I went to an opera this past weekend for the first time at age sixty-two. The story was as old as time. The subject presented was one of love and freedom. As we were leaving the house, my wife explained the opera’s synopsis to my son, and he replied that it sounded like a hallmark TV show. When my wife told me of that conversation, it made me smile. My mind immediately thought of the many women on that same rainy Saturday demonstrating at the Lincoln Memorial not far from the Kennedy Center opera house for the right to live free and not be criminalized for terminating their pregnancy. The opera I saw is titled Carmen, who lost her life because she chose to love and live free.
On a spiritual level, I deeply relate to this story. Whether religious or secular, human cultures do a great job transmitting values from one generation to the next. However, I find them very judgmental when a violation of its boundaries happens. The maintenance of these boundaries is the lifeblood and identity of that culture. Every member and generation in that culture must translate those values and borders.
Sometimes we reinterpret the cultural values and visualize new possibilities. Today we possess a global consciousness, and our technology provides an awareness of cultures outside of our birth culture. Today the gatekeepers in our religious and secular societies are working overtime to keep us inside our borders. If you are not old-school, you probably have membership in multiple cultures, and if you are like me, each culture has gatekeepers trying to pull us back into the fold. And one of their favorite strategies is to have you guard the borders to prove your loyalty.
At the opera’s end, Carmen is killed by one of her lovers. Spiritual transcendence is always about dying at one level to get to a new level. Freedom never comes without death. My original religious culture retells the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and my new culture teaches us to see reality through a new lens. As one of the teachers in this nondual movement loves to quote: “Matter is not what you see, it is a way of seeing”
My spirituality also reflects the insights found in the culture of science and scientist, who may not see themselves as a culture. However, science has its dogmas, based on science but still dogmas. Quantum entanglement is faster than light communication, also known as prayer, and has always been a function operating in my life. However, I now see that there are no walls between what some call God, other people, and myself. I am beginning to understand and live in a reality where the very substance of life is the same for God, all humans, and everything in the universe.
Spiritual transcendence makes possible freedoms at new levels. As we remove separations walled by our old cultural beliefs, new possibilities bubble forth. As we change the way we interpret life, a new reality emerges, kind of like being born again. The Washing National Opera (WNO) has a close relationship with the Ambassador community in the DC area. Most of these good women and men would be considered gatekeepers of their international community. The WNO was also hosting a gala to coincide with the two-year restart of opera performances after pandemic restrictions. The audience was full of embassy staffers, and I hope their takeaway from the story of Carmen was a little more nuanced than my son’s comparison to a Hallmark TV show.
Transcending one’s culture is an evolutionary process. Human spiritual development will continue, and new human cultures will rise and fall. New interpretations of truths will find their way to the light. New boundaries will replace the old ways of seeing, and those that were once criminals will live in new freedoms. To love and live free is a human story, played out every day in every human life.