The Bridge: A Homage
I came home yesterday to raised voices and found my neighbors upset. A small foot bridge had been removed that previously connected a trail along the shoreline and joined my community with the adjacent community. I was not surprised. The riff between the two neighboring developments regarding the bridge had been escalating for longer than I had previously known.
Many loved the bridge--the local children would gather there to watch for the big old snapping turtles that came in through the marsh to lay their eggs. The early morning dog walkers loved the shoreline path and the bridge that extended their accessible area to roam. For many years, neighbors from both developments would band together and replace a board here and there as needed without the expectation of repayment or concern of legal liability. If a big storm loosened the footing on the bridge, it was repaired in a cooperative spirit.
Yet something happened along the way to that unity and sense of place. Pragmatic concerns gradually escalated into division. Who really owned the bridge? Who was responsible for its maintenance? Who was liable for any injury that could occur while crossing the bridge? An "us" or "them" conversation ensued.
Alas, regrettably, no compromise or understanding could be reached between the neighbors and after more than three decades, the bridge was removed and the neighborhoods separated.
I admit I was personally not a fan of the abundant snake population visible from the bridge, however a long snake skin that was shed in that spot is one of my prized possessions.
The sight of that little bridge from my back window reminded me of the bridge in Claude Monet's garden paintings. It was in fact one of the charming features initially attracted my heart to this home.
I will miss it not only for its aesthetic value, but also for the joy it brought others as a keen observation post and representation of our connectedness to nature and each other. To be sure, the removal of the beloved bridge is a palpable loss to some of the group and it is hard not to view its removal as having created unnecessary suffering.
Throughout history, bridges have held deep symbolism for humanity. Bridges metaphorically connect the past and its traditions with the present and its challenges. Bridges, while remarkable feats of engineering, are more than a way to span the waters and great divides. They represent a way to connect people, ideas, cultures and ultimately other ways of being.
The last bridge we must all traverse is the bridge from one state of consciousness to another. What then?
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian recently had an exhibit entitled The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire. With 20,000 miles across the Andes mountains through some of the world's most rugged terrain, this ancient road and its bridges are a reminder of mankind's capacity for creativity, vision and purpose, and surprisingly much of the road is still in use today. In 2014, UNESCO recognized the Inka Road as a stunning engineering achievement and symbol of cultural continuity. Of particular interest to me is the suspension bridge of Q’eswachaka, which crosses the Apurimac River in Peru's Canas Province. It is the last remaining Inka rope bridge and represents an amazing example of organization and cooperation. This video is a must-see.
I have watched this video over and over and over again. I watch it to feel inspired.
I watch it to vicariously share in the joy of fellowship and connectedness that the builders must have felt. From the women with babies who cut and braid the grass, to the men who hold the ropes with their bare feet, building the bridge appears to be a labor of love. Construction is completed over the course of merely three days. Imagine the singular focus. Year after year, it seems to be a privilege to be a part of this proud community tradition and celebration ensues. It is a living symbol of heart consciousness and an intuitive recognition of the importance of coming together for the sake of the common good.
"Make strong in our hearts what unites us; Build bridges across all that divides us" ~ David Steindl-Rast, OSB
Since the 13th century, the Q’eswachaka bridge has largely served a utilitarian purpose in the day to day life of this remote village. Throughout its long history however, was it ever destroyed as an offensive or defensive military strategy? Was it intentionally removed by the ruling powers to keep the neighboring villages safe from invasion or as a form of social control and isolation of ideas and beliefs, or as an expression of xenophobia? Without the bridge as an avenue for commerce and communication, how did the people on either side of the river eventually realize the need for reciprocity? Clearly they have. I am left to wonder, was my treasured foot bridge strategically removed as a way to keep perceived physical, social or ideological threats at bay? Perhaps it was the collateral damage of a small-minded military mishap.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist at Harvard, shares her deeply personal and moving story about her travels across a bridge of a different type in her TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight.
Dr. Taylor describes the day she was able to study her own brain from
the inside out as she observed herself having a massive stroke.
Our human brain is divided into two completely separate hemispheres, each like a computer with a unique way of processing information and experiences. The left hemisphere is like a serial processor. It thinks in language in a linear, methodical, organized code. It chatters and creates boundaries and makes distinctions. It calculates and categorizes past experiences and projects into the future, recognizing the distinction between the external world and our internal perceptions. The left hemisphere says "I am" and I am separate from you the external world.
The right hemisphere acts like a parallel processor. It thinks in the present, in pictures, and learns kinesthetically through the sensory input which our physical body provides. All of our senses--hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell--come into the right hemisphere and form a gestalt energetic experience. Operating from this hemisphere we feel oneness: connected to the energetic field that unites all living things. Here we experience universal wholeness and what Dr. Taylor likened to finding Nirvana. The boundless. The formless. The sub- planetary-protozoan type of original energy. Her experience is very similar to others who have had near-death experiences, although she herself does not label the experience as such.
To hold each of the two hemispheres in one hand, one would see the only thing connecting them is a bridge of sorts, called the corpus callosum. In the picture to your left, it is depicted by the C-shaped piece of white matter in the middle of the brain. So visually clear is the anatomical divide between the two different processors, that it seems impossible that the fragile 300 million axonal fiber bridge could ever provide the connection necessary between the two distinct "personalities," as Taylor calls the hemispheres. The right personality exudes inclusivity, peace, and love. The left personality has benefited humanity in its technological and scientific resourcefulness, providing the development of language and reasoning.
What a remarkable body we have that we can simultaneously posses, between our two ears, two vastly different ways of being. Dr. Taylor described bouncing back and forth across the corpus callosum bridge during her stroke. In that state, she shared the beauty of leaving her body, having no physical sense of boundaries: a oneness with all that is. Her mind speaking to her and alerting her to the dangers at hand, and then quickly crossing to the side of consciousness that allows for a deeper universal understanding of the cosmos. Yogis and great sages would say that through dreams, meditative practices, hallucinogenic drugs and near-death experiences, we can visit that consciousness. As long as we are in this physical incarnation, however, we can not stay in that realm, nor linger long. We remain in part tethered to the duality that is uniquely our human existence. The right--the left. The inclusive--the exclusive. The large-minded--the small-minded. The open-heartedness--the hard-heartedness.
We must learn to straddle our great divide individually and collectively. We must find a way to navigate the crossing of the bridge.
If not now.. when?
Peace and love