Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

Agents of Peace: First Chapter

April

Of the brutal gifts that time bestows, middle age is at once an invitation and a demand to abandon arrogance, self-pity and self-centered views, a chance to rediscover dreams and correlate them to possibilities. Corrado Borsini wandered alone on an Italian hillside of craggy old olive trees, near the small stone town of Castignano, his birthplace and home to his ancestors. His mind basked in memories of his youth, his friends, his girls, his singing and cavorting in hormonally fueled bliss in this very place. Many would gather at the funeral service to pay their last forlorn respects to Luciano Borsini. Corrado would be gladdened to see them all again, though empty-hearted in the overshadowing loss of his beloved father.

Corrado had been numbed by walking into the intensive care room and seeing his father lying on the bed of numbered breaths, the air tube alternately inflating him like a balloon and then allowing his lungs to expire, the myriad tubes in his neck and arms and emerging from under the sheet, the pallor of his face, the lack of any glimmer of life save the traces on the monitor. Clearly a place that had known death

In awe of the inevitable passage, Corrado stood next to the sacred bed, thoughts and feelings fleeing before the aching realness. Gently his hand found his father’s bare arm. “Papa, I am here with you now. It is your son, Corrado. I am here now. I will stay with you until you go home.”

Luciano had asked only for his son before the operation, a triple bypass that would not wait for Corrado to travel from Washington. With a damaged sixty-eight year old heart, the chances that Luciano would survive the procedure were borderline. But the severity of the blockages in his coronary arteries nullified all hope without surgery. Only his daughters’ pleading insistence swayed the surgeon to defy the probabilities. Luciano loved his son more than life itself and sorely, sorely wished to see him, if only once again. The bypass bought just enough time.

Luciano’s eyes fluttered barely open to see the hopeful ashen faces of his daughters, Maria and Francesca, and of his son. Far too weak to be surprised, he gazed into Corrado’s eyes for a long moment and then, with his own eyes smiling, yielded to the massive, leaden weight of the all-enveloping fatigue. Thirty minutes more and the monitor sent out the death signal, the room erupted with nurses and doctors. As Maria, Francesca, and Corrado were urgently ushered from the scene, they stole a last, longing look at the peaceful face of Luciano Borsini, a simple man who had lived a full and, yes, a happy life with enormous reserves of friendship and kindness. A life of coffee shops and confidants, of heated but joyous political debates in the town square, of measuring, cutting and sewing fine suits, of a wife who had died some thirty-two years earlier and left a flame in his heart that burned until this day, of an idealistic youth of violent resistance to the fascist Mussolini.

Sitting in the church, barely aware of the funeral mass, Corrado’s mind replayed the images of his father’s life, overlaid on each other like living transparencies. Random scenes of Corrado’s own life mingled with those of his father’s. Sensing a flow of generations, Corrado knelt and paid homage to his ancestors and himself and his children and the great enigma of life and wondered once again, but more powerfully, where the meaning of all this could be found. How could he, like his father Luciano, live and die with no regrets - none!?

Everyone knew and loved Luciano, their friend. Houses emptied into the church and escorted him in all solemnity to the cemetery and watched his casket lifted and slid through tears into its rightful place next to his wife and above his own father, who oversaw the proceedings through the photographs on the faces of their own crypts.

The stark events of that pivotal day emblazoned themselves in Beyazid’s mind. He recalled how his outward calm masked the thumping of his heart, the cold drip of sweat, the sinking in his gut, the leaden feet. Beyazid had never wanted to be a soldier or fight a war but, through his uncle and several close friends, had gradually fallen completely under the spell of carving a free Kurdish homeland out of Turkey and Iraq. The silent pleading of Rabiyah’s tearful brown eyes of goodbye haunted him as he approached his target. His PKK friends considered the Turkish policemen to be a cruel and oppressive occupying force. Beyazid knew many of these Turks. Some indeed had grown cruel under the ruthless influence of their violent power over Kurdish shopkeepers and tradespeople. Others were just earning a modest salary for their families.

This is not the time to dwell on that, thought Beyazid, looking at his watch and rehearsing. They are the enemy. Eight o’clock. The staff meeting is just beginning. There’s the last of the stragglers. Two minutes. I drive to the front door of the stationhouse. Park. Walk normally down to the end of the next block. Punch the button on the transmitter in my pocket. Boom. No more police station.

