Sundays are Spirituality day here at Taking it to the Streets
Yin and yang. Black and white. Right and wrong. Right and left.
Yesterday I was at a 12-step meeting discussing step six (“Were entirely ready for God to remove all these defects of character”) and people were talking about ‘shortcomings’ as though they stood alone (simply stubbornness) rather than as one part of the continuum on a characteristic.
On the continuum of stubbornness at the “bad” end, I see “getting it done” or “Stick-to-it-iv-ness” at the “good end”. I think “Good” and “Bad” are not helpful adjectives here – I prefer “Useful” and “Less useful.”
Doctor Phil used to ask “How’s that working for you?” and I think that is the key question with our characteristics. If I am stubbornly sticking to my exercise routine despite changes in schedule it’s working for me pretty well, thanks. If, on the other hand, I am stubbornly resisting implementing what I know about needed changes to said routine (like – I need to do it!) then it’s not serving me well at all.
From my perspective the focus on “Good”/”Bad” and “Right”/”Wrong” is a bit puerile. for little children those can be helpful code words to help them make sense of a vast world. But we limit ourselves when we plunk the world into two camps (typically aligning ourselves with the ‘good guys’ and “they” are “bad”).
In our spiritual development this tendency is self-defeating. We can use our “shortcomings” to batter ourselves, which rarely leads to lasting change, and is often, in fact, a dodge to changing behavior. Because if it’s all black and white and I didn’t get in 30 minutes of weight lifting then I am bad, bad, bad and now, back to computer games. Where if it’s a continuum and I didn’t get in 30 minutes of weight lifting I can say “what can I realistically do right now when it’s late and I’m tired? Hmm, maybe 25 crunches, a few squats and ya, alright, I’ll do 10 curls.” Or not. But I can look at it as a choice, not a fate.
As an aside, I think this same tendency to childishly lump things into “good” and “bad” buckets is what has this country paralyzed politically right now.
Do you know the contemporary philosopher and philosophy professor Jacob Needleman? He’s terrific. In one of his books he talks about an experiment he did in one of his classes, which went so well that he now does it in all such classes.
He got two people on totally opposite sides of a divisive issue – polar opposites. Then he had first one person, then other present “their side of the story”. But the catch was that the opposing person had to reflect back the other’s position accurately. And – upping the ante – the rule was also that one had to do so in a respectful tone with no disrespectful gestures et al. So the person doesn’t have to embrace or pretend to embrace the ‘enemy’s’ point of view. But they DO have to verbally demonstrate that they really heard what the other said – and do it in a neutral tone.
It had an interesting effect. At the end of the debate both parties still largely held their initial view. But both were able to understand the others view, and even embrace elements of the others view. And most importantly, both sides side saw that the other side was sincere and that from their world view their view-point made sense. Minds may not have been changed (at least not in entirety) but hearts were.
We can do that for ourselves. Rather than beat up on myself (“Great, Diane, in May you said you would blog daily, meditate daily, workout 3x/week – and look at you, you schlub!!”) I can instead look at the continuum (“Great job on yoga in May, Diane. And it’s great you’re working out with a personal trainer, but you will get WAY more out of that if you really make it a priority to also work out on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”)
And whilst beating up on one’s self is not effective, neither is just giving up or giving in. If I can see my behavior on a continuum, I also have the opportunity to ‘tweak’ rather than ‘overhaul’ or nothing.
How about you? Where do you stand? Black and white? A continuum. Is ‘your position on this issue evolving’? As always, I’d really like to know!