I anticipate that this post will be a bit scattered. But I promise to do my best to make it worth reading.
Let me start by saying this: in recent times I’ve felt – more than ever before – close to death. I know that some will find that alarming. But I don’t share it to alarm you or for shock value. And I hope that my health will improve. And no, I don’t believe there’s anything you can do to help me. Thank you, though.
I share that only to explain perhaps why it is that my attention has shifted as it seems to have shifted.
A few months ago I published the book Wake Up Dream On, which starts with me describing what I called a near death experience.
That was really a catalyst for what has followed.
I am a slow learner for things that truly matter. For stupid stuff like math and science, I’m reasonably quick to learn new things. But when it comes to stuff like love and acceptance, it’s sometimes felt like pulling teeth.
So the lessons that I’ve learned through this process may not seem particularly profound. They may even seem obvious. But that’s because I’m a slow learner for this kind of thing.
My attentional shift has been toward this question: what is important?
Not as an academic question. Not as a philosophical question. But as a direct inquiry. Stripping away whatever is unnecessary to discover what is actually important.
I’m not dead yet, so I’ve still got a lot of unnecessary stuff to unload. Therefore, I cannot tell you for certain what it is that is essentially important. I can only give you some of the hints I’ve gleaned by paying attention.
What it seems to me, through this inquiry of stripping away whatever is not essential, is that by and large what remains is what I might call open-heartedness.
And one quality that I find in this open-heartedness is that it sees commonality.
This is a pretty stark contrast from what seems to be en vogue, which is highly divisive.
I notice how much oneupmanship there is in the culture I live in.
“Oh, you believe in religion? Gee, you’re stupid. I’m enlightened because I believe in science.”
“Oh, you believe in science? Gee, you’re stupid, and you’re going to hell because you don’t believe (as do I) in Jesus as your personal savior.”
“Oh, you are Mexican? Well, you’re lesser than me, because I’m American.”
“Oh, you discriminate against Mexicans? Well, you’re stupid. I’m superior to you because I am blind to nationality.”
We are taught to take a position. Even if that position is just downright stupid. Even if that position is cruel. Even if that position results in the murder of other humans. Even if it results in the murder of entire species. We take a position.
Somebody wrote me an email a short while back asking me to write about religions claiming to know for a fact what happens after death. This person wrote that their family tries to convert them to Christianity to “save” them. And they resent Christianity and also Buddhism because of the behaviors of family members associated with those religions.
I understand. Because I was taught to take a position and to make it an elevated position in my own mind. I also resented Christians.
But this open-heartedness – while not negating or denying the relative reality of that position – offers a different perspective.
It shows me how we are the same.
They are afraid.
I am afraid.
They do stupid things.
I do stupid things.
They are entranced.
I am entranced.
And by giving attention to open-heartedness, I discover something amazing: that story about how offensive those Christians are is just a story. I don’t have to give my attention to it as if it was the only truth.
This might sound prescriptive; as though giving attention to open-heartedness will solve the problems of feeling offended or feeling hurt or feeling scared.
But that’s not actually my experience.
What I actually experience is that open-heartedness includes and integrates all those things.
I can still experience feeling offended, hurt, and scared at the same time as giving attention to open-heartedness.
In fact, that seems to be the only way it works. Because open-heartedness is not a strategy to get rid of what I don’t want.
Taking a position is a strategy aimed to get rid of what I don’t want. I take a position against Christianity because I want to assert my righteousness and get others to agree with me. We can go on a crusade against Christianity and their pushiness and how uncomfortable they make me.
But open-heartedness includes all that. It reveals to me how violent I am. How I want to get rid of not only Christians, but also a good portion of my own experience.
In fact, all of my own experience. Because it’s all too dangerous. It all holds the potential to destroy my self-concept, my idea of myself as progressing toward perfection and righteousness.
But open-heartedness reveals to me that I am not what I want to be. I am a failure in being anything other than what I am.
I am often violent, cruel, unconscious, petty, stupid, and all kinds of things that don’t match with my idea of myself.
Open-heartedness doesn’t negate that. It just welcomes it all with an open-heart.
I’m not saying you should see what I see or experience what I experience or want what I want. I am not saying you should give more attention to open-heartedness. I am not saying it is better for you.
I’m just saying that for me, it is like coming home.