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Archive for November 30th, 2009

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 51                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 52

Today’s Mileage:  11                                        Total Trip Mileage: 450

Holidays and Holy Days on November 30:

Saint Andrew’s DayChristian observance of the coming of Christianity to the area now know as Scotland. The martyrdom of St Andrew is remembered as the season of Advent begins.

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As I ride the bike this morning I sort through the various blog topics I collected during the previous day. Where do these topics come from? As I go through my day, a word, a phrase, a glance sets me to “thinking” and topics starts to take shape. I feel this process is partly a result of the creative muse (an openness to the rich tapestry of my daily life) and partly a product of facts, teachings, theories, research, trivia, memories, poems and stories I carry within me.  This concoction is constantly stirred by my inquisitive nature and non-critical awareness of feelings and actions. Each time I dip the ladle into this stew, I am surprised with what comes out.  As one of my sons recently stated about a bowl of Susan’s chili: “There’s a lot of good stuff in here!”

My students among the readers will see the title of todays blog and say “heard that one before.”  This “be certain about what you believe, but humble that these beliefs do not fit for everyone” statement contains my most frequently uttered words of advice.  In particular, it is advice I give to students who desire to follow in my footsteps and become a therapist. This approach is almost a requirement if one wants to be an effective and ethical professional therapist.  It  is also related to a question that came up in a discussion I had with a regular commentator  to  my blog.  The discussion was about: how you should view and respond to other people’s questions?

A Question!

We discussed how questions can be seen, especially by teachers, as challenges to their authority and adequacy.  A professor might interpret criticism to mean that he/she has not covered the material properly, explained concepts adequately or made the topic relevant to the student’s world.  Questions can be sent as sharp barbs which attempt to humiliate or establish moral superiority. Yet these very same questions, when filtered through a “certain but humble” prism can be viewed and received as gifts! Every question, regardless of the motive, is a chance to plant another seed!  A chance to further clarify, to share stories and observations; a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture and then dive back in with a new explanation or clarification. Questions are gifts and weather vanes, they tell you how far you may have travelled in exploring the wonderous, sometimes mundane, sometimes frightening world view of another human being.  The reaction to questions tell you whether to proceed or pull back, or return another time.

A Gift!

I have come to realize there are two general processes behind most questions.  Those that seek to arrive at a genuine understanding and insight into another person’s worldview and lead the questioner to develop cognitive and emotional empathy.  The second group are those that are fashioned and delivered in an effort to develop an  “attack plan.”  They probe a person’s belief system for weaknesses, for fuzzy boundaries, for uncertainty.  The purpose of these questions is not to understand the structure of someone’s beliefs to help them, but to cause that structure to collapse.  They ultimately desire to poke holes in worldviews, create uncertainty, and undermine foundations so that they may be there to “help” you rebuild.  They strive to prove that your worldview is wrong and theirs is right!

Unexpected gifts!

How should you react to such questions?  By formulating your own attack, by deflecting and then lunging for their heart? You can do this, but it only leads to struggle, like two warriors with their shields up probing the others defense. The outcome at best is a standoff, most often someone needs to be vanquished. Should you just shut down the conversation, walk or run away?  This only leaves the other standing alone, feeling victorious, self-righteous and “just.”

If you arm yourself with a certainty in “your beliefs,” but the humbleness that your beliefs are not and should not be those of the other, you answer their questions about content (i.e. the names of God, existence of heaven and hell, etc.) with a smile. Treat their question like a gift, like a request for true understanding not a probe in preparation of an attack. Whether it bears a point like a weapon or a look of awe and puzzlement, of new discoveries.

Be a gift, plant a seed!

Let them aim their biting  questions for your heart, let them strike with their best blows if they must.  The blade will effortlessly pass through you with nothing to tear, damage or destroy.  For your certainty, your core happiness and joy, your spirit is made of light, love and personal knowledge of the divine. You smile at the gift and wait for the next lunge.  You have not tried to change them, not played “tit-for-tat”, not become defensive, not called them names or condemned them to hell. You have given them a glimpse of another reality, you have mirrored the divine, you have planted a seed of possibilities!

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