Apr2018: Choosing “Home” – Part 1: Conversation

by Brad on March 29, 2018

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – G.B. Shaw

(Part 1 in series on how a deep sense of home can offer you resilience and self-trust … in a chaotic, uncertain world.)

The authors of the U.S. Constitution were a brilliant lot. The result of their labors has guided this nation for 230 years. The fact that it has been amended only 27 times attests to their insight, foresight and vision. Yet as I see it, it’s not this perspective alone that created a framework so resilient that it has weathered changes they could never have imagined.

Things didn’t always go well for Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and their peers. They disagreed, strongly at times, over things big and small. What made them extraordinary was that their deep belief in a young nation’s potential was far greater than the substance of their disagreements. In the face of disagreement, their commitment opened them to dialogue. Dialogue is a two-way exchange of ideas, conducted in an environment of respect and reciprocity, aimed at learning and growth, based in a mutual belief in greater possibility. Engaging in dialogue, they discovered and then worked through major issues and potential pitfalls … their differences thereby strengthening the result.

Without belief in something bigger, however, disagreements often devolve instead into divisiveness. Separation focuses on what’s wrong instead of what’s possible, and is driven by the need to protect rather than learn, valuing personal opinion and entitlement over resolution and mutual satisfaction. We see the impact of divisiveness very clearly in our world today. Fake news, alternative facts, hiding behind political correctness, all the yelling and drama that go along for the ride – signs of a system in breakdown, a system that has lost its way.

Some amount of defensiveness is understandable; we have a need to feel safe and secure in a chaotic, uncertain world. Yet to create a future based on entitlement and personal opinion actually leaves us less safe, less secure. Worse, when or if the drama subsides, all that’s left is opinions, which, unlike ‘truths,’ have no sustainable energy of their own beyond what we give them, so they force us to devote even more of our energy to defending and justifying them.

What kind of conversation are you? A strange question, perhaps, but from this perspective, your life is a conversation. Everything you do is done through the lens of language. (A bit of poetic license here, but even getting up in the morning is the result of a successful conversation – with yourself!) Seeing yourself as a conversation is a simple yet effective way to check in with your everyday reality. You create that reality by the kind of conversation you choose to be.

During times of challenge and uncertainty in my life, times when I felt most intent on pulling in the edges of my world, often in fear or self-defense, what I needed most was to expand my edges, opening to listening, conversation and learning – dialogue – allowing new ideas to fill the space I’d created. The most profound shift my life ever took was when I realized that my life’s greatest potential came far more from being connected than from being right. The journey was often rocky and scary, yet I slowly changed, by learning my way through challenges, not defending or denying them.

As I ponder the underpinnings of “conversation” more deeply, I can’t help believing that authors of the Constitution felt it a privilege to serve their country as they did. And as I ponder the divisiveness in our world today, I can’t help believing that to see our world through a lens of privilege rather than one of entitlement could lead us to some exciting places: to adopt a consciousness of gratitude for all we have; to behave in ways that value what truly matters; to treat others with greater respect, even if we don’t agree with them; and to be more respectful of the long-term impact of the choices we make – on ourselves, others and planet. In the space thus created, all might live more peacefully.

The path forward begins with recognizing that choosing the kind of conversation you are truly matters, a choice that defines your reality. The path involves learning to live with paradox, chaos, contradiction and mystery – appreciating everything from the wholeness of both. This is just what the fear-based mind is trying to avoid, however, in its attempt to keep you safe. Lastly, the path means recognizing your opinions as “just ideas,” voices in your head that you hold as “truth” largely because you’re so used to having them as companions.

Exercise: Getting to know your conversation. If I’m advocating anything here, and I am, it’s that we stop for long enough to look at the kind of conversation our life has become. In this way, we open ourselves to the possibility of new choices, choices invisible to us when we just “go along for the ride.”

