Let’s talk about George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch guy in Florida who gunned down Trayvon Martin, the kid who was armed with a bag of Skittles, a can of iced tea, and a cellphone.
There are a lot of takes on this story: Florida’s gun laws; racism (or not); critiques of the local police (whose chief’s resignation was not accepted); the power of the Web (after petitions, the state appointed a special prosecutor who brought charges the local prosecutor didn’t) …
What I’m interested in is George Zimmerman’s mind because it is not that different from our own.
Do you remember the scene in the Disney’s Snow White, where she is running through a forest and every branch is trying to attack her, every root trying to trip her feet? I imagine — and this is by no means an excuse — that Zimmerman’s mind was more than a little like that.
For some reason he saw this kid, out for a snack while visiting his dad, as threatening, and as Trayvon Martin walked down the street he appeared to Zimmerman as more and more threatening, someone who had to be stopped. So Zimmerman stopped him. Maybe after some kind of altercation, maybe not. But I think we can all agree that the problem started in Zimmerman’s mind. If he’d thought, “Oh, here’s this kid who got a snack and is walking back to be with his dad, hope he doesn’t get too wet in this drizzling rain,” none of us would have heard of either one of them.
Or, as the great Korean Zen master Man Gong put it: “Life is like a gingko tree which sees its own reflection on a pond and thinks it has found a mate and then bears fruit. Humans — just like this tree — cry and laugh in response to their dream world, which is just a reflection of their karma.”
Or, sometimes, humans, instead of crying and laughing, shoot in response to their dream world. What gets shot, however, is not a dream. It is a real person.
And that is exactly the human conundrum. George Zimmerman was engulfed in his dream of Protecting The Neighborhood, of being the Good Guy, of rooting out the Bad Guys. He followed this dream, and it turned into a nightmare. As all spiritual teachers will tell you, you must wake up from this dream; in fact, from any dream.
“You must wake up from this dream” is a common trope, but who are we telling to wake up? Everybody wants to tell someone else to wake up from this dream. But that’s not our business. Our business is to wake up from our own dream. That’s the only dream we can wake up from. It’s the work of a lifetime, over and over and over again.