I’m in a small group where we’re exploring vulnerability. Despite admiring Brene Brown’s work with vulnerability as open-heartedness, I still struggle with the word. At times it suggests weakness to me, rather than softening the tissues into love, reception, trust, and connection.
In thinking about it, I remembered Michael Lerner’s spring letter from Commonweal. You can read it all here but I want to give a taste of what has softened my heart into the deepest pitter-pat feeling of love, trust, reception, and connection.
Yesterday I visited the house where Maimonides lived. It is a simple house. The ground floor is now a Chinese restaurant. At first this seemed a sacrilege to me. But I wanted to sit in his house. I entered and ordered rice and tofu. My tremor has increased. Sometimes it is difficult to feed myself. This was one of those days. A young waitress saw my plight. She walked over to my table. She smiled kindly. She placed a napkin on my lap and tucked another into my shirt. She took the spoon and began to feed me, spoonful by spoonful. As you might feed a baby. It was the first time I have ever been fed by a stranger in public.
Does the spirit of Maimonides inhabit this house? Is this Chinese restaurant a kind of hidden shrine to his memory? This kind young woman evoked his spirit for me. After a time, I could feed myself. When I finished, I tried to offer her an expression of my gratitude. She shook her head. She would not allow money to soil what had passed between us.
This young woman in the home of Maimonides was a living expression of what I have learned in my 75 years on this earth.
Love is the most powerful force in the world.
True service requires love, wisdom, and will.
A life of service is the path to inner peace.
She, in her late twenties, was in that moment the teacher of an old man in his mid-seventies. I will never forget her. She nourished my soul.
Before he shares the above, he writes this:
I am here in homage to two of my greatest inspirations—Ibn Arabi and Maimonides. I wrote an essay in 2010 about them after a visit to Cordoba, Spain. I called the essay Out of Cordoba. This was my introductory note.
This essay began after a visit to Cordoba, Spain, in May 2010. It is an inquiry into three great spiritual and philosophical visionaries of 12th century Andalusian Spain. Ibn Arabi was the greatest Sufi mystic of all time. Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher of all time. Averroes’ translations reintroduced Aristotle to both Islam and the West.
Ibn Arabi deeply influenced three leading thinkers of the contemporary Traditionalist School—the gnostic tradition of Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Like Ibn Arabi, they embrace the Perennial Philosophy which they affirmed was at the heart of all great spiritual traditions. Leibnitz coined the term Perennial Philosophy, and Aldous Huxley wrote an eponymous book with that title in 1945. The Traditionalists reject the Renaissance, humanism, and the whole turn away from the Perennial Philosophy in the West as a tragic error for humanity.
Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King sourced their non-violent visions of justice and renewal in the Perennial Philosophy. So have countless others. But Michel de Montaigne’s skepticism and doubt—on which so much of Western culture and achievement rests—critiqued the Perennial Philosophy. He drew on the Greek pragmatic philosophies—Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism. I ask whether the Perennial Philosophy might support the collective wisdom we need for the Great Work of healing ourselves and the earth.