just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

I Can’t See It From My Angle

Published on 24/05/18
by randy

This morning we were meeting the day with beautiful reflections on the water.  My wife was sitting three feet away and described a reflection of the clouds that was pretty amazing.  From my chair, I just couldn’t see it.  I didn’t have the angle she did.  I needed to get up out of my chair and move to her position to see it.  I found this to be a great metaphor for our times.  It seems we’re all sitting in our chairs, perceiving the world from our fixed angle, refusing to get up and move.  We can open to new ways of seeing things or we can close our minds to the possibility of another angle.  It takes curiosity, kindness and a willingness to see things new.  If we only fix on news media that lines up to our angle, only converse with people of political and religious angles we know, only hold to socioeconomic and racial circles that match us, we’ll never be able to see the beauty that can come from moving to another vantage.

As a child, my experiences were quite homogenous.  We were white, Scandinavian heritage, lower income dairy farmers.  Our religion was Lutheran and our politics were Democratic.  There wasn’t much diversity except for our conflicts with Catholics, civil discussions with Republicans that didn’t seem that different from us, and the Hispanic migrant workers.  For us, Nikita Khrushchev was the boogie man of the time.  We believed in the authority of our government, Jesus and our parents.  Any curiosity on the matter could threaten our everlasting life in heaven.  However, big change happened.  My angle on the military and government changed when I got letters from classmates who had moved their angle to Vietnam.  In 1967 I was a foreign exchange student to the Philippines.  I was placed in a town that was half Christian and half Muslim.   I lived with a family that made our lower income life look like luxury. I witnessed shootings and a cheaper value on life. At times, I carried a side arm.  The Beatles and the British music invasion were happening.  My senior year Dr. King and Robert Kennedy were speaking a language of love, peace, social justice and kindness to all peoples. They were shot and I recall some people from my homogenous hometown refusing to get up out of their chair and see things from a different angle.  They were afraid to.  Times were changing and things weren’t working out the way they thought they should.  We were questioning our government’s wisdom, many of our church leaders locked into their dogmatic angle refusing to explore love and compassion from other angles.  Our parents were struggling with the rapid change.  In colleges, we were protesting and they shot at us.

Sometimes, instead of getting up and moving to see things from another angle we just want to close our eyes.  We stop exploring our beliefs and how we came to them.  We close our minds to what we thought was, to what is, and fearfully refuse to pay attention to what’s happening.  I know many friends today who simply refuse to talk about anything other than sports, weather or perhaps gossip about other people.  I admit, when I’m with someone of far right political thought and dogmatic religious belief, it’s hard to stay above my judgment.  It takes tremendous energy to move into an empathetic position, seeking an understanding to their belief system.  Yet, that’s where the real work needs to be as we move to what Thomas Harris called an  ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ position.  Dr. King has said our advisory can smell our contempt for their position and when this happens we lose our persuasive moral authority.  They are smelling our unwillingness to empty our fixed position, our sense of ‘knowing’.  Yet, this is what’s required for real dialog.  This is what real empathy looks like.  If I’ve never got up out of the chair to move to see a new angle I’m blind.  If I’m refusing to move to see from your angle, my closed mind will only grow stronger and learning stops.

I love the phase, “I live my life in expanding circles of belonging”.  Rather than living in fear, building walls to new experiences and locking into our smaller belonging, we step out and invite diversity in.  My Lutheran faith was rejuvenated through my study of comparative religions.  Today, Buddhist, Indigenous and Sufi writings feed my soul to a deeper spirituality, all based on ‘bigger belonging’, smashing the illusion of our perceived separateness.

Sometimes we deliberately get up out of the chair and move.  Sometimes the rug is pulled from us through experiences of surprise.  Brother David Steindl Rast, a Benedictine monk, has suggested we live each moment in ‘surprise’.  The founder of Soto Zen, Dogen, has challenged the very arrogance of the ‘knowing fixed mind’ when the universe (God) is so beyond our human capacity of understanding.  They would both claim our response to the gift of life should always carry a sense of wonder, awe and gratitude for the opportunity to just be.  This is what feeds the human spirit, creativity, the open mind, and bridges/circles over walls/division.

Carrying a curiosity to put ourselves in others’ angles of perception is not easy.  I can certainly see in myself the temptation to lock into my sense of ‘rightness’.  It seems easier to carry the solid, rigid nature of a rock than risk the ever changing flexible ways of water.  Yet, when I look at all the angles water gets to experience as it travels from stream to river to ocean, that’s what draws me to richer dialog.  Rather than saying, “I don’t talk politics, diet, money, religion, etc.”,  I’m stronger in my invitations to understanding, using questions like, “How did you come to that view (angle)?”,  “Tell me more”, “I’m curious about what’s behind that belief.”, “Wow, I’ve never seen that angle, tell me more.”


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