Sunday, July 29, 2012

On change

I started a conversation on Facebook recently that I find interesting, on "changing others." Organizations like AA have adopted the attitude that it is "wrong" and "bad" to deliberately try to change others, that this is a dysfunctional and selfish behavior.

Maybe I'm talking about something completely different. But what I observe is that we humans are like a mass of charged particles, zooming around, colliding into one another all the time. We are constantly changing others -- redirecting them as a result of a random or deliberate collision, whether of ideas or something more physical. Even hermits that go up to a mountain to live a separate life are still alive and aware, and their spirits remain intertwined with all "sentient beings" (as the Buddhists like to say).

To say we can't or should not change others is irrelevant to the fact that we do, all the time. Anyone who has been a parent or teacher must have noticed his or her enormous power to change other human lives. When you think about watershed moments in your own life, many of them involve the influence of other people who were extremely important to you. Most people point to their parents or certain teachers as having the strongest influence over their lives. Some of these influences were positive, while others may be perceived as very negative.

I have noticed that the greatest teachers among us -- Jesus, Buddha, and many others who aren't regarded as the foundation of an entire religion -- set out in a very deliberate manner to exhort others to change. You may regard Christianity and Buddhism as fundamentally different. It would appear that Christians want to evangelize all others to think exactly the same way, whereas Buddhists want others to achieve freedom from suffering by changing the way they think (just how to do so is an individual journey). However, if you investigate the way Jesus lived, he did not talk about a detailed theology or belief system that he wanted others to follow. Rather, he said, "Follow me." He also told individuals to turn away from their sin. He also cautioned against focusing on the sinfulness of others: "First remove the beam from your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor's."

Jesus did not lay out a rigid pattern of belief, but a transformative way of living. "I have come so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly," he said. I have to conclude that Christians who enjoy imposing a rigid belief system on others have not gotten the fundamental message of the savior they claim to follow!

I don't think that Buddha and Jesus were on different paths at all. They both lived by example, and had disciples who tried to walk in their steps. They both spoke of dying to self, and the need to undergo a radical rebirth as a transformed creation. Does any of this sound like it might require some personal change somewhere along the way?

Change is such a "constant" and inevitable part of living. You can't escape it, even for a moment. Even if you don't wish to acknowledge it, we are each changing all the time. We are also so interconnected that we cannot change in isolation. If I change myself, I can't help but also change others.

It seems like one of life's most sacred tasks is to be more intentional about how I change, and how I change others. Instead of this being a more or less random occurrence just depending on my mood and what I happen to be doing when I meet other people, love requires that I become much more aware of the way that I am changing, and how that affects all the rest of this amazing and wonderful planet.

When I change myself, I also transform the world. There is no "I" and no "other." There only is. If I am transformed, I must help others who are also transforming. There is no way to avoid it.

So what does this have to do with the pop-culture idea that trying to change others is always a misguided and bad idea? That's where I am getting lost. I do see other people trying to impose a certain viewpoint (i.e., political) on others, and getting very frustrated when they don't convince everyone of the correctness of their views. Part of the problem with our political discourse seems to be that everyone's goal is to make others believe the same things as they do. So, when I speak of transformation, I don't mean becoming more liberal, or more of a Democrat, or any other label for human points of view. If anything, those things become like a memory of things that have been outgrown. I used to identify myself as a liberal, or a Democrat. Do I still have points of view? Yes, I haven't achieved such a level of no-self that I have left all my opinions behind permanently. But I am starting to see that these are bound to my existence here as an individual human being, part of my "Julie" self but not part of my larger spirit. Somehow, all these particular beliefs and points of view are no longer important when I become a part of all creation.

Behavior is more important than belief, although often a certain belief is what leads to certain behaviors. I think where the human mind gets into trouble is when it insists on thinking in a limited, dualistic way. Right-wrong, good-bad, black-white.

Anyhow, I'm still working out all these things. If you get to Nirvana/the kingdom of heaven before me, come back and help me get there, please! Help me change!

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