Zen Spot #25 — Mindfulness, meditation and The Mason-Dixon Line  February 13, 2018 00:05

Binary

I grew up in northern Chester County, in southeastern Pennsylvania. The southern border of my county is defined by the Mason-Dixon Line — that icon of demarcation between Pennsylvania and Maryland that defined the border between North and South during the American Civil War. Before the war, on one side, slavery was legal and on the other, it wasn’t. A simplistic description but accurate enough.

Even today, it’s possible to stand with one foot in one world and one in another. Binary.

My childhood home was about equidistant from Philadelphia, to the east, as it was from The Line, to the south. As most people know, Philadelphia was founded by William Penn — a Quaker — and over three-hundred and fifty years later, the Quaker culture provides a sublime undercurrent that guides the region's citizenry, despite the fact that few residents actually know more than one Quaker, if that. Friends’ meetinghouses, some older than the country, are easy to find in urban, suburban and rural landscapes.

Visitors and immigrants can feel the area's cultural difference. The contrast of the Philadelphia experience for visitors from New York City, Baltimore and Washington D.C. is noticeable, on their behalf. When they ask, I explain the Quaker dynamic and, almost always, the inquisitor nods with an understanding smile.

Family

In addition to family on both sides of The Line, I had family across the Delaware River in southern New Jersey. As a family, we visited all three states often.

Even at the ages of six or seven, when we crossed The Line, I knew something was different. I didn’t know about The Line, nor the Civil War, nor slavery. I knew something was different however. 

During most visits, our station wagon zipped north and south, at 70 m.p.h, on I-95. The highway signs welcoming us into Maryland, or back into Pennsylvania, were gigantic. As far as I remember, these were the only indications that we were crossing from North to South. To find a sign marking The Line, one needs to cross the state line in a more rural locale.

Oxford

As I got older, and went to school, and learned American history, I came to understand the facts, but the facts never explained the feeling. Ironically, as a teenager, in the 1970s, it was understood that the rural parts of southern Chester County shouldn’t be visited. The Ku Klux Klan still had a strong presence — especially in Oxford, on the north side of The Line. 

Crossing over

Last week, my son needed a ride from Philadelphia to rural Maryland. The trip required the rural route that I was warned against as a teenager. I’d made the trip several times as an adult and knew the exact location of The Line despite it not being well marked when crossing into Maryland. The sign marking The Line, when driving north into rural Pennsylvania is small — about 5% of the size of the welcome signs on I-95.

After having dropped off my son, on the way back, by myself, I stopped, for the first time in my life, to stand with one foot in each world. The sky was blue, the sun was bright and, as I straddled the line, I closed my eyes, slowed my breath and tried to be mindful for a full minute — in an area where hate was as common as fresh air less than fifty years ago.

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What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?