As if in a dream within an unthinking cloud of inevitability, Beyazid drove the hundred yards to the building within which his enemy had gathered. His wet palms slipped on the smooth black steering wheel. The other vehicles and pedestrians moved slowly. He strained his neck to look into his own eyes in the rearview mirror. A guerrilla soldier, a freedom fighter striking a blow against the oppressor. His eyes did not smile back at him. He looked away. I must do what I must do.

As Beyazid reached the last few feet to the door of the police station, he noticed a little old man standing on the sidewalk in front of the door. The little old man wore a Western-style three-piece suit and hat and twinkled at Beyazid. Trying to walk slowly, Beyazid rushed over to the little man.

“Grandpa, whoever you are, this is not a good place to wait right now.”

“Why not? Have you brought my death in your truck? This is as good a day as any.” The little man beamed.

Sudden turmoil engulfed Beyazid’s mind and heart. What am I doing? What am I doing? I can’t kill this grandpa and all those policemen, even if they deserve it. They have lives, they have families, just like me. But what will the PKK do to me? And Rabiyah. Oh, God. But these Turks killed my cousin with no regard for his family.

Even a casual observer could have seen the anguished confusion in Beyazid’s face.

The little old man spoke from the heart, from the bleak sadness of war. “You can come back to Konya with me, son. Start a new life. I’ll send for your wife right away. As for the van, you can detonate it outside of town and the PKK will think you died in a premature explosion.”

Resonance within chaos, in that moment Beyazid chose. He was not at all certain exactly what he had chosen, but his heart felt unburdened by the no longer impending mayhem and gore. In his confusion he overlooked the fact that the little old man knew what no one outside a small circle in the local PKK cell was supposed to know.

“Drive back out the way you came. About one kilometer outside town you will see a small green car parked on the left side of the road. Make a U-turn and park on the road. Get in the green car. When you’ve got enough distance, send the signal, but make certain there are no other cars nearby.”

The plan worked, but Beyazid had two major surprises.

The unexpected violence and scale of the explosion penetrated to his core. A visceral shock wave passed over and through him like the unholy finger of superhuman forces. Beyazid’s body trembled in uncontrollable fear of what he had almost done as the driver brought him back to town. Suspicions arose. Have I just been fooled by the police? Is this driver a policeman taking me to jail?

Prepared to run for his life when the car stopped, Beyazid saw the little old man standing on a curb. Next to him stood a woman, smiling. Could it be? As the car pulled up, Beyazid sprang to embrace the softness that was Rabiyah.

“No time for that now. Get back in the car quickly.”

And so they did and rode in wild silence and immeasurable relief, holding desperately onto each other as anchors against the cold tide, until the utter improbability and strangeness of the morning’s events awoke their curiosity.

Long plane flights, far from Earthly concerns, often put Corrado into a reflective mood. The return journey from Rome to Dulles following the funeral was no exception.

Well what now? As of September my kids grown and independent and out of the house. As of November my wife is packed, out of the house, and filing for divorce... And now my noble father dead... I guess this is loneliness or maybe just aimlessness or maybe both. My business thrives even without my full attention. Wonderful, but they don’t need me there. What am I supposed to do? What do I want to do? Does it matter?

Well, what could I do? Become a priest. I’m not sure I could deal with the hierarchy and the dogma. Soup kitchens? Politics? I’m not so outgoing with strangers. Music? Yes, I should play more piano. But that’s not enough. A new woman! Yeah, that would help, but only someone I really love and that’s not so easy to arrange. Too many years in an empty marriage. I don’t need any more of that. But even if I find the right lady, I’ll still need something to get my teeth into. Maybe I’ll start another company. But what for? Maybe I should just try to have some fun and let it figure itself out.

His mind fluttered to rest as his gaze surveyed the ocean and he sat with his stone grief and his murky questions. The hours passed and Corrado passed through Dulles to an empty home. No sleep visited him that night or the next.

