Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Working Philosophy

It hit me in the gym today. A sudden kind of realization.

I am not sure why it should have been while I was at the gym today working out that I realized that over the course of the last 28 years my own way of navigating life has taken a particular shape. And, today, right now, I can tell you what it is. I don't know if 28 years (or maybe it's 48--my 48th birthday is just a few days away) means that I am a slow learner or that this is hitting me at about the right time ( which is what I suspect), or that I am hitting enlightenment really early (nah).

I say 28 years, because I recall that the first part of this working philosophy hit me "out of the blue" when I was 20. I was about to graduate from college, and I was being interviewed by the university in a kind of "exit interview". It was tape-recorded. I was asked: what is the most important thing you have learned while being at the university. (Perhaps this is the place to mention that I was graduating from Oral Roberts University with a major in biblical literature--that means Hebrew and Greek--and that my alma mater has supplied me with regular reasons to want to forget that I ever went there ever since then. However, I must say, I got a superb liberal arts eduction despite religious scandals, then and now, and went on to more liberal climes).

So, I was asked: what is the most important thing you have learned at the university? I think they were waiting for some religious answer, and, in retrospect, I would say that it was for me, deeply spiritual, but not what they were looking for. It came right out of my mouth, and I did not have to ponder it. It's the first leg of my working philosophy of life. So, here we go. I said: I have learned that questions are more important than answers. What follows is what I can articulate today, straight from the sweaty gym where it congealed for me today, about my working philosophy of life.

1) Questions are important.
This really requires little explanation. The questions that arise from with me as an individual are what set the course for my own persona life--this life--the one I am sure that I have. Other people's questions may fascinate me, may cause me to ponder, may bore me, may leave me untouched. Only those questions that rise up out of my own being, my own life are the ones that I can live with, work with, and build a life with. My own questions, especially the ones that challenge me and frighten me and which I want to pretend are not there are EXACTLY the juiciest ones, the ones that will produce the "best results" for my own single life. As a result, they are also the ones, once I have worked with them, that will touch others around me, in whatever ways that others are "touched" by me. Being touched by my life may feel like a blessing, a curse, a horror, a shock, a miracle, or a passing breeze. Whatever. It will have arisen from my questions for me.

2) Structures can support our questioning.
Or, structures can shut down our questioning. "Structures" can be anything. It can be family. It can be a teacher or an educational system. It can be any community that one belongs to. It can be a patterned way of thinking, and shared patterns of thinking are the most powerful. So, "structures" can be religion and spiritual traditions. When structures encourage my questions, respect and honor my questions they support my journey, my life as I am working it out. When structures judge me for asking question in first place, they are deadly. When structures try to supply me with answers to questions I am not asking, they are patronizing me. When structures try to supply me with ready made answers to my questions, they disrespect me. In short, structures that don't support my questioning are trying to shut me down. My own response to such structures has been to shut them down--that is, to disengage from the structure and find others that are supportive. Hence, these days, I am a practitioner of Druidry through structures like OBOD and AODA, and I am an Unitarian-Universalist and a memberin our local CUUPS group. All of these groups are structures that support my questioning.

3) Answers are personal.
First, I should say that "answers" are not required. That is, the questions that arise out of my own life are what shape my life and how I live it. I may find some answers to some questions. I may find partial answers. I may never find answers to some, but that's okay. The very arising of questions and working with them, honoring them, observing them is what moves me in my life. However, when I do find an answer to a question that arose out of my own life, it can only be personal. It cannot be the answer for other people. It is not a means of discrimination or judgment when looking at others. It is a means of making decisions about my path. It's personal. I can share my answer to my question with others, but I owe it to others to tell them that it is a personal answer to a question that arose out of my own life. If they find analogous help there, that is fine. If they do not, that is fine, too.

4) Beliefs create judgments.
This is a real hot spot. We love to "believe" things. I decided a few years ago to give up beliefs. I don't find them healthy. Belief requires me to take hold of a position for which there can be no evidence. Why should I do that? Instead, why not just observe and report what I experience? I cannot find a situation in which believing is useful to me. I can find plenty where it is harmful. I find, in my own experience, that beliefs (see definition above) give us a means by which we judge--others and ourselves. Judgment means saying, in so many words: you are not acceptable to me because you don't measure up to this belief. It's that simple, and that deadly. Beliefs create separation, division, hurt, harm, and alienation between people. And, what's worse, they aren't necessary.

5) Questions can be shared, and they can create dialogue.
If I refuse to hold beliefs and therefore having nothing to judge others with, what to do when I encounter another human being spouting an idea that I find troubling? (that is, besides asking myself what secret belief I am clinging to that makes this troubling?) This last piece of my working philosophy takes me full circle. I can always ask questions of this other person. Mind you, I am not talking about judgments disguised as questions. I am talking about taking a moment and allowing the other person's position to sink in, and allowing my own personal question to arise. By sharing my genuine question with the other, I invite a dialogue with him/her. I open the door to community. I take a step on my path. I shape my life in the present moment afresh. I risk learning something.

There is a real sense in which this whole "working philosophy" is simply one of my personal answers to a question that has been rising up from within me for a long time: how do I go about living this one life that I have? Here's how I do it. It's personal to me. It works for me. It may not work for anyone else. But, oh how liberating to be able to say--this works for me.


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