Last week I heard a talk by Elena Lasida, whose background is in economics and the social sciences, and who teaches in Paris, France. She says that the present moment is one in which the previous paradigm is falling away; that is, the usual way of thinking, the eyes through which we look at life is beginning to feel unreal. The image of the “good life” has stressed being independent, having lots of possessions, and being secure through having control. What is emerging is a sense of interdependence, the importance of relationships, and risking openness to what is new and unexpected. At this time, there is a challenge to let go of the old and open ourselves to what is not yet come into being. In this inevitable time of flux and change, one essential element is to let go of our preoccupation with utility and efficiency and make a place for beauty in our world.
In language that we have been using, what she suggests is to examine the identity that we have taken for granted and the script that we have been following, often unconsciously. We need to consider the story that we have been living and ask if it is genuinely life-giving for ourselves and others. This task does not necessarily mean discarding all that we have been or done or lived, but simply being open to modifying this direction. I remember a video by author Sam Keen, who was asked if to change meant discarding his business suit. Keen suggested that this person need not quit their job or discard their suit but begin to wear it as a costume rather than a uniform. I think Keen meant to see that role as one aspect of who they were, not their total identity.
I recall a conversation with a woman who was about to leave a religious community. She was worried that to do so meant seeing her previous life as a mistake. Over the course of our conversation, what emerged was a sense that this part of her life carried the growth she had achieved up to the present. It was not at all a waste. It was rather what had led her to the present situation. It was what made possible her next step and also called for movement in a new direction. On another occasion, a person who had suffered abuse as a child, and had devised means of self-protection as a result, was struggling with whether she needed now to let go of these walls. What became clearer her was that it was more a question of gradually growing from inside, turning walls of protection into means of expression, but mainly letting the walls down only as they are no longer needed. I may add here one of my favourite one-liners. At its best our spirituality–or way of looking at life–is less a door to hide behind than a window to look through.
One dawning awareness in our time is the recognition that we are interdependent, that we are not self-made, but always in a relational setting. A colleague once remarked that whenever we begin to think that we are self-made, we just need, as a reality check, to look at our navel. In this vein, it is important to consider the quality of our relationships, and to end those that are toxic and reinvent or renew those that are ongoing. In ending those that are toxic, it is crucial, perhaps only over time and with the help of caring others, to let go gradually of our hostility or even neediness that keeps us still tied to them, and, in our thoughts, to wish them well, to hope for their unfolding according to their own inner authentic truth. At the same time, it is important to realize that further contact with them is inadvisable.
With those with whom we do remain and discern that we should remain in relationship, we need to be open to newness, to allow surprise, disappointment, hurt, and struggle. It is essential to remain aware that we never figure out another or even ourselves. We always remain a mystery to ourselves and to one another, as does life itself, and whatever is its meaning at this moment or overall. One element that calls for attention, and which I have often missed, is the realization how we may hurt one another without realizing it, because of the blind spots in our vision. These may be rooted in childhood experience, even if forgotten, or other experiences that have caused pain and produced an unrecognized fear and consequent blindness in ourselves. It does not help here to let ourselves be overwhelmed by guilt or self-rejection but allows this realization to spur us to move forward.
An interview I recently heard on the On Being program spoke of doing the next right thing instead of doing nothing. On way of looking at these difficult challenges is not to think in terms of the next miles which seem impossible but to think simply of the next step we can take. In terms of our previous image, it would be more a matter, not of taking down a whole wall, but removing one brick that has loosened.
Another aspect that Elena Lasida stressed was the importance of beauty in our lives. This experience, I believe, can come through music, story, poetry, painting, sculpture, or other arts. It can also come through the experience of the world of nature, or through solitude or friendship. It comes through everything in our lives that is for its own sake, and not merely as a means or a lead-in to something else. When we experience the beauty of music or of another person, we are drawn out of ourselves in a respectful way, beyond the more familiar grasping approach. It is the experience that it is good to be here.
May your own lives be filled with experiences that enrich your spirit, and that lead you to think that it is good to be here.
Norman King July 26, 2021