People rarely change without strong intentions and a lot of practice.
We are habitual creatures. Even a modest change in behavior takes at least 40 consecutive days of practice to initiate a routine. I have no idea why 40 days is magic. Still, I’ve found that if I adopt a new behavior for forty straight days, the odds of that behavior becoming routine significantly increase.
Here’s an example:
I’ve “worked out” for most of my adult life. Before retirement, it wasn’t easy to find the time. I tried developing an exercise routine during the noon hour, but meetings often got in the way. Afterwork wasn’t any better. The only uninterrupted time I could depend on was early morning, before work.
I decided to give early morning exercise a go. The first couple of weeks were hell. My preferred workout was running; winter mornings are dark and frigid in Minnesota. Being jolted awake by an alarm, rolling out of a warm bed, and then freezing my butt off for the first mile until I warmed up was not easy to get used to. But somewhere around day 40, I strangely started looking forward to my early morning runs.
Thirty years later, I still like to get up before dawn.
We are habitual creatures!
Learning to see from the perspective of “We,” as opposed to “Me,” takes practice. In fact, it takes a lot of practice.
Adopting “We” as a default context doesn’t mean we will change our political views. There are some folks we’ll never agree with! However, as we learn to engage one another from a context of our shared humanity, situations invariably improve.
I spent most of my career overseeing contract negotiations. Surprisingly, only one criterion was needed to bring a highly contested negotiation to closure. Each party had to independently conclude that they were better together than going their separate way.
This condition is clearly lacking in today’s political leadership. Both parties focus most of their attention on ensuring the other side fails. This must change.
To prosper, America will need to change from the ground up, beginning with you and me. Let’s dive into how we might practice developing a new personal perspective of unity.
The first step involves engaging in activities greater than “Self.” This is not to say we need to become Mother Theresa. We simply need to engage in activities that are not “Self” centered. Community service activities that meet this criteria abound!
On an individual level, an easy practice to initiate is one I call “Disciplines Of Seeing.”
Nature provides the best example we can find of operating from a context of “We.” There is even a world for this, “ecology.” In nature, compensating conditions bring things back to equilibrium when something gets out of line. We can learn a lot from slowing down and observing nature work through imbalances.
Disciplines Of Seeing
“Disciplines Of Seeing” is a term I coined for watching nature do its thing. I like photography, so this practice involves going for weekly walks in a natural setting with the specific intent of finding something not seen on the previous hike to photograph. I keep a notebook divided into the 52 weeks of the year to list each new observation.
After several years, I noticed that the same “new” observations tended to fall in the same week each year. This amazed me because I had previously thought that temperatures were the key driver of seasonal changes.
“Disciplines of Seeing” provided amazing insight into the orchestration and interconnectivity of nature. The practice resulted in me thinking differently about the natural environment I am a part of, highlighting the importance of the union of “We” and demonstrating that nothing in nature is truly independent.
This “miracle of we” stuck with me and has occupied my philosophical thoughts ever since.
Learning to see things differently, in this case from the perspective of union rather than individuality, is an essential step in developing a new consciousness of being!
As we progress on a journey of adding more “We” to our lives, it’s essential to frequently check progress to be sure we’re not defaulting back to our innate algorithm of “Me.” Objectification is a word often used in situations involving disrespect or predation, but it has broader applications.
In each situation, our encounter was evaluated in the context of its usefulness. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except when we observe something with respect to utility, we often miss its true agency. More than lumber, an oak tree is an integral member of a woodland community. Meadows are a critical component of an ecosystem of interacting insects, birds, and other creatures. The same thing is true with people in our lives. People are more than mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, attorneys, accountants, or ministers. The key to seeing beyond labels and identities is to be wholistically present with another individual.
The “Objectification Practice” involves momentarily stopping to become fully present throughout the day, to witness life beyond assigned labels and usefulness to “Self.”
Stop, Look, and Listen
In each of the above practices, witnessing plays a central role. Witnessing is the best single activity to integrate “We” into our consciousness. Life is stressful. We are busy both by design and intention. Stopping to take a deep breath and step off the treadmill has immense benefits. Stopping, looking, and listening forces us momentarily to get out of our “Self” directed drama and observe what’s happening around us. Every railroad track has a white cross-hatched sign that says, “Stop, Look, and Listen.” I can think of no better recommendation for daily living.
Mindfulness practices pursued consistently are the gold standard for developing an algorithm for consciousness beyond “Self.” The reason is two-fold. First, in mindfulness, we learn to let go of incessant thoughts and quiet the mind. When mindful, we become present and aware of the moment. The second benefit is letting go of “Self” to witness the world with an open heart and mind. This creates a new mindset and a new more present way of being. I’ve written a series on mindfulness titled “Silent Fitness,” found here. You may also find my series on “The Anatomy of Peace” useful, located here.
Building “We” into conscious awareness takes commitment and practice. The specific practice employed isn’t as important as the intention and commitment to continue with practice.
The wisdom of unity, like grace, cannot be pursued. Instead, it ensues under the right conditions. Unity practices create those conditions.
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