Empty, colorless weeks followed, weeks of stepping through the established pattern of his life: the office, the grocery, the movies, the baseball games, the piano, the laundry, the jogging, his friends. The people around him noticed an unusual distance in him. He even tried singles’ bars, which he found depressing, having to put himself out for bids in the marketplace of relationships. Good sleep continued to elude him. Corrado would awaken at two A.M. and sleep no more.

The welcome touch of the cool night air greeted Corrado, as he emerged alone from the Georgetown theater after the screening of a lush Spanish film. Walking along rows of elegant townhouses on tree-covered streets toward his car, Corrado came upon two teenaged boys and a well-dressed middle-aged couple standing on the sidewalk in front of him. One of the boys held a gun pointed toward the balding man. Fear gripped Corrado’s throat as he stood frozen, gaping at the scene, mind and breath in a race, his little can of pepper spray useless here.

“Gimme your wallet, mister, an your purse, lady, an rings an watches right now.” The boy without the gun held out a gym bag, unzipped and ready.

“Quick now, so we don’t have to pop a cap into you.”

Corrado took a step backward. They appeared not to notice him or did not care. At that moment the balding man’s legs gave out and he crumpled to the ground in a heap. The robber boy with the gym bag began frisking the crumpled man.

“Leave him alone, please, he may have had a heart attack. Let him...”

“Shut up, lady, or I’ll finish him and you both. Understand?”

She whimpered.

The robber boy found the wallet in the balding man’s coat pocket. Corrado took another step backward.

; “Got it. Go on an do ‘em an let’s move outta here.”

The gunboy held his muzzle to the woman’s head.

Just then there burst another voice from a woman walking casually toward the group from the side opposite Corrado.

“If it’s money you want, I can help,” she said in a firm, reassuring and friendly tone.

Her words broke through the fear to startle them all. And their surprise overflowed as a delicate and beautiful woman in her mid-forties, with dark hair and an amiable demeanor, walked up to the gunboy and handed him a paper bag.

“There’s a thousand in twenties in there. When it runs out call me. My card is in the bag too. I won’t give you any more money, but I can give you something else you need. But for now you’ve got to let these people go and give back what you’ve taken from them. You get the thousand and no blood on your hands. Then I’m sure they won’t report this to the police.”

The other woman nodded vigorously, her eyes wide in terror and disbelief. Her husband remained inert on the sidewalk.

The gunboy looked from one woman to the other and shook his head.

“What the hell is going on here? Check this bag!” He shoved the bag toward his partner, who took it and yanked out a wad of twenty-dollar bills.

“You must be some kinda nut,” the gunboy said to the new woman. Then, turning to the other woman, he said, “Tell the cops and we’ll come find you and your husband and your kids, if you got any.”

“I won’t tell them, I promise.”

“Go.”

The two boys started trotting across the street and away from the scene.

“Their wallets and things. You need to give them back,” the dark-haired angel called out after them.

The boys stopped in the middle of the street, slowly turned around and stared, half amused and half perturbed. The gunboy fingered his pistol.

“Drop the gym bag, we got what we wanted. Do it now,” the gunboy said to the other, who then threw the gym bag toward the two women. The boys melted into the darkness.

“Don’t forget to call me,” the dark-haired woman yelled after them.

The rock-hard stupor that had encased Corrado evaporated with the would-be robbers and killers. He ran over to the grounded man and held his ear to his chest.

“He’s still breathing. I’ll go call an ambulance.”

Corrado rushed to his nearby car and its phone and summoned the emergency medical team. He hurried back to the scene. The man was still lying on the sidewalk, unconscious. His wife knelt over him, caressing his face and murmuring reassurances of imminent relief. Corrado’s heart sank when he realized that the dark-haired beauty who had saved them was gone.

“The ambulance will be here any minute. How is he?”

“Breathing, but he doesn’t seem to hear me.”

Remarkably calm, she looked up at Corrado. “Thanks for calling the ambulance.”

“Where did that woman go?”

“I don’t know, but she gave me this card and told me to call her if we have any more trouble with those boys. She also asked me not to tell the police or any reporters about her. And to ask you not to either.”

She handed Corrado a business card that bore only a name and a phone number. He extracted his pocket calendar and a pen and recorded the name and number of Elizabeth Rikovic, the mysterious heroic angel. Corrado repeated the name to himself, recalling her face and her voice.

