Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Other

Why are you afraid of me?

When we first meet, do you see me as a new friend? Are you open to me, unless I demonstrate otherwise? Do you see me as a potential threat, until I reassure you over time by proving I am trustworthy? Or Is there an underlying protectiveness in you that assumes at some point I will betray your trust?

Perhaps our skins are a different color. We are of different height, weight, hair color and shapes. Maybe we are a different gender – or perhaps my gender is not what it once was and you thought gender was a permanent thing. Do my physical shortcomings, scars, disabilities, or ravages of disease make you uncomfortable, make you feel more vulnerable to being damaged in your future? If I look different than you, I likely have had different experiences than you. Are you afraid to learn about my experiences because sometimes they make you question your own experiences?

The world is a multi-ethnic place. It is likely that, over the centuries, our many ancestors came from very different places. Places with very different histories of their existence and their relationships with others. Those histories are in my physical and mental DNA, as are yours. Do the histories of my ancestral past threaten you today, afraid that past conflicts will reemerge in this lifetime, directed towards you?

I grew up in a family other than yours. A family shaped by a different culture of perspectives, traditions, rituals, religious views, and ways of conducting business. My formal educational path may have been more or less than yours, and certainly followed a different path. The things I have seen and done are unlike what you have seen and done. My memories are different than yours; my current life is different than yours. Are you interested in what I have seen and done? Are you interested in my stories, in my point of view that has resulted from my stories? Or do you find it difficult to understand my stories and views simply because they do not correspond to your stories and views. Is it too difficult to make the effort or find the time necessary to make these more understandable to you? Does understanding our differences unduly take time and energy away from your schedule and priorities?

My birthplace is likely different from yours. Where I have been and lived since my birth is probably also different, especially if you stayed rooted in one location for most of your life. In this world there are numerous species of plant and animal life; high mountains and low valleys; green forests, expansive plains, desolate deserts; frigid winters and oppressive summers; ocean beaches, river sandbars, lakeside playgrounds; big cities, small towns, and rural isolation. The visuals in my mind’s eye are in real contrast to the visuals in your mind. Can we share those visuals somehow, and be insightful about how these pictures affected us so differently?

I speak differently than you. The words I use, the pronunciation of them (“my accent”), the way I use them to form sentences, are part of my own background and uniqueness. Just because we speak differently does not necessarily mean that what we are saying is substantially different. If our speech is different, does it necessarily mean that our thoughts are different?

You say that you are not afraid of me. Yet you avoid spending time with me unless caused by unavoidable circumstances. You cross the street to avoid passing me. You choose to stay in an enclave of similarity rather than puncture that enclave with diversity. You expend much effort trying to make me change my beliefs and life choices to match yours. Maybe you resent others who are similar to me who you feel take advantage of your good will; why do you paint all of us with one brush? Does your avoidance of knowing me mask a fear you do not acknowledge?

Am I simply “the Other?” Do our differences make you inherently afraid of me? Afraid just because I am different? Do my differences make you feel self-conscious or defensive regarding who you are? Or challenge you about what you believe? We do not have to be alike, you know. We do not have to agree, or need to tell each other what to do. We do not have to convince each other that one of us is “right” and the other is “wrong.” I do not have to change my life to be as yours, nor you to change to be as me. Two divergent paths can almost always find a pathway in the middle for us to travel together.

My life choices are not a criticism or negation of yours. We are just different. That is what we share in common. We can find that commonality if we choose to, and thereby stop fighting with each other, stop being afraid of each other. Are we willing to support and accept each of us being who we are? Can we simply live side-by-side with each other in mutual respect? It will take effort and openness from each of us. Are we afraid to make that effort? To make “The Other” into “One Another?”

I ask these many questions of you. But will I be honest enough to also ask them of myself?

©   2017   Randy Bell               www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Freedom From Death

Each of us is going to die. This is the known. None of us knows exactly when or how that will happen. This is the unknown.

I do not say this just to be disconcerting or unfeeling about what is a difficult emotional issue. That we will one day die is known by our own direct observation, and is affirmed by virtually all sacred texts. That we do not know when or how is likewise asserted in those text (though if we find ourselves in certain situations our awareness of a potentially imminent date may be heightened.)

