Saturday, 19 October 2013

Between Dog And Wolf: When Has The Night Ended?

Have you ever heard the saying “There are two types of people in this world” What do you think of it? Is there truth in it?

Yes? No?

Well I have discovered that there are two types of people in this world, those who think that there are two types of people in this world and those that know that there are not!!!

Of course it is ludicrous to suggest that there are two types of people in this world. We are all formed from the one flesh and we all have the same spirit flowing through us. Divisiveness does not help anyone.

There is a story told of a rabbi in ancient times who gathered his students together very early one morning, while it was still dark. He put this question to them: "How can you tell when night has ended and the day has begun?"

One student made a suggestion: "Could it be when you can see an animal and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a goat?"

"No, that's not it," answered the rabbi.

Another student said: "Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and you can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?"

Again the rabbi answered: "No."

After a few more guesses the students said: "Well, how do you tell when night has ended?"

The rabbi answered: "It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and you see them as your brother or sister. If you cannot do this, then, no matter what time it is, it is still night."

What do you see when you look into the face of any man or woman? Do you see them as your brother and or sister?

The nights are becoming longer, as I am sure you have noticed. This often brings with it a sense within us to seek hibernation, to go into ourselves. We need to be careful here, as tempting as it is. When we are hibernating we are not fully awake, we are falling asleep.

It can become difficult to awake from our slumber on these cold, darkening mornings that the Autumn brings. The temptation is to stay in and not awaken to life, to turn inwards and not to live in the world.

This last Tuesday I experienced a lovely example of waking up into the cold Autumn day. Every Tuesday I attend an early morning meditation in the schoolroom at the chapel. Now when my alarm went off at a little before 6am part of me didn’t want to get up and step into the cold darkness of the morning. But I did. I prayed my morning prayers; I sought inspiration from the great mystery and listened to the birds outside my window. I showered and got ready for the day. I then slipped next door for the meditation. We greeted one another with humour and coffee and then we enjoyed silence together in complete darkness. As the silence ended the light was just starting to appear through the windows. We then began to share about our own personal joys and troubles with our spiritual journeys. As everyone spoke I looked at their faces and connected with them and saw in them my own brother and sister, I saw myself reflected back at me. I saw a reflection of the Divine in their eyes and heard it in their words. There was no sense that there were two types of people in the room that morning.

It is so tempting at times to live with this idea that there are two types of people in this world those that are for me and those that are against me; that there are those that are my friends and those who are my foes. It is so easy to be seduced by the need to keep an eagle eye out for ‘foes’, because if we do not they may well cause us harm; that these people are dangerous, even “toxic” and you must keep them out of your life.

There is a French saying “L’heure entre chien et loup” which translates as “The hour between dog and wolf”. The saying is basically describing the time just as the sun is setting, the twilight hours when you cannot really differentiate between dog and wolf, between who is a friend and who is a foe.

The phrase “The hour between dog and wolf?” has only recently come into my consciousness. This is because it is the title of New Model Army’s latest album, as well as the film that has just been made about their strange and enduring career. By the way the album is an absolute sonic masterpiece, their best work for over 20 years...

“Between dog and wolf, between water and wine, between wine and blood.”

By the way I discovered the other day that this week is "Wolf Awareness Week"...A nice bit of synchronicity as I formulated ideas around the time between dog and wolf.

The idea that there are two types of people in this world brings to mind some lyrics from a really old song by New Model Army’s “Better than them” and the words of the chorus...

Divided we were born,divided we live
divided we fall,yeah,divided we die
still we tell ourselves over and over again
we're better than them... (we're better than them)
we're better than them..
We’re not like them, we’re better than them...

"Better Than Them" 

The song is essentially a rant against this sense of superiority and separation that all groups of people and individuals feel from time to time, that sadly some of us feel permanently; this sense that somehow we are better than, or less than other people. It seems to go on in all sections of society and throughout human history. It is there is religion, but also secular society. Some religious groups talk about the saved and the unsaved, others talk of being God’s chosen people. When they speak this way they are talking of a God I do not recognise. The God I know accepts and loves all universally. Experience has revealed to me that we are all chosen by God, it’s just that so many of us turn away and cannot believe that there is a spirit that is there in all life.

