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

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.”


Our Biggest Problems Stem From Our Closed Minds

All too often we succumb to the ego’s desire to ‘think we know’.  We enter this world with curiosity and playfulness.  We all have our experiences which we try to make sense of along with those in our surroundings who try to have it make sense to us like it has for them.  Our limited views create our cultural bias, the tendency to judge the outside world through a narrow view based on our own culture.  As a child in the 1950’s, it was culturally ok to litter.  We watched racially biased television and used language that had racially derogatory implications.  We didn’t know a variety of skin color, didn’t know a variety of religions,  didn’t know the impacts our waste had on the environment or the dangers of the drugs used on our dairy cattle.  As a young child trapping gophers, I didn’t know the life of the creatures living on our land.  As a farm lad, our animals were viewed as assets.  My cultural bias was pretty homogenous except for the migrant workers from Mexico and the occasional exposure to a different European language from our neighbors a mile away.  Our cultural bias came from conservative Norwegian Lutheran traditions that were closed to embracing diversity with an open mind.  My parents were ambitious, intelligent and truly believed in the American Dream.  They worked hard and they were humble, participatory citizens, active in the church.  They believed that idle hands were the work of the devil.  As children, we fully believed the mandates of the Ten Commandments and the suggested consequence of lasting damnation if we were to violate them.  Looking back now, the commandment to ‘honor and obey’ your parents made the parenting process much easier for them.  Our religious orientation had a fare amount of fear in it.  Yet, my most positive early spiritual experiences came from a loving relationship with Jesus.  This is where I began to develop a more open mind to the mystery of God.

I clearly remember several times when pressed to find a solution or a lost object, falling to my knees, clearing my mind, and asking the Divine for assistance.  It had the regularity of gravity.  Every time I emptied my mind to that which was much bigger than me I was answered.  My tendency to ‘think’ I knew what was going on was diminished as miracles happened through my youth.  The combination of this faith and supportive parents gave me courage to step out, to broaden my view, to whittle away at my cultural bias.

This extension was most dramatically challenged in 1967 when I joined a Philippine family as an AFS exchange student.  Their life was dramatically different from mine.  They had previously lived three generations in an apartment building, but rented a house and car to accommodate the qualifications for hosting an American.  They welcomed me with deep love and fully included me in all the family rituals and chores.  Their religion was different, the school I went to had a different perspective on things, their skin was a different color, and they lived with much less than what I had been used to.  At meals, we had been instructed to eat everything with gratitude, no matter what.  We had blood sausage, shark soup, developed duck eggs, dog, snake, just to mention a few of the standouts.  Our AFS training had been ‘no complaint, no complaint’ when it came to food.  I slept on straw covered by a sheet.  Cotabato City on the island of Mindanao was half Muslim/half Catholic at the time and carried some of the religious conflicts we’ve come to see today.  The value for life seemed different there as we nightly heard gun shots and occasionally witnessed gun violence in the streets.  At the time, my cultural bias was being challenged.

My host family was so happy.  They had so little that they had space to truly give attention to and gratitude for what they had.  Each morning we woke before dawn to polish our Jeep.  I saw loving humanity in the Christians and the Muslims.  I had seen this back in Minnesota wondering why people would judge one another so harshly from their ignorance fed from a narrow cultural bias.  In many ways, I was smashing my narrow cultural bias, yet, there were areas where I didn’t resist strengthening my bias.  When returning to the US I literally got off the plane and kissed the ground for the freedoms we have and the quality of life we enjoy.  Yet, the needle on my cultural bias had been dramatically moved. 

At five, I was set on being a jet pilot.  Upon my return from the Philippines, I applied to the naval academy and the air force academy.  My cultural bias would be further tested through my senior year of high school.  I had violated the laws of ‘smaller belonging’ by traveling to the Philippines rather than staying home to run our football teams’ co-captain practices.  The judgment from those who stayed behind found a number of ways to punish me from their sense of betrayal.  While this hurt, there was a bigger shift going on.  My belief in the church was being challenged as they judged people with long hair and promoted the violence in Vietnam.  My belief in country was being challenged as the confusion of the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly evident.  The whole notion of ‘authority’ was under scrutiny.  At some point I opted out of pursuing a military education.  At the time, news was news, and the images and reporting from Vietnam kept us from the sanitary reporting of today.  We saw what war did and the premise of the war was more obscured than ever as it proceeded.  Friends were writing letters back about the horrors of the war and my bias to serve without question moved further.