We can hasten death by living our life dangerously, carelessly and thoughtlessly; we can perhaps delay our death somewhat by doing the opposite. Even then, the arrival of our death is highly subject to the actions of others – both near and distant to us – over which we have little control. That lack of control is a big deal to our psyche, and our emotional balance.

Our concern about dying is about losing the pieces of life that we know: our experiences, our loved ones, our setting, and our opportunities. It is also about what we do not know, more specifically what awaits us after death. All religions have some theological opinions on the subject, with varying levels of detail. These opinions range from the traditional belief of a minimally-defined future resurrection of the dead without much explanatory detail (Judaism); an elaborate structure of a living afterlife in the elaborate splendor of Heaven or unspeakable damnation in Hell in Christian and Islamic thought; or a continuous cycle in some form of reincarnated life in Buddhist teachings. The religious teachings may vary, but the commonality is that something continues after death. Yet none of it will be ultimately confirmed or denied until we personally experience it.

Having such a significant uncontrolled unknown inherent in our Life’s makeup is very disturbing. What we cannot control and cannot know creates a knee-jerk reaction likely to be fear, from a presumption that something bad will happen. Then our follow-on reaction is anger: at being threatened, and at our self for our apparent weakness to control the situation. We make a choice: to embrace the threat and seek to transform it into a positive opportunity, or to build some kind of fortress to defend and protect us.

Today, people are making a great number of such choices about the world we live in and the life we are living. Many of these choices are based upon this linkage of fear for our safety – the safety of our physical life, of our cultural way of life, of our ability to control our own future. We feel that the world is out to get us, that unseen attackers are just waiting to get us at a weak, unsuspecting moment,. That people of different backgrounds and lifestyles are determined to take away our values, rights, freedoms, livelihood and existence. They may be non-physical attacks on us, but our mental life is inseparable from our physical life. The same alarm bell goes off; the same chain of fear and defense is triggered. Defending one’s self is primary.

Why is this discussion important? Because all fears come from the same well: death. Death of body; death of mind; death of person. The potential for our death is all around us. Therefore prudence and common sense certainly demand that we live our life with some measure of caution in order to give our life a chance to fulfill and maximize its potential. Fear of death is a strong motivator that can lead us into very dark places filled with very questionable decisions, such as we are experiencing in world society today. But we also have to keep our fear in proportion, for the odds are that our death is not imminent.

In 2014 approximately 2.5M out of 330M Americans (less than 1%) died from all causes. Medical illness was the overwhelming reason for these deaths. Unintentional “accidents” were around the 5th cause of death. Homicides – what we seemingly fear most – are way down the list and around half the number of suicides. The majority of homicides are committed by someone known to the victim, not some random stranger. Killings by foreign / foreign-inspired terrorists that we are so preoccupied with today? Less than 100 – perhaps .004% of all deaths, .00003% of Americans. I may well be killed by a foreign terrorist. But if I am going to worry about my impending demise, I choose to be far more worried about a neighbor with a gun, a drunk driver on the road, an accidental fall from not paying adequate attention, or most likely, a lurking disease working its way through my body. All seeming like reasons to never get out of bed and leave the house again.

Every life is important. Important to honor; important to protect. Death is not something to trivialize. But letting our fear of dying dominate our thinking and decisions, and protecting our life the end unto itself, leads us to separation. We erect mental and physical defenses that keep others away, see the worst in people rather than the best, run away from new opportunities out of fear of failure, avoid relationships we believe we cannot trust, reject love for fear of being hurt. As I have said before, “The walls we build to protect us are the same walls that imprison us.”

Dying is part of the contract we agreed to when we accepted this life in human form. So we need to get over inappropriately worrying about it. Opening to the fullness of Life is a risk, but it is the very risk we are here to take. We should move thoughtfully, but we should also be moving in continuous pursuit of our best Self and in support of the best self of others. We cannot escape our death but we can escape the specter of our death robbing us of the joy of the life we are living. Casting off the mental oppression that comes from trying to unduly avoid our death is key to gaining the freedom to live the full life of receiving and giving that is open to us.

©   2017   Randy Bell               www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com