“She saved your life,” Corrado said gently as he handed the card back to the woman who had returned her attentions to her limp husband.

“And his, I hope.”

Corrado met them at the emergency room of Georgetown University Hospital, through the doors of life and death. He held the hand of the woman who turned out to be named Carla Lindeman, until her brother arrived. Corrado took his leave as they anxiously waited for word, any word but especially some word of hope, from the emergency room staff on John Lindeman’s condition.

Driving home to Bethesda, Corrado replayed his memory of the vividly etched events under the leaves of that Georgetown street. If it had been a movie, he could have accepted it. But the reality was too undigestibly stark for him to fathom Elizabeth Rikovic. Where was her fear? She seemed oblivious to her personal danger. Why would she put herself in mortal danger to help the Lindeman couple? Why would she give a thousand dollars for an uncertain cause? Why was she carrying so much cash? How did she just happen to arrive at that place in that crucial moment? Why did the gunman do what she wanted, rather than just taking the cash as well as the purse and the wallet? Why didn’t the gunman shoot them all? Particularly embarrassing to Corrado was the contrast between his own inaction in the face of the unfolding crime and the dramatic, fearless actions of Miss Elizabeth Rikovic. Or is it Mrs. Rikovic?

The conversation was brief but fruitful. In his sonorous Mediterranean voice, he presented his boundless admiration for Ms. Rikovic’s heroic actions and his wish to find out how she came to be able to accomplish the impossible on that Georgetown street. She suggested lunch at a quiet place she knew in Georgetown. Joy, disbelief, and a habitual impulse to restrain his expectations all welled up in Corrado upon hearing Elizabeth’s invitation.

Entering Emile’s at the appointed hour, Corrado quickly found her sitting at a table toward the rear of the establishment. She watched him glide toward her with an ease and grace that bespoke a confidence born of difficulties faced squarely and overcome.

His face broke into a wide-open Italian smile. “Hello, Ms. Rikovic. I am Corrado Borsini.”

“Please call me Elizabeth.”

She offered her right hand, which he took with care. He bent forward and, with a hereditary flair, kissed her hand. As he sat down opposite her, he almost instinctively noticed that she wore no rings on her left hand. Now that he could see her in the light and proximity, he saw that she was indeed beautiful, not with the superficial beauty of doe-eyed youth, but with an exterior elegance adorning an interior depth. Yet the physical attraction soon receded to background awareness as he approached the enigma of the previous evening’s events.

“I could hardly believe what I was seeing and hearing last night. You did a remarkable deed that left me with a swarm of questions.”

“Such as?”

“Who are you? Why did you take such a personal risk? How were you able to succeed? Why were you carrying so much cash?”

“Maybe I was wearing a bullet proof vest,” she replied.

“Were you?”

“No.”

Years of deal making in the fast-moving software industry had given Corrado a nimble directness.

“Look, Elizabeth, I appreciate your offer of this meeting, but please don’t toy with me. What you did last night was momentous for the Lindemans. You saved their lives by risking your own as well as paying a sizable sum of money. The real explanation might offer me some ideas about the direction of my own life.”

“Please tell me about your life.”

“Alright.”

And Corrado launched into an account of his youth in Italy, his emigration to pursue a passion for computers and to seek his fortune in America, his education at Princeton and Carnegie-Mellon, his business exploits, his children and his pending divorce, his father’s funeral, and his recent restlessness and insomnia. He surprised himself with such openness with this complete stranger. But he hoped for something from her, so he answered her question fully and honestly, sensing that her brown eyes would notice any fabrications or exaggerations. His was a picture of a highly successful immigrant businessman who had suddenly come to an emotional impasse. All the while he watched her expression for clues to her attitude toward him. She was unreadable.

“...I’ve been feeling as if I’m on a treadmill, going nowhere. I had decades of goals and ambitions but now I’ve accomplished most of them.”

“What are the ones you haven’t accomplished?”

“Mostly a twenty-year-old’s idealisms that I gave up a long time ago. Wanting to make some major contribution to the world and, of course, be acclaimed for it. Become a top strategist for world leaders. Be one of the wise men of the planet. Typical megalomania of a smart-ass kid.”

