Israel · Movies

on being a woman, sometimes

I was planning on writing about “different kinds of cinema” since I just walked out of this incredible Zhang Yimou movie called “House of the Flying Daggers” with some of the most high quality cinematography (although a lot of it was –I’m assuming purposely–over-exposed), most beautiful actors and actresses, drop-dead gorgeous costumes, incredible fighting scenes (especially a Bamboo fighting sequence that is unrivalled), and some other things.

But then I walked home and encountered something much more mundane but real.

I had to walk in between a group of three guys. And nothing makes me feel more like a vulnerable girl than that. I hate that. I HATE IT. Why do they do that? They always put themselves in narrow passageways or staircases where you have to literally squeeeeze past them. Do women do this at 9 PM at night too but I just don’t see them? I don’t think so but I’m open to the suggestion that I’m making it all up.

There are so many, SO many incredible men out there that completely make up for these minute experiences. So many men who are sensitive, caring, kind, compassionate, service-oriented, helpful, non-aggressive. And I know a lot of them, so I count myself lucky.

But there really are moments when I don’t know if I am just carrying around such a huge chip on my shoulder that I interpret situations through the monumental chip.

I really hurts.

I was just walking down the stairs, happy, thinking of the movie, I had just kung-fu WHIRLED my apple core into a trash can like the heroine of the movie would have, and twirled around in success, and I was smelling all the amazing smells of mimosa, fragrant flowers and blossoming trees that line that particular staircase that make my evening walk so incredibly pleasant, and I was really, just happy. And then I walked past them and felt so embarrassed and vulnerable and kept my head down, and walked past them fast.

I had no reason to, right? they were just three guys, just hanging out near their homes…and they didn’t mean any harm.

I live in a wonderful family neighborhood. It’s really lovely, and everyone is hanging out of their balconies at all hours of the night, smoking nargila pipes, nursing babies, having conversations, turning lights on and off.

But I just reacted by assumption. I guess I just have traveled enough alone from New York’s Port Authority to Abidjan to know that you just have to be cautious, if you’re a woman alone. But you know…just once, walking home from a movie not so late at night, I would just like to be carefree and not have to be cautious.

Maybe other women are different and can walk with their head up high in front of men they don’t know. I always expect comments from them. I always find myself slightly surprised if they don’t make comments or clicking sounds or whistles or something. Young boys do it from the age of 10, 9…and younger ones even are there just watching them, soaking up the example of what you have to do when a girl alone walks by you.

When I walk alone past a group of young boys, I instantly start looking past them or down or away, to detract attention from me, but the comments often come. When they don’t come, I notice.

If it’s crowded, if I’m walking with other girls, or with other people, it doesn’t happen. So it’s not unbearable. It’s not all the time.

But I really think that what you believe has very real consequences in the world, because you take actions based on those beliefs.

And I’ve always felt like the equality of men and women is a spiritual truth, but as a reality, it is far, far removed from our world, and I feel like it will be a long time yet before true equality is seen in this world.

But I expect inequality. I expect that if I am walking alone I will be treated differently than if I were walking with a man. So…isn’t my expectation of this inequality (and I mean inequality in treatment, not intrinsic inequality) and every other woman’s expectation of this inequality part of the problem?

If we (or a large portion, or even, what the heck, assuming we’re just a few, a minority of us) believe that we will be treated differently because we’re women, aren’t we then participating in fueling that prejudice?

I have been working on a personal project lately, the project of not having assumptions. It sounds vague and it’s not. And I’m not going to explain it because I tend to go on too many tangeants. But what if…I had no assumption about being treated differently because I’m a woman. Would I find that that embarrassment I felt walking past those guys was largely my own construct.

Maybe.

And that’s all well, but that’s not the issue, really. I can start working on my end of this, and apply my zero-assumption project to this case, as well. But the issue is, how did it get there in the first place?

How did that concept get inside of me?

I guess I always thought equality was one of those concepts like human nobility which you kind of have internalized de facto, but I’m starting to realize that to see equality and nobility, and lack of prejudice in the world, you have to flush out what remains inside your heart from the old world and grow those qualities from the seed that is already in your heart. Nurture it every day, taking care of your inner life and your purity of heart.

And it’s not about the equality of women to men. It’s about the nobility of man too. If I assume those guys are going to jeer, I’m working on a negative assumption about other creatures of God. So I’m not the only victim here. I’m actually dragging these poor guys into something they probably just don’t need.

Purity of heart is my favorite concept at the moment. It is so much more than being a goody-two-shoes, so much more than “not having bad thoughts”, so much more than “having pure thoughts”.

Purity of heart is your key to nobility. Everything starts with purity of heart. Baha’u’llah says:

“O Son of Spirit!

My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting”

I’ve spent the better part of these past twelve months thinking about purity of heart. I have a hard time with meditation, mysticism, prayer…but I do well with thinking and over-analyzing. I told a friend the other day, if I had to be a super-hero, my super-power would be to over-analyze (and to estimate capactiy, but that’s another story).

And this is what I’ve come to.

Purity of heart is the essential pre-requisite.

In so many prayers and writings it appears as the initial necessary condition. It requires effort on one hand, diligence, daily striving, hard w-o-r-k, but at the same time, you can ask for help when you need it most (“Create in me a pure heart, O my God”).

A pure heart is one that will not blind you, a heart that will not let you operate on assumption. (“He (the true seeker) must before all else cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God (…) He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love incline him blindly to error or hate repel him from the truth.”).

A pure heart is like a mirror, that will reflect the truth. Most often, I’ve come across references to purity of heart that are next to references about error, assumptions, bad judgement. It seems like we operate on faulty premises, and if your premises are faulty, then all your efforts are doomed to fail, right? So a pure heart is where it starts.

Imagine a world where we had no assumptions about each other, each others’ intentions, no assumptions about reality, or how a situation really is. No assumptions about how something will be when it happens, or no assumptions about what lesson we are to learn from this and that experience.

Everyone says they don’t have assumptions. Everyone also says they don’t regret anything. I don’t buy either. I’ve said both enough to realize I’m trying to prove something by over-emphasis.

Trying not to make assumptions is almost a pointless project, really. It’s so difficult to un-earth. You realize that so many things aren’t the way you thought they were, and it makes the little world you had constructed around you all of a sudden a lot less predictable. Not a very comfortable situation to find yourself in, day after day.

But it’s very empowering, and it renews your faith in God, people, almost yourself.

The trick isn’t to replace negative assumptions with positive ones, but just to try and remove assumptions from your mental mode altogether (I, for one, NEVER thought I would use the phrase mental mode in a sentence).

I’m not kidding. I grew up going to French schools were being pessimistic was synonymous with being realistic. But being overly optimistic is not the solution either.

You have to strive for purity of heart, then, I think, only then, you have a shot at glimpsing truth. Or reality. True reality?

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