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
July, 2018

Flexibility and Curiosity vs. the Closed Mind

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

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 fair 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.