This I Believe

by Brad on August 23, 2018

I’ve long been a subscriber to NPR’s “This I Believe” podcast. It’s a program modeled after the radio series of the same name, done by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s. (I remember that one.) In its daily postings, people from all walks of life speak to a powerfully-held personal belief, and offer a story that traces the emergence of the belief in their life. Not sure why, but I got this idea recently that it might be fun to participate. So I wrote this, only to discover they’ve stopped accepting submissions due to lack of funding. I’ll save the podcast for another day, but offer it here as a blog post anyway. Simply because it matters … to me.

 

This I BelieveI believe that the potential my life holds is a direct consequence of the openness of my thinking

I reminded the three vice presidents who interviewed me that having been a software engineering manager for 10 years, I knew nothing about operations. They told me knowing nothing was a job requirement. Scared but undaunted, I stepped into a plant of 1200 people … a hard-driving perfectionist, convinced I could turn the business around with brute force. With this team came something new – an Organizational Development Manager. Jim was strange. He talked about consciousness and being, ideas that made little sense to me back then. He was clearly more philosopher than operations guy. I was a problem for Jim; I didn’t listen. At a time when I couldn’t imagine more than half an hour with him, he asked me for a half day. I protested. He persisted. I conceded. The appointment being three months out, I had plenty of time to cancel. I forgot. He found me the day before and said, “Meet me at 4:30a.m.; we’ll be back by noon.” Screwed.

The sky began to lighten over the beautiful country roads of central Massachusetts. He refused to tell me where we were going. My anxiety turned to fear, however, when we stopped at the top of a hill … at St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Spencer. Father Robert was there waiting for us. Apparently, he and Jim were old friends. In silence, we watched a breathtaking sunrise. This moment of reverence and simple communion with nature would soon lead to reverence of a whole different sort.

The place scared me. With little religious upbringing, no exposure to monastic life, obsessed with getting things right, 30 miles from anywhere and with no car keys, I had to swallow my profound discomfort. Perhaps in a futile attempt at self-distraction, I noticed an idea running through my head – a “model of life,” a straight line, with pure being at one end (where I figured monks hung out), and pure doing at the other end (where I was coming to understand I hung out). I finally caught on to why I was there, and it was probably a good thing Jim hadn’t told me before the day began.

After the monks finished their morning rituals, a few of them joined us for breakfast. As uncomfortable as I felt being there, I was astounded by their conversation about topics that were totally comfortable to me – quantum science and the ways of the universe. As they spoke to their life journeys, I realized my view of the world was quite small.

Father Robert began to talk about consciousness. Then, in what seemed like pure coincidence, he drew a line, my line, a “being-doing” line … but he drew it curving back on itself to form a circle, offering this as its reward: “As physicists reach the edges of what they can explain by science, they’re coming to us monks with questions about the nature of being, so they can delve more deeply into mysteries of the universe. And as monks reach the edges of what we can understand with awareness and prayer, we’re going to physicists with questions about the nature of the universe, so we can delve more deeply into the mysteries of being.”

I was hooked. A scientist by education, an engineer by trade, and a thinker by nature, I felt the world I had known transform in an instant. Filled with potential as this new world was, however, it meant the end of my world, and along with it, the idea that doing was worthy of honors. As Father Robert might have said, “Here beginneth life’s journey.” And so it did.

I believe life can change in an instant. You can wait for that chance moment, (when Jim invites you to breakfast with monks); or you can realize that change like this can be everyday occurrence when you choose to be open to new ways of seeing. Had I been more open, Jim might have evoked the same effect without such a “big event.” Thirty years later, I’m grateful for how life has conspired to help me learn, and for how that day in particular created a crack in my armor big enough that light could shine through. Jim rescued me from the edge, an edge I didn’t know I was on.

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