Elizabeth had also been watching him carefully. “On a treadmill going nowhere sounds like ordinary male mid-life crisis. It happens to women when they reach menopause. Why don’t you just go to a psychiatrist?”

“I would if I felt that my mind was sick. But this isn’t sickness. My best guess and hope is that it may be some sort of purgatory, a passage to another stage of life, although I don’t have a clue as to what. But enough about me, please tell me about yourself.”

“What do you want to know? ”

“Why did you take such a risk to save the Lindemans?”

“Because life is precious.”

“Were you afraid?”

“Yes.”

“Of dying?”

“Yes. I was also afraid that the Lindemans would be hurt. I was afraid that those boys would bear the weight of two murders on their consciences for the rest of their lives.”

“Why didn’t your fear for yourself stop you from helping them?”

“A long time ago I hit bottom. I seriously contemplated suicide. After a few years, I found a way to climb out of that hole. Part of the climb included learning to see my own fears from the perspective of other people’s fears.”

“But what about the cash in that bag? It was as if you were ready to deal with just that situation when you came upon it by accident.”

“Well, it could have been that I had the whole thing prearranged with those two boys, so we could pull a scam on the Lindemans. You know, play on their gratitude.”

“But that wasn’t it, right?”

“No, it wasn’t set up. The truth is that I’m part of an organization that works in a variety of ways to make the world a more peaceful place.”

Corrado didn’t notice the slippery dodge: his question would not be answered directly.

“You mean like the State Department or the U.N.?”

“No, it’s a private group.”

“What’s its name?”

“I can’t tell you because only the members and the sponsors are allowed to know that type of detail.”

Corrado was put off by her response. He thought a rapport was building until this wall was thrown up. At the same time he was even more intrigued. “Why all the secrecy?” he asked.

He seemed sincere and grounded. Elizabeth opened the gate. “We avoid publicity. You’ll never find us in the newspaper or in the phone book. Publicity would only interfere with our work. You see, in addition to crime, we work on preventing and defusing terrorism, wars, and the destruction of the natural world, which is also a form of violence against nature, ourselves, and future generations. Public knowledge of our work would only make it more dangerous and less effective. We don’t operate through public political action or open diplomacy with governments. We attack the problem at its root, at the level of the individual who commits or intends to commit brutal acts. Sometimes it’s the boy about to pull the trigger like last night. At other times it’s a dictator or a prime minister about to sell a rainforest or a general, a crime boss or militia leader about to issue a fatal order. If we can show a nonviolent alternative then people may change, because even the perpetrator, at some level, may recognize the horror of violence. The anger, greed, and despair that lead to violence can, in special circumstances, give way to hope and kindness. When violent individuals change, then society changes. But it’s a high risk, high payoff business.

“We also follow a more indirect approach of working with people in violent neighborhoods and violent subcultures to show them an alternate way of finding true satisfaction and meaning.”

Corrado had listened in rapt silence. “Do your methods work?”

“We have many specialized methods which we adapt to suit each situation. We’re constantly exploring new approaches toward our goal. But, yes, most of the time we’re successful, at least temporarily. We don’t act unless we see a reasonable chance to tip the scales in a particular set of circumstances. There’s just too much violence for us to go after every instance we encounter. And still, sometimes we fail. Dozens of our members have been killed or badly injured. You see, we only use nonviolent means.”

“Do you think you’re changing society?”

“The day when a violent act is considered to be rare, radically aberrant and unacceptable behavior and treated as a symptom of a serious mental illness is still a distant ideal. The day when anyone can walk down any street in the world without fear of being mugged or bombed is still only a glimmer in our mind’s eye. But we feel that despite the odds and the enormity of the problem, it’s worth devoting ourselves to. Particularly because there are places today where violence is rare and these serve as beacons of possibility and plausibility for our goals. Even a small victory, like last night’s, is tremendously satisfying. Wasn’t it Hillel who said, ‘The person who saves one life, saves the whole world.’ Violence is the most extreme symptom of the root of all our planet’s problems - spiritual alienation. True peace could set the stage for solving overpopulation, malnutrition, the ecocidal destruction of species, environmental degradation, and consumerism. But maybe I’m saying too much.”

