“The trouble is you’ve got to get through to him inside yourself; you’ve got to understand him…”
(From May Sarton: Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, 1965).
I decided to put myself There. There, in the mind of someone—anyone—who thinks differently than I do: less rationally, or more accurately, or more open-mindedly, or more narrowly. Perhaps this person was raised in a different culture or country or religion; perhaps this someone is a different gender, color, age, or of a different educational or economic status. Maybe, even, They are family or a close friend.
The thoughts and perspectives of this person are frustratingly opposed to mine. Or, they seem to be: What if, somewhere in all of the dissonance and vitriol and bafflement that our differences elicit, we have something in common? What if, for one brief moment, we determined to freeze our opinions in time and space; what if, from there, we each grabbed the other’s thoughts and considered them our own?
In recent days, especially, but also for almost a year, I have tried to occupy the mind space of people with whom I disagree about a significant social issue. Part of the difficulty is that while at first it may appear that we differ on one topic, that topic is tied in to many others: It does not begin and end with a global health emergency; it does not reside solely within the realm of politics or policy; and it is not only a matter of demographics. Thus, to wrap my head around and burrow into the mind of another has proven challenging.
I have come close. I have paid attention to the emotion or lack thereof associated with those of a different view: The greater the emotional vibration attached to the person’s ideas, the more likely I am to feel my way into their mindset. This is typical of me: I tend to resonate with another’s emotions; empathy is a strong connector for me. There have been times, of course, when I must quickly and definitively erect solid boundaries, in order to safeguard my energy, my heart, my mind. But for the most part, I am more able and willing to pursue a differing opinion when I can detect the emotion behind it.
“Do not be satisfied with drops of wisdom from scanty earthy sources; rather seek wisdom without measure from God’s all-possessing, all bountiful hands” (Paramahansa Yogananda, Para-Grams).
This is in keeping with my usual Way: I am eminently more comfortable with all things Spirit and Heart, than with earthbound qualities and behaviors. The spiritual realm simply is one in which I feel at home. That is not to say that prayer and meditation resolve all earthly conundrums and conflicts, but they offer solace to my Soul and Heart in times of distress.
“As you look upon creation, which appears so solid and real, remember always to think of it as ideas in the mind of God, frozen into physical forms” (Yogananda, SRF Lessons).
Yet, intellectually and physically, I exist on this planet at this time in eternity. What happens in the world matters to me: What happens to each one of us in the context of earthly life can create vibrational fissures or melds for the whole. Thus, while I am wont to focus on inner peace as an offering to universal peace, I recognize that sometimes one needs to wrangle with the hard-hitting illusions that we call reality.
At some point, rationality kicks in; evidence and experience rise to the fore. Then, I need to softly find my way out of the mind into which I wandered. Those thoughts do not belong in my personal field of perspective and spiritual pursuit.
And that, I believe, is the crux of the current social antagonism about an issue which at first glance would seem to be clear-cut. But even the most rational discussion bears the mark of each participant’s past, present, and assumed future. We bring our emotions, mental processes, and psychological tendencies to the table every time, regardless of intellectual and rhetorical prowess.
One is arguably most likely to rant at or belittle or dismiss the thoughts of another when those ideas seem to threaten a fundamental sense of security. One may think that the battle is with a virus, but such an enemy to physical health would be the province of science and medicine. Instead, the waged war has become a war of rage. Many seem to feel more threatened by differing opinions than by a deadly virus.
Yet “rage” is based in fear: fear of loss of freedom, of work, of agency, of choice. Most of all, each person with an opinion—regardless of its nature—seems to be shaken by the Other’s inability to understand, much less agree. To realize that the most vehement of beliefs are Truth to the believer may be an inroad. As inconceivable as another’s opinion may be, it may be valuable to enter the struggle to comprehend their perspective. And if such a venture results in thrown-up hands and rolling eyeballs, it may help to remember the base need of the opponent. It is the same for all: to feel heard.
“Might a definition of ‘rest’ be just this, the being understood?” (Sarton, Mermaids)