Free Enough to Care
01 April 2003

Until now purity had implied rigid restraint to me. But purity through freedom? Purity as freedom?

It is remarkable how a new look at something can inspire personal transformation.

During my two years of participation in this global movement, I'd learned that IC adherents share a common moral compass for daily decision-making. Its four 'points' are honesty, unselfishness, purity and love.

I felt I had a solid handle on three of these. But purity, which to my ears had a Victorian ring of prudishness, kept eluding me. I harboured a troubling suspicion that of all four directions, this was the one my life had tracked least in the course of its journey.

'What does it actually mean?' I asked a mentor who had many years' experience of steering by this compass. His answer has been ringing in my ears, and across all dimensions of my life, ever since: 'For me, purity is the freedom to care.'

This interpretation caught me by surprise. It was quite a different take from how I'd been framing the puzzle in my own mind. There was something unexpected about this definition, which took a fresh twist down an avenue of introspection I hadn't yet travelled.

Until now purity had implied rigid restraint to me. But purity through freedom? Purity as freedom? I'd always viewed these two states as somewhat mutually exclusive. In the days, weeks and months that followed, I meditated on this notion through the unfolding events of my life. It didn't take long for me to find the brilliance in it.

A striking example emerged this past January, and I found myself ruminating deeply again on this conception of purity. I had started my day in an orthodox Jewish cemetery, to pay my respects through participation in a funeral, and had ended it rather late in a Shiite Islamic centre, to meet local Muslims through immersion in evening prayers. Each experience had been my first, and although I had deliberately sought out both, when the time came they frankly posed a hassle.

My work day was full, as usual, and I was nursing a winter cold to boot. It would have been safer and perfectly acceptable to cling to my daily routine, completing critical tasks, safeguarding my health, avoiding cultural gaffs, relaxing with the evening sitcoms, and getting to bed early - all for the sake of repeating my efficient production cycle the next day.

Yet what would any of this really do to make even a small difference in the world? Staying attached to rote would mean surrendering to potential fears - of failure, illness, endangerment, disapproval, rejection, dissension, loss of face.

As I retired late that night I reflected upon the caring connections I'd made that day in the Jewish and Muslim communities, simply by freeing myself up from fears and attachments. Recently I had cause to reflect again on this, when I unexpectedly bumped into a Bangladeshi man I'd met that evening in January. This time the venue was an Episcopal cathedral. We had each turned out for a workshop on Islam and the Abrahamic tradition, and instantly recognized one another. As the session progressed we renewed our acquaintance and strengthened our initial connection - a felicitous outcome that would never have happened had I not loosed my self-imposed restrictions a month earlier.

Since that pivotal conversation over a year ago, I've learned that purity is at the very heart of things when we release the extraneous stuff which clogs our capacity for true caring—whether in our professional endeavors, in our volunteer service or in our private yet wrenching family struggles. But even more than this, I've discovered in purity's pursuit an unparalleled sense of personal liberation.

Thus inspired, I continue to mark my progress toward purity by how well I allow my care to flow freely. And as I clear my life's clutter to make way for this, I find the navigating grows ever easier.

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