I want to start out with what might not seem like the most obvious question: Do we actually want to experience the world again as if for the first time? Stability, consistency, reliability all seem kind of comforting, especially in these times of Covid 19 and hurricanes and fires along the West Coast and civil unrest and divisive politics and Q-anon and Boogaloo boys and oh my goodness the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That is the last straw that broke my back. I am exhausted from being given the opportunity to experience the world differently. I would like a stable worldview for a change. It's been a long cold lonely 2020. When the heck is the sun coming?
In Mark Nepo's reading, you heard, "The heart is very much like a miraculous balloon. Its lightness comes from staying full, meeting the days with our heart prevents collapse. This is why ninety-year old widows remain committed to tending small flowers in the spring; why ten-year olds with very little to eat care for stray kittens, holding them to their … chests; why painters going blind paint more; why composers going deaf write great symphonies. This is why when we think when we can’t possibly try again, we let out a sigh that goes back through the centuries, and then, despite all our experience, we inhale and try again."
Sometimes I wonder if I can try again, after trying again and again and again all year long. Filling my heart time and time again. Just to have it deflate. I wonder if some of you feel this way. Do you wonder why you haven't written more poems or plays or books during this time, or painted compelling pieces of art, or offered more assistance to all those impacted by the hurricanes and fires? I talked with our youth last week. One of them asked the group what they could do for those impacted by the fires on the West Coast. So the plan is that the group will discuss what they are going to do at our next meeting. I was inspired when I heard them say this. They inflated my heart.
Is feeling deflated impacting how I see the world right now? How I experience the world right now? How could it not? Nevertheless, I've persisted in being consistent in my spiritual practices and exercise, to bring some stability into my life. I do want to turn this time of constant change, of instability, of hurt and suffering into something constructive, meaningful, beautiful, not only for my own sake, but to be helpful to someone other than me.
You know what? I am reading a story to the kids at the end of the service called the Lion's Whiskers. The story is about a man and his stepdaughter who can't get along. The man goes to the local elder for help and is offered a magic potion to make his stepdaughter more loving. The thing is that the one ingredient this potion requires is a living lion's whisker. The father develops a relationship with the lion until it is safe to pull a whisker from the lion's chin. Guess what. Turns out, he doesn't need the potion after all because he figures out how to be patient and compassionate. The father's view of the stepdaughter and of himself changes and he returns home seeing his family as if for the first time. Don't give ending away to the kids. It really is a good story.
Anyway, when I was looking for a story for the kids, I found this one in a book called Stories in our Faith: Exploring Our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources through Wisdom Tales by Gail Forsyth-Vail. Which Principle or Source do you think this story exemplified? Our Fourth Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. "This story calls us to look inside ourselves for the qualities that heal and nurture … like patience, kindness, a willingness to truly appreciate and notice others." This is a story of discovery within oneself. A journey to change the way we see life, relationships, oneself. I needed this story this week. I needed to be reminded that I am on a journey, that what is happening around me won't always seem catastrophic, that I need to nurture patience and compassion and kindness more so now than perhaps than I ever have. This is why when I think I can’t possibly try again, I have to let out a sigh that goes back through the centuries, and then, despite all my experience, I have to inhale and try again.
Engineer, reader, thinker, dreamer. scientist, scholar, Latter-Day Saint Geoffrey Widdison wrote in the website and app Quora (Quora is an American question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, followed, and edited by Internet users, either factually or in the form of opinions): "My dad was telling me about how he was watching a nature documentary following a lioness taking care of her cubs. There was one scene where she was hunting an antelope for dinner, tried to chase it down, but it escaped at the last minute. The tone of the documentary, for the viewers who’ve been sympathizing with that lioness for the last twenty minutes, is that failure was a really sad moment. What will her babies eat?
My dad said it really struck him, in that moment, that if he’d been watching a documentary about that antelope, that moment would be presented as one of joyous triumph. She escaped the ravenous beast who was stalking her, and will get to live! Which [character] you’re told to sympathize with tells you everything."
I share this with you because our view of the world, how we experience things can change in a flash, with a word, with someone offering a perspective, with someone sharing their experience with you, with new or different information. It is easy to forget how much our personal perception impacts our day-to-day life. Simply taking a step back and thinking about a situation, person, or emotion from a different perspective can completely change your experience of it. However, we often are so caught up in the moment--living in the present, which is good, to a point--that we often forget that our perceptions are constantly filtering our experiences against our worldviews. The way we see it, the spin we put on it, is up to us. Every minute of every day there is a chance to see things from a million different perspectives. And we can choose to change our own perspective—say by imaging ourselves in someone else's shoes. Sometimes these gifts of a change in perspective are given spontaneously and our hearts inflate and our worldview expands. Sometimes, it is up to us to search for truth and meaning that can aid us on the journey.
