in my life ever had before or since. I happened to be staying in a hotel in Muscat, in Oman after living there five years working at Sultan Qaboos University. I was about to begin at a new private university and was waiting for the new work visa. Another teacher at SQU called and told me to turn on CNN.
They were showing the first rerun in the first minutes, (not yet 9:00 o’clock yet in NY) of a plane hitting the WTC. For the next two weeks, I watched either CNN or BBC night and day, and only slept a minute at a time, at most. When the Towers collapsed, I called my “best friend” who proceeded to lecture me on how we “Americans” will have to learn our lessons now…
The WTC was something very personal for me. It was something so beautiful for me, one of the most beautiful works of architecture ever. I spent a lot of time over the years seriously studying it from all over the city. In the 80s I used to deliver to the WTC every morning at 8:45 AM, the exact time of the first strike. I was living in a Zen Community and in charge of deliveries for their bakery, and our best customer at that time was a restaurant at the WTC. I had spent many hours looking at the WTC as a structure, and its relationship to itself and its social surroundings. Its twin-ness, its exaltedness, its whiteness, its brightness, the way it reflected light, the way it stood for coming home no matter from which direction you entered the city.
While at the Zen Community, I also met my sheikh and I became Muslim in the shadows of the WTC, and so did my brother and my mother. She told me after my father died, that he had become Muslim secretly before he died. It was in its shadow where my brother married his wife who is from Tehran, and it is where one of my sisters lives, and it was in its shadow where I had the closest and most intimate relationships with a community of friends that any person could have. It was where I began my first study of Sema, the meditation practice of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi — called whirling — but really a prayer of the heart, and the practice of kenosis: the Shakers say: when true simplicity is gained, to bend and to turn, we will not be ashamed. The collapse of the WTC and the death of so many people as an act of hate shattered all my structures, shattered all I knew, all I believed, all I loved. I didn’t know for months how many of my friends died that day.
Its collapse and all the people who died at that instant was for me the collapse of all I knew not just as ideas in the head but as living itself. Duality, twin-ness is such an archetypical representation of the unity of the soul with its universe. The twin collapse was for me the collapse of my whole inner and my outer world. All around me, my Arab friends no longer trusted my being non-Arab, and my non-Muslim friends no longer trusted my being Muslim. What had been a network of love became a network of suspicion and hate. The faith whose name itself means peace became the very symbol of all I hated. Healthy wholesome fruit trees do not grow poisonous fruit.
Within myself, I could find no way to condemn anyone despite how I hated them because I realized at once that that hate which brought down the WTC and piloted those planes was the same hate that consumed me. I hated them. I hated the ones whose hate drove them to hate. I hated the ones whose hate taught them to hate. I hated the hate in me. I hated all the hate around me and that had swirled around me all those years that led up to September 11th. We all knew it was going to happen some day one day and none of us had the courage to say no. I knew I would never find the way to humanness again, and I knew nobody on the planet would ever find that way to humanness again until I purged myself of all that hate and all the excuses for hate. If Islam, PEACE, is not the way to peace, if being at peace is not the way to peace. Then how is peace to be?
This was not a sectarian problem. Peace is not a sectarian question. All spiritual teachers practice the same peace. Peace is at the center of all practice. Prayer of the Heart and the way of kenosis, the way of bowing in peace to love, the way of the Bodhisattva, dharma, the holy circle of the Sufis, of the First Nations, of the Hassids, of the !Kung healing ceremonies, the interdependent co-arising of the Mogen David, the Star of David, and of the Tao in the Tao Te Ching are the same.
The vow to free all creatures and the practice and its application to life at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and on your dates, and at work and when the guy behind you honks his horn before the light turns green even!!! How to do that. It is not a problem to be solved. There is no answer to that question except to do it.
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