Then of course there are the anti-religionists who ridicule people of faith; who see it all as purely infantile projections. They mock, they poke fun, they separate people into the stupid and the wise. They say we are not like them, we’re better than them.

I am no better by the way; I do it too. There are days when I feel superior to other people and there are days when I feel less than them. That said thank God most days I recognise the truth that there is one human family. We are made of the same flesh and we have the same spirit within each of us.

When the epistle Paul talked of the oneness, the unity in Christianity, he wrote that in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek.” He did not say that there are no longer Jews or Greeks more that people are no longer separated by these distinctions; that they are all one in love, in body and in spirit; that if all people are viewed in the light they are brothers and sisters to one another.

As Tenzin Gyatso XIVth Dalai Lama has said “Mentally, physically and emotionally we are the same. We each have the potential to be good and bad and to be overcome by disturbing emotions such as anger, fear, hatred, suspicion and greed. These emotions can be the cause of many problems. On the other hand if you cultivate loving kindness, compassion and concern for others, there will be no room for anger, hatred and jealousy.

These words very much chime with a favourite story of mine, “The Two Wolves"

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It’s a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego and it makes me cynical about life.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith and it fills me with enthusiasm for life. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Where does this sense of superiority come from, this sense that we are somehow better than other people? Where does this fear of some people come from? Well I believe it comes from habit. We are taught to fear the stranger who is not exactly like us, we are taught to separate one another, to see the difference. Habits, especially fear based ones, are hard to break.

This brings to mind a tale I recently came across...

"There is a story from the middle ages about a poor farmer whose plow one day hit an iron box that was buried in his field. When he opened up this box, he found inside a scroll which gave directions to a fantastic treasure. It said that on a certain part of the beach on the shore of the Black Sea there was a magic pebble. If you rubbed this pebble against any kind of metal it would turn that metal into gold. Now this pebble looked like every other pebble, but you could identify it by touch. If you picked up the other pebbles, they would be cold. But the magic pebble would be warm.

Now this story seemed unreliable, but the farmer believed in it. He sold all that he had and moved to the shore of the Black Sea. He began his search for this great treasure. There were of course millions of pebbles on the beach, and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But he began resolutely. He would pick up a pebble. If it was cold (and therefore not the magic one), he would hurl the pebble into the sea. Then he would then pick up the next pebble. He followed this pattern hour after hour, day after day, and year after year. Pick up the pebble. It is cold. Throw it into the sea. Pick up the next pebble. He never gave up. He kept trying until one day, a rather ordinary day, he picked up a pebble and it was warm. Then, in shear force of habit, he threw it into the sea."

The man was so used to throwing the stone in the sea that when he finally picked up the hot stone he just threw it into the sea without thinking. Habitual thinking and behaving are not easy things to break free from.

So how do we get to the place where we can tell when the night has ended, where when we look into someone else’s eyes we see our brother and our sister. How do we get out of the habit of separating people into one camp or another? Well I believe it begins by us waking up to reverence in one another and to practise loving kindness each and every day. This is not easy. I know this from personal experience. Every day I find myself putting up the barriers of separation; every day I find myself doing all I can to ensure that they come tumbling back down again. It is perhaps a whole life times work and perhaps beyond, this moving from night to day. That said I believe it is possible and we can begin aspiring to it right here right now. We just need to wake up.

It can begin with your next encounter. When you look into the eyes of the next person you meet, what do you see?

I am going to end this little chip of a blogspot with a story from the life of the Buddha.

It is said that soon after his enlightenment that the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha's extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?"

"No," said the Buddha.

"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"

Again the Buddha answered, "No."

"Are you a man?" "No."

"Well, my friend, then what are you?"

The Buddha replied, "I am awake."

The night has ended and the day has begun.

We need to be awake.

"Between Dog and Wolf"


  1. As soon as my eyes rested on the first picture I thought "he's going to put New Model Army's latest album in here somewhere isn't he?". You didn't disappoint! Great blog post!