“No, please,” came the expected protest, “I’m fascinated. I’d like to know more about your organization. Tell me, why are you so focused on violence as the fundamental issue. Why not hunger or overpopulation or one of another half dozen major problems?”

“What if everyone had food? There would still be crime and war. But think of how life would be if violence were eradicated. The psychological barriers that separate people and nations would grow thinner and eventually disappear. Outer security makes possible the lessening of greed. Of course the converse is also true, diminish greed and separation and you decrease violence. That’s the spiritual side of our efforts...”

Elizabeth spoke with a depth of calm infusing her whole demeanor, all the while watching Corrado for any sign to stop. But in her presence, Corrado had grown quiet himself.

“...With lessening of separation and greed would come increased caring about each other, about other forms of life, about future generations and the kind of world we leave them. Poor nations would spend less on weapons and more on education, food, shelter, and health care. The more educated, nourished, and healthy people are, the lower the birth rate and the more they maintain their environment through sustainable lifestyles. When war is no longer an option, nations will negotiate to settle disputes, to share mutual resources like air and water.

“On the other hand, we know that everything is connected. Non-violence is not the whole answer. But there are numerous coalitions, governments, and non-governmental organizations working to alleviate suffering in its many forms. The war and violence issue alone claims an abundance of excellent groups such as the U.N., Amnesty International, the Carter Center, the various human rights watch groups, the Guardian Angels, and others. Our approach, however, is distinct and complementary and necessary.”

They reassessed each other during the pause in the conversation occasioned by the waiter delivering their plates. Corrado studied the table as he let Elizabeth’s words and bearing and appearance settle. He took up the theme after the waiter departed.

“I have often thought,” he began, “that the basic problem is what you referred to as spiritual alienation, the lack of meaning in our lives, the material, consumer ethic, the concern only with helping ourselves and, perhaps, our immediate family. I remember a time when my son was eleven and I told him that he was the most important person in the world to me. His response was shattering. ‘No I’m not,’ he said, ‘you are.’ I had to admit to myself that he was right. If a parent can have such a barrier with his own child, then the crucial issue is the spiritual one.”

Elizabeth’s rejoinder lent an unexpected twist to Corrado’s thought. “There have always been religious and spiritual reformers and proselytizers. Where has it gotten us? One result is the Sunday-go-to-church or Saturday-go-to-synagogue or Friday-go-to-mosque syndrome. For too many people, religion becomes a once a week event with little real impact on their lives. Look at our own violent, pseudo-religious country where ninety-nine percent of the people profess a belief in God. But how serious can it be, when we have so much crime, poverty, backbiting, and greed? Religion too often divides people rather than uniting us. It even leads to so-called holy wars and religious battles masquerading as ethnic conflicts, to the murder of ‘heathen’ abortion doctors because they don’t share the inflexible moral judgments taught by the murderers’ religion, to making of God in man’s image, to political power grabs by religious groups, to making idols of human creations like the so-called ‘family values,’ to ostracing people because of their views or lifestyles or religion or race, to claiming the superiority of one religion over others. Where’s the love and compassion that form the overarching basis of every major religion?

“But what most don’t realize nor care to know about is that every major religion has a core of real spirituality with tools and techniques to actually, but gradually, change who we are, to enable us to become more open, more caring, with real fulfillment and happiness, to meet the consumerist, me-first crisis of values in today’s society.”

“What’s wrong with going to church on Sundays?” Corrado replied with a hint of indignation.

“Nothing. Nothing at all. I wish every Christian went to church regularly. What I’m pointing at is what happens the rest of the week. Church can lead us to be more responsible and generous in our lives. Church can lead to a moral approach to our relations with people. External, behavioral morality is a necessary part of spirituality. But a full life means feeding and developing our inner life as well, and not just on Sunday mornings. That’s the role of the spiritual tools and techniques which the mainstream religions have all but buried.”

“What do you mean by tools and techniques?”

“There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. For example, Muslims have their Sufi zikr, Hindus have their meditation and yoga, Buddhists have their way of mindfulness, Christians have their contemplation and prayer of the heart, Jews have their Kabbalistic methods. But the overwhelming majority of people in those religions doesn’t learn or pursue such sacred disciplines, because these practices are regarded as odd and old-fashioned, they take time and effort and don’t always give immediate gratification.