That spring, Dr. King was assassinated.  That summer, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.  I had traveled to Italy for a major AFS student exchange conference that summer.  It lasted one week and I then had two weeks to travel to Frankfurt for our return flight.  The only problem was that I had spent all my money in Italy.  Traveling through Europe without a penny in the pocket is one of the greatest ways to move the cultural bias needle.  I felt the judgment from others, learned to beg for food, and found devious was to transport my way to Germany.  Here I learned the tremendous value in periodically breaking from the insulating attributes which wealth brings.  We then had the Chicago riots at the Democratic Convention and shortly after, I took a train to Valparaiso, Indiana, to begin my Liberal Arts education at Valparaiso University.

Many of my fellow classmates had been stars in their home communities.  Far from home, they had left the support of their families and their previously learned identities.  Once again, our narrow windows on the universe were being challenged in extreme ways.  We were now exposed to another major shift in cultural bias.  What we ‘thought’ of ourselves was no longer relevant.  Our minds and our spirituality were further challenged by our teachers, classmates, and a culture fully calling out the dangers which can come from a ‘I know everything’ closed minded attitude.  I came to fully appreciate the benefits of a Liberal Arts education in the evolution of humanity.  I witnessed the violence and dangers which come from a closed mind and appreciated the skills developed by those who cultivated the open mind.

A Call for a Less Violent Politics

We know it’s simply of human nature to continually face our dissatisfaction with things.  We can feed our restlessness by growing our attachment to our sense of “knowing”.  I’ve heard it said that the three most dangerous words are, “I know that”.  The closed mind takes its limited information and locks into a concrete conclusion that leaves little room for all that’s unknown.  Curiosity is quelled, we take sides, and push to get others to share our belief.  Today we have hundreds of special interest lobbies funding campaigns to get what they want.  As we’ve polarized the nation and further locked into our cultural bias from media that feeds conflict and our dissatisfaction we find ourselves frustrated with a broken system of government.  There simply isn’t an example of dialogue in any branch of our government.  Our churches seem to be regressing to pushing the Evangelical message as they help to push government agendas without regard for those who are harmed.  Yet, all of our great spiritual traditions mandate us to first seek to not cause harm.  With that, shouldn’t all of our legislation drive from that premise?  This makes common sense to me.  First, examine who gets hurt by the actions we take rather than today’s push to see how the action helps one’s special interest.

Our politics will become less violent when we use skillful means to communicate with one another.  This is fostered through taking a time in silence to just breath together, nonverbally, letting the restless mind settle before we speak.  Real faith has the courage to let the calculating mind rest as Divine Providence provides a better solution when we allow it.  Rather than the self centered nature of the lobby, participants would examine an agenda item without attachment, first exploring who gets hurt.  Ancient Hawaiian culture began all meetings with a silent, reverent breathing together before speaking.  The mandate was to act in the interest of “best for all with harm to none”.  This is the Golden Rule as promoted at the core of every major spiritual tradition.  It’s a mandate that comes from the practice of an open mind, expanding our sense of belonging, breaking down our cultural bias.

A Reactive Mind Comes from the Closed Mind

The open mind necessarily requires a temporary suspension of belief (the attachment to a thought that ‘we know’).  The fully curious open mind by definition holds back reaction.  Conflicts are fed through the reactive mind.  Authoritarian governments are fed from the demand that citizens believe  without question, that those in authority ‘know better’ and will ‘protect and provide’.  Yet, when we truly look at the signs of healthy humanity as directed from our spiritual masters, we’re instructed to evolve beyond the need to scare the citizens and the human greed desire to get more, no matter what the cost.

We’ve been given the universal law, sometimes called the Golden Rule, to treat others as we wish to be treated.  Whether it be Jesus, Buddha, indigenous wisdom, Allah or any other great spiritual teacher, we’re instructed to acknowledge the illusion of our separateness.  They all write and speak to our mind’s (ego) desire to separate and our instructed evolution to wake up from this separation.

We’ve had several contemporaries speak to this.  Today we remember the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, perhaps the leading activist of my lifetime, promoting the interconnection of all beings.  He once pointed out how our adversaries can smell our contempt for them, and with that, we lose all moral persuasive power.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”  MLK

Read more: http://www.keepinspiring.me/martin-luther-king-jr-quotes/#ixzz5BirMtoPk

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