Create some quiet time, perhaps in several pieces, spread over a period of days. (1) Write down things in your life you believe (or perhaps hope) you can count on. These may include such things as free speech, your own opinions, the pursuit of happiness, internet, grocery stores, good weather while on vacation, etc. Your list may be as “grounded” or as “lofty” as you see fit. Take your time. Question your list. As you go through your day, notice things that matter to you as well as things that may make you upset. How might these fit in your list, too? Absorb what you’ve written. Allow yourself to feel the energy of YOU. (2) Next, think about each item as a privilege, a right, or an entitlement … as you see it. Yes, answers here are subjective, and yes, they depend on your consciousness … and yes, they matter. (3) Last, expand your thinking to consider the whole world. Assume for a moment that everyone else’s list matched your list. Then ask yourself this question: if they had their privileges, rights and entitlements, would this support you in living your privileges, rights and entitlements? Or would it deny you? Anything you might want to change on your list as a result? (4) If you’re up for an even bigger challenge, consider what combination of privileges, rights and entitlements would include everyone, deny no one, and be unconditionally loving and supportive to all … in the same manner you might want yours to support you. Anything else you might want to change on your list as a result?

 

Life lessons from nature: We live in a world of dichotomy. Life has taught us the world is divided (natural vs. supernatural, human vs. all else, same as me vs. different from me, myself vs. everyone and everything else). When we see life through the idea of separateness, we end up not living life itself, but rather a story about life – a mental construct, made up of our opinions, the need for an identity, the need for safety, etc. Nature teaches us the opposite … the world is one, everything connected and related to everything else … a wholeness, or oneness, where everything exists “in relationship” to everything else. Yes, there are “edges” in nature … between sea and shore, field and forest, river and canyon. Yet nothing is being walled in or walled out. Without separation, there is no judgment. And without judgment, there is no divisiveness. Nothing is good or bad in nature; it simply is. This sense of “universal truth” offers us a foundation in the midst of life’s chaos, a deep connection with ourselves and with all of life. Perhaps this is why, even if we are not nature lovers, we still feel at peace and at home in the woods. Perhaps this is why quests for knowing our deepest selves have often included time in nature (vision quests, personal rituals, etc.). It is here we find our truth, this as opposed to the “truth” of our opinions and circumstances. And when we try to build a life without this foundation of deeper truth, we set ourselves up for anxiety and divisiveness (even if we don’t consciously know this as the cause). But when we build life on a strong foundation, we become resilient to the inevitable winds and waves of life’s circumstances.

Imagine, for a moment, nature “having conversations.” An ocotillo cactus “has a conversation” with the meager supply of water in the desert, and as a result, knows when to shed its leaves and when they might return to power its photosynthesis for another week. The river and the canyon work out the river’s path; the river doesn’t force, the rocks don’t fight back. All the while, water changes the shape of everything it touches, leaving it polished in the process. An old quote from Rumi: “If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”

We may believe we’re becoming stronger when we entrench into our opinions and positions, but it never leads to peace … because it can’t; peace is found where life hangs together, not where we push it apart. We cannot be at peace with others if we can’t even be at peace with ourselves. This is why finding and feeling at peace with a tree may be a very good place to start. The tree offers no opinion, nor does it fight with yours. It may just invite connection with your own inner truth, depth, essence, soul. That connection creates far more support in a crazy world than a made-up sense of entitlement could ever do.

 

Book of the month: Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chödrön. While all her writing is heartfelt, artful, approachable and extremely practical in today’s world, this is one of my favorites. Her point, always the case, is straightforward: the ground underneath your feet is always going to be shaky … but you don’t have to be. Chödrön helps us to become comfortable with shaky ground, be open to learning, live without judgment, and connect more deeply with others. It’s a recipe for peace in a world that might seem to convince us that’s not possible. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.

Download April 2018 pdf

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Suki March 31, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Thank you Brad for being the clear voice that is desperately needed right now.
There is so much to digest and I have read and re-read this and will read it until I feel I have absorbed enough to do what is necessary to move forward.
I hope to have my opinions become my traveling companions as “just ideas” rather than held as truths. How much more comfortable my life will become. So many possibilities present themselves with ideas as they are so much lighter than truths.
As a wise man (guess who) once said to me………..”what is needed is resolution, not control”. This conversation is the beginning…..a beginning for all of us.
With blessings and gratitude always,
Suki

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