“Some people even say that the leaders of the religions have purposely kept methods of transcendence away from the bulk of their followers for two main reasons. First, their priestly function would be undermined if everyone could find their own direct relationship with God. Secondly, by making fewer demands on people and misleading them into thinking that salvation is cheap, that it lies in a merely mental belief in the tenets of the religion and behaving morally, religions provide an attractive rose-petalled path of least resistance for packing their temples, mosques, churches and synagogues. Meanwhile, the real work is reserved for individuals, groups and monasteries outside of the mainstream.”

“Are spiritual practices somehow connected to your peace group?”

“Yes, they are central to it.”

“Sounds sort of new agey.”

“Too much of the new age spirituality is just as shallow as once-a-week-and-forget-it religion. The so-called new age community is riddled with pseudo-spiritual ersatz ‘teachers’ interested primarily in enhancing their own egos with fame, money, power, and/or sex. These counterfeit gurus tell people what they want to hear: that you can have happiness, God, perfect sex, great health, lots of money and enlightenment with little or no effort, through repetition of and belief in the proper slogans, through various psychological manipulations like enhancing self-esteem, through traveling to power spots, through congratulating yourself for noticing coincidences, through getting massaged, eating oat bran, hyperventilating, consulting your astrologer, channeling aliens, predicting when Atlantis will rise, shelling out the bucks for the enlightenment-now workshop and so on. For the most part, they ignore the world’s ancient and rich traditional spirituality, except the ones that promise heaven through ingesting naturally occurring drugs. But when it comes to genuinely transforming the core of a person’s being, they haven’t got a clue, these purveyors of spiritual junk food and placebos. Too much of the new age is about promises of mystical and material freebies and ignores the persistent personal efforts needed for true transformation. I’m afraid the new age movement is doing a disservice to the well-intentioned people it attracts. Its major redeeming feature is its promotion of ecological responsibility. Spiritually, it’s nearly bankrupt.

“The new age movement also does a disservice to the people it repels. If you scratch beneath the lip service, people think that the spiritual realm is ethereal, insubstantial or even imaginary, way out there and not worth bothering about. The truth is it’s more real than our ordinary lives. But the new age movement is so full of fantasy that it confirms people’s suspicions that spirituality is bogus or unimportant. Of course, that’s not to say that the real thing can’t be found some new age groups. But most of them have achieved the fringe status they so richly deserve.”

She glanced at her watch. “Oh, I’m sorry. I have to get back to work, so I can’t stay any longer. Besides, Scheherazade taught me the importance of keeping part of the tale in reserve. On the other hand, I think I talked too much. I tend to get pretty exercised about all of that. Bye.”

Before Corrado could gather a parting comment, Elizabeth had flipped a twenty on the table, turned, and walked out.

Stunned by the abrupt departure, he ordered a glass of wine and sat contemplating the deepening mystery of Elizabeth Rikovic and her shadowy organization of light. What a woman! I wonder if there’s a man in her life. Or maybe she doesn’t have room for one.

First things first, Elizabeth pondered the situation. Quite the guy. But if he is interested in me, I don’t want him joining the Peace Group under a biological imperative. That’s not a strong enough motivation to see him through the training. On the other hand, if he joins the Peace Group and sticks it out, he could be a real asset. I suppose I have to let him decide on that without a potential relationship clouding the picture... Damn! Could have been interesting.

Their next conversation was terse and mediated by Bell Atlantic.

“Sorry, I’m tied up for the next few weeks. But if you’d like to hear more about our peace group, I can arrange it.”

“Yes, please.” Oh, man. This is not good, doesn’t sound very friendly or promising. Was that merely a recruiting lunch yesterday? Merely a pouring forth of prophetic wrath?

“All right. I’m going to give you the name and number of a couple in New York whom you can contact. They’re wonderful people and they’ll be able to answer all your questions. Wait until tomorrow to call them, so I can have a chance to let them know to expect your call.”

“OK, let me get paper and pencil,” Corrado replied, fumbling for writing utensils. I’m going to New York? Do I really want to do this? I guess I’ll have to scratch her off the short list of candidates. Which leaves me with no list at all. Damn. This group of hers intrigues me though.

“Ready.”

“Their name is Obuki...”


     

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