by Renee Sappington
Last year I had a recurring theme show up in my dreams. I found myself working in old houses that I was renovating – perhaps they were abandoned because I was always sorting through the belongings left behind. The little bit I know of dream work suggests to me that I am the old house and I had let myself neglect my Soul. Indeed, I found myself in the waking hours of the past few years often confronted with experiences and conversations that challenged my previously held beliefs or assumptions – whether about God or relationships or myself – and I was faced with sorting through what to keep and what to let go. The work has left me with a lot less clutter in my mind and heart, as well as a realization of how easily I accumulate thoughts and emotions that need not linger and take up valuable space.
I read a great analogy for my predicament in Steve Hagen’s Buddhism: Plain and Simple. Those things I hold on to way past their purpose are like a raft – “a raft is a very handy thing to carry you across the water, from one shore to another. But once you’ve reached the other shore, you no longer need the raft. Indeed, if you wish to continue your journey beyond the shore, you must leave the raft behind.” Taking the analogy a bit further, we often attempt to carry the raft with us despite how cumbersome it might be, after all it served us well and we grew attached to it. In fact, how many of us want to hold onto the raft even when we’ve discovered it has some holes in it? Nothing a little duct tape can’t fix, right? Actually some of us couldn’t patch our old rafts with a whole roll of tape!
Whether we’re talking about our house or what we carry on a journey, I believe we often have unhealthy attachments to ideas and beliefs that, while they might have served us for a time, eventually become confining, irrelevant, or misleading. Theories of cognitive and faith development make it clear that certain ways of looking at the world and God are age-appropriate, so I’m not knocking where we’ve been or what we’ve believed along the way. I am just asking that we not assume we have it all figured out – ever – because as Pema Chodron says “The truth you believe and cling to, makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” That statement might alarm some, sounding a bit too relative, but I think it’s worth saying that any Truth with a capital T would be large enough to welcome new information and not be threatened by it. I think that’s the key to listening to others with the openness Connie spoke of in The Heart of the Matter.
I read a great blog this week about Jesus that pointed out our own need to struggle “against any and all things – even our religious commitments and biblical interpretations – that prevent us from becoming like Christ; all things that prevent us from showing the mercy and grace of God to others.” When it comes down to it, that seems to be the ultimate test for me: whether what I believe or think causes my heart to expand or contract – does it make me, other people, or God smaller than we really are or does it invite me toward the Mystery that is in all of us?