The world is well on its way to waking up.
If it doesn’t blow itself up first, which it’s also well on its way to doing. It’s the best of times, the worst of times.
But do we have to choose, good reader? Old Aristotle suggested no: “The mark of the truly educated is being able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”
But how do we do that?
I’m not talking about abstract notions of truth here. It’s about getting from breakfast to lunch without losing your mind.
This hopped-up world just begs us to take positions. It screams at us that we’re right and they’re wrong. (Or for masochistic contrarians, I’m wrong and they’re right.) It presents us an epic drama of good guys and bad guys and provides you with a full set of stickers to paste on the other. Many of the stickers you wouldn’t want your mother to read! Mighty magnets seem buried in the poles of every argument to pull us to one side or the other.
Well, my truth is I’m not doing it!
I’m not playing.
And I don’t want to (as we say in Canada) just take my hockey puck and go home.
I want a different game!
So bring on the differences! Because you know we have them. Deep down, any two of us see the world differently. We may see the color red the same (though who knows). But for sure we don’t see the core human issues at the heart of our lives the same way. We each come stamped with a unique edition of being human that came through our family and our culture and our biology and the fluttering of butterfly wings in the Amazon.
Maybe the simplest language to understand this is this: We each have an embodied story through which we understand the world. Our stories are very different, much more different than a common language would have us believe. They’re unique! We each are shaped into a one-of-a-kind understanding of the world by it. From the inside it’s experienced as a story that is our identity. The stories are truly different.
But we share the fact of being one-of-a-kind.
And that’s as important as the uniqueness. It’s as Mary Lou Kownaci says: Engrave this upon your heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you heard their story. I hear in this that to understand another’s story is to recognize that it’s also our story.
Our unique stories are also universal. And the more truthfully they’re expressed, the more unique they are and the more universal.
Each time I step back a little, I see that my story has a deeper meaning than the one I self-servingly tell. And what I see/think/feel/imagine/know is that the deeper story still lives. Not only is it not complete, it’s not been told yet. And as Mary Lou suggests, it’s not my deeper story only. We’re all in the same existential position. Our story has a further meaning for us that can come in a growth step or a series of them. It doesn’t require a step because that would mean it makes demands. Which would mean that it has a preference. (I imagine the Great Artist and Architect of Freedom has more fun things to do than worry about whether the universe is turning out the right way down here.)
But “it” makes no demands and has no preferences. It leaves next steps completely up to dumb me. It simply shows me what justice and beauty would look like if I wanted them.
It just shows me my heart’s desire and leaves me to it.
I hate that! Talk about having you by the short and curlies, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Now I/you/we are in trouble because we hold onto our cover story for dear life. We think it is our dear life, so occupied are we – or at least so intent is the world we live in – with keeping that cover story fresh and in good shape.
Even as we prepare for a final examination that only has one question in it. And the final exam question has nothing to do with the cover story.
How can we study for a damn exam like that?
My own strategy, or rather my unstrategy, is to minimize my natural preference for one story over another by exploring them with others. If I prefer one version, what I get is a fancy improvement on the cover story. (But only every time.) If I refrain from preferring, I see a little more of the real story. It’s humbling. But sometimes we see it’s a bigger story than we thought. It’s fully mine and fully yours and fully ours.
As Ram Dass said, paraphrasing the third Zen patriarch,”The great way is not difficult,” and here he pauses for the punch line, “for those who have no preference.”
Together with the excellent Vihra Dincheva, we hold drop-in sessions on second and fourth Thursday’s. You can read about UNPLANNING, aka WE-SPACE Open Space here. If you’re on my mailing list you’ll get the link and extra goodies. I’m doing a registration-only Small-group Intensive starting the end of October. It’s for a deeper practice than can be available with a drop-in. Please apply to join us!
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