Life is a constant journey exploring the unknown. Despite our best attempts to hang onto certainty with plans, to-do lists, beliefs, and opinions, life remains impermanent, every changing and unpredictable.
It seems to be even more so in this increasingly complex and interconnected world in which differences of all types present themselves to us every day at work, in the media, and in our communities. And, differences create disturbance.
We have a choice. We can embrace differences and explore them or not. We can perceive them as threats to our sense of certainty or as an opportunity to learn something new that will help us grow and thrive.
I don’t have to go far to find disturbances. During each morning meditation I have ample disturbance in the form of thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Regardless of whether I like them or not, it is the noticing that matters. This allows me to pause and reflect on what these phenomena are communicating about my current state, what I might need, or what wants to be known in my internal life.
This is good practice for listening to disturbing differences when they arise with others. We can balk at the amount of diversity—each of us sees things differently—or we can open ourselves to hearing and learning something new.
The human need for certainty undermines our ability to relate constructively with others because it gets in the way of our listening to and trying to understand perspectives that challenge our beliefs and opinions.
Although I might find a belief or opinion abhorrent, I rarely find the story behind them abhorrent. More often than not, when I take the time to listen, the story is understandable and relatable. This does not mean we will agree. It might mean that we get closer and wiser.
Given how tumultuous things promise to continue to be in 2019, we will no doubt have multiple opportunities to be disturbed and practice noticing what certainties—plans, beliefs, and opinions—are being challenged. Just noticing what is disturbing gives us the space in which to learn something new about ourselves and others. We can then decide whether we want to hold onto our “certainties” or change them.
We might even learn to welcome and enjoy differences and disturbance. Noticing when we are surprised opens the door to exploring, learning, and better understanding and relating to ourselves, families, co-workers and neighbors.
As Wheatley writes, “We don’t have to agree with each other in order to explore together. There is no need to be joined together at the head, as long as we are joined together at the heart.”