Pema Chödrön and the parable of the walled community
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” Robert Frost, Mending Wall.
“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan, Berlin, June 12, 1987.
According to Pema Chödrön, the gentle and perceptive Buddhist teacher whose calm recorded voice has helped me through some hard places, the Buddha (sometimes called the “Great Physician”) believed that humanity’s “main sickness was that we try to protect ourselves from what it is to be human.” By putting up walls around our hearts, we “become more afraid, less flexible, and less open to our lives.”
Chödrön tells the story of the elderly parents of a friend of hers who live in a “walled community” in Florida. It is both gated and guarded, and nothing is allowed in without being vetted by a guard. In the beginning the community seemed wonderfully secure, and the couple felt protected from the threatening world beyond its walls. But you really can’t keep the world out, and after a while the couple started to worry about the people coming in – the electricians, the plumbers, the pizza deliverymen. Then they stopped going to the beach, which they had loved to do, because it lay outside the walls, and they had become fearful of leaving the security they felt the walls provided. And so, in trying to protect themselves from the realities of life, their lives had become more and more constricted, and they became more and more afraid.
That’s the trouble with walls. They play to our fears, give us a false sense of security, and cause us to withdraw from the world around us.