It has been said that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” I recently completed a 2,000-mile journey that was not only in miles, but a journey back into the heart of time and the heart of oneself.
My younger sister, who has terminal cancer, reached out to me for help in moving her and her belongings from California to a large evangelical Christian community in the Ozarks. This community is where she chose to live out her final days with like-minded people. Her thinking is now molded by a growing mass of people who call themselves conservative evangelical Christians. Her particular community is founded by a pastor who raises funds based on the Biblical final days of the world, known as the great tribulation or Armageddon. My sister is deeply devoted to their concept, as well as their evangelical belief that our current President has been sent by God. When I first heard his devoted followers say that Trump was sent by God, with tongue in cheek, I couldn’t help but ask, “…Are you sure it was God?”
On our journey across country I would sometimes ride in the cab of the 27-foot diesel truck with my youngest and most petite daughter Mira as driver. At 5’2”, her size may have been enigma to other truckers on our common road of Route 66, but she rode high…right up there with the “big guys.” My sister followed the truck in her white Honda CRV. It was a dream-like experience to ride with a sister who took me back in time with her perspectives of our childhood, and her current political views.
It was a classic example of our first Mind Wave, known as pramana, in the Yoga Sutras. Pramana has three parts: 1) Direct Experience, 2) Indirect Experience where we have not had the direct experience, but we believe in the experience of another, and last but not least 3) inference of others. Inference can be the translation of sacred scriptures such as the Vedas or Bible. However, when one strays farther from their own personal experience it is easier to believe the interpretations of others whether they are accurate, or not.
My sister seemed to clamp down on her perceived version of the truth, “Jesus is the way and the only way. Trump speaks the truth and only the truth.” She believed that her beliefs were the truth…not just her own perspective, but the truth for All. “Whoa!” I thought of my teaching in Conflict Resolution based on the Yoga Sutras. Conflict is about Perception. If we share our perception with one another, it becomes a dialogue. But if only one person shares their perspective, without allowing room for others to express their views…it is a monologue. It is a monologue when one person demonstrates a missionary spirit in trying to convert others to their own way of thinking. This often occurs when we are subconsciously insecure in our own beliefs. It can also become a monologue when there is so much bottled up inside, and there is finally someone who will listen and periodically give reflections and feedback.
Could this be why my sister who was raised in a home of metaphysicians had, over the years, slipped into a fixed belief system that, “Jesus is the way and the only way.” In the field of conflict resolution when dialogue is impossible, we practice the art of “Active Listening.” This is one of the most powerful practices we can do in life. Active listening is done when one person needs to express and we allow ourselves to become the conduit for their expression.
Active listening is also called “Compassionate Listening.” It is a process of listening not just with the ears but with the heart. To do this, we ask questions that help one to dive deeper into themselves to find solutions to their own issues.
When we learn the art of Active, or Compassionate Listening we learn the rare art of truly listening. We also learn the art of not sharing our own story but just being there totally for another. Even though we don’t share “our own story” when we are only there for another…it’s the strangest thing, we usually feel heard.
For years, my sister has stored up angry thoughts that she felt would be safe to share with me on our journey together. It was an honor just to be with her after many years of our not relating to one another. Now, in the autumn and winter of our lives, she has transcended her anger towards me, but had not yet transcended her anger and rage toward our parents. Even though we were in the same family with the same father and mother, our perceptions of childhood experiences were totally opposite from one another.
As the miles passed under the wheels of both vehicles, it was the first time we had been so close physically, but juxtaposed in religious and political beliefs. We traveled through the Mohave desert to Arizona, and then through New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and the wide-open lands of Oklahoma with big skies stretching into infinity. What freedom I thought, taking in the beautiful vistas that did not restrict the aura…or so I thought.
In Texas and Oklahoma, we began to observe billboards and signs supporting conservative political views. A growing number of white, steepled churches began to appear as we grew closer to the Ozarks. Tall church spires reached toward the heavens as if aspiring toward the light. Wherever we traveled, conservative Christian values seemed to be in lockstep with the belief that our current President was sent by God and should be supported no matter what he does or institutes as policy. “He can do no wrong,” my sister was adamant, “I don’t care about truth or facts. I know what I feel and that’s enough!”
My sister receives her daily news from Christian broadcasting stations and conservative news outlets. Most of her views come from the minister of the community where, we eventually entered through its pearly gates. Her patterns of thinking and speaking were in lockstep with a growing sea of other Christian groups and organizations that all seemed to be speaking the same language. It was reminiscent of soldiers entering onto a bridge. They would be ordered to break step as their unified marching would be such a powerful force it could collapse the bridge. Was my sister now in lockstep with those of the same or similar views? Were they gaining strength and power by coming into a unified field of consciousness by using similar words, images, and concepts?
“Isn’t this wonderful,” my sister’s voice broke through my thoughts. “We have opposing viewpoints but we can still love one another.” Her left hand was on the steering wheel as I took her free hand, brought it to my lips to kiss it, telling her after more than 75 years that I loved her.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if we could all do this as the people of a country in division and fear? Wouldn’t it be great if we could agree on the love we have for those who no longer share the same values and viewpoints? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our friends and family members of opposing views could leap over canyons of divisions and separation to embrace and say “I love you” to one another? After all…great masters who have walked upon the face of this earth urged us to forgive those who have knowingly or unknowingly created injury. May we also forgive ourselves for any hurts we may have knowingly or unknowingly caused others. May