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Jun 29

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Growing into Contemplative Seeing

Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison. And for some reason, once you compare or label things (that is, “judge” them), you almost always conclude that one is good and the other is less good or even bad. In the first half of life, this provides ego boundaries and clear goals, which creates a nice clean “provisional personality.” But it is not close to the full picture that we call truth.

Dualistic thinking works only for a while to get us started, but if we are honest, it stops being helpful in most real-life situations. It is fine for teenagers to think that there is some moral or “supernatural” superiority to their chosen baseball team, their army, their ethnic group, or even their religion or gender; but one hopes that later in life they learn that such polarity is just an agreed-upon game. Your frame should grow larger as you move toward the Big Picture in which one God creates all and loves all, both Dodgers and Yankees, blacks and whites, Palestinians and Jews, gays and straights, Americans and Afghanis.

Non-dualistic thinking or both-and thinking is the benchmark of our growth into the second half of life. This more calm and contemplative seeing does not appear suddenly, but grows almost unconsciously over many years of conflict, confusion, healing, broadening, loving, and forgiving reality. It emerges gradually as we learn to “incorporate the negative,” learn from what we used to exclude, or, as Jesus put it, “forgive our enemies” both within and without.

You no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, for or against. It just is what it is. This inner calm allows you to confront what must be confronted with even greater clarity and incisiveness. This stance is not at all passivity. It is, in fact, the essential link between true contemplation and skillful action. The big difference is that your small and petty self is now out of the way, and if God wants to use you or love you, which God always does, God’s chances are far better now!

Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. 146-148

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