Friday, November 5, 2010

Dancing with the **STARS**

Shortly after my wife and I got married, we were at some event that included ballroom dancing. We both believed that we knew how to dance; we had both enjoyed it prior to our marriage. We soon discovered that while I (she) knew how to dance, she (I) didn't. We recognized that while we each knew we knew how to dance, we didn't know how to dance with each other. So, because we wanted to continue dancing, we decided that the only way to move forward was to allow a dis-interested third party TEACH us BOTH how to dance. After many classes, we became pretty good dancers (and NO, that's not me in the picture above-he has too much hair!)

Earlier this week, we started another class-the first in years. We needed one more step for our repertoire to keep us on the floor just that much longer. After that initial class, and after our in-the-car-on-the-way-home debrief, it occurred to me that one of the reasons I had had so much fun was that, once again, we were both blank slates upon which a new set of steps could be inscribed. Neither my wife nor I had the upper hand (or foot). We were learning together.

What a thought! To begin to address a common goal from a point of relative equality.

Last evening, several hundred folks heard, as the first of this year's Bridges to the Future speakers, Richard Clarke, one of President Bush's primary counter-terrorism advisers on 9/11. He was asked about our current troop presence in the Iraq/Afghanistan area. Part of his response was that both Republicans and Democrats want to reduce our presence to either a police action, or a war. His retort was that we need to be over there for both reasons, and many more. And then he added "leave politics out of it" (to much applause!). What I took away from that was the assertion that we will NOT solve any of the issues in the Middle East (or, by extension, anywhere), if all we're doing is trying to play a domestic game of one-up-manship using the problems themselves as pawns.

On the bookshelf behind me in my office sits a copy of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi's wonderful little book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. The premise of the book is that true Zen mind (a mind on its way to clarity) of necessity is beginner's mind.
"The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. It is the kind of mind that can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything."* How different that is from my certainty that MY way of dancing was the best (and universal). How different that is from the political debates that claim to solve a problem, while only advancing a position.

It is in my nature, I believe, to privilege my own position, my own opinion. It is also pretty prideful (of which I'm not necessarily proud). I know, however, that I'm not alone. I'm reminded of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah who invited the thirsty to come to the waters. But to do so empty-handed, perhaps with a beginner's mind: "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; . . . 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55.6, 8-9).

Dancing with the heavens -- thoughts not necessarily my thoughts, ways higher than my ways. Beginner's mind. Beginners' minds. Can we do that (and especially now in the wake of last Tuesday's election)? Can we begin together to address our future? And what must we set aside to do so? What are the higher ways?



*From the description of the audio version of the book on Peter Coyote's website.

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