But my friends be careful, we are hardwired to look and find truth and meaning that reinforces a static and stable worldview, that can leave our hearts uninflated and our decisions less than helpful. A friend of mine really wanted and applied for a job. She told me about it in confidence. I thought about putting in for the same job, it was the Employee Assistance Professional at NASA JSC. A government job—I’d be set for life. I rationalized that I was more qualified; I knew more about the people who worked there and the environment. Now I have told you this story before, but I didn't mention last time that I talked to a number of people to help me decide what direction to take. And I only stopped talking to people when I found someone whose views were the same as my own, that I was right and should apply for the job. I was sorely tempted to embrace my unhealthy view because I found someone who agreed with me. Fortunately, I listened to the discomfort in my soul about this decision and went a different way.
A search for truth and meaning is not about finding a way of experiencing the world that reinforces yours, but that challenges yours, that offers you something different, a new way of seeing the situation you find yourself in, so that you can grow, learn, and expand your heart.
And be careful my friends when you think that what you believe is true and right and rational and free of bias. In the article "Why do people view the world so differently?" by consultant Roxanne Bauer, I found this: "Tim Harford, the Undercover economist at the Financial Times, recently wrote about naïve realism, calling it the, 'seductive sense that we’re seeing the world as it truly is, free of bias.” He goes on to say that this is such an attractive illusion that whenever we meet someone [who] contradicts our own view, we instinctively believe we’ve met someone who is deluded rather than question our own rationale…Famed psychologist Lee Ross, also argues that naive realism leads people to believe they have arrived at their opinions—political, interpersonal, or otherwise— after careful, rational analysis without bias. As Ross points out, however, our personal realities are not accurate portrayals of what is objectively occurring but rather observations that involve perception and interpretation."
In this time of Covid 19 and for that matter this whole blankety blank year, it is challenging to simply open ourselves up to seeing the world differently in a way that helps us grow, learn, and expand our hearts. It is easy to believe that we know what is right, what is true, what is unbiased. But these views hamper us. They keep us from asking questions like: What is the opportunity in seeing the entire world differently? Is there an opportunity to show mercy rather than acquiring power in this situation? Is there an opportunity to develop humility rather than having pride in this situation? Is there an opportunity to show compassion rather than meeting a selfish need in this situation? I know what I proposing is difficult, heck it is difficult for me. I am tired, just so tired sometimes. I just want things to be better, back to normal, or at least no more catastrophic events. But I have no control over all this. What I can control is what I do with all this! How I respond to all this! I can choose a direction for my search for truth and meaning that will lead me to a worldview that will let me experience life in terms of looking for the beauty, the wonder, the joy around and within me rather than staying in a worldview of fear and anger and resentment.
And I don't want to just be neutral about how I experience the world. I read something from the Buddha that said, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” I want to be more engaged than that. I want to be thankful for being able to see the miraculous world around me and within me. I am searching for a worldview that continues to expand, so that I can see wonder in the smallest things, feel joy in a hello and wonder in hearing someone else's view of the world, and continue growing my heart and filling my heart with the many things that life offers. I am committed to this worldview for it includes increasing my humility, working for justice and equity, and deepening my relationships through compassion and love.
In this journey, I've pledged to refrain from making snap judgements. To ask others what they think about a situation, particularly those who ideas are different from my own. To look for disconfirming information, rather than trying to find facts and opinions that affirm my own. I've pledged to continue to imagine myself in other people's shoes rather simply experience the world through my own static worldview. And I won't try to figure out who's right and who's wrong, but approach differences as a chance for two people to work out a puzzle or figure out the source of our misunderstanding.
To be honest with you I do these things so my heart doesn't remain deflated. Deflation is not the Unitarian Universalist way. Our fourth Principle, the responsible search for truth and meaning, sets us on a path that leads to expansion of our worldview. I invite you to find a way of intentionally searching for truth and meaning that offers you a constructive, joyful, meaningful journey, one that doesn't get too caught up in the seemingly catastrophic year we find ourselves in. Take a path that offers you something more, different, an expanded worldview. Perhaps these words might offer a beginning to your journey:
Let go of certainty.
Let go of any idea about what
you should be thinking…
Be with your self
as you are.
about who you are.
how you are in the world.
Gently take a deep breath,
maybe even a big sigh,
re-enter the present moment,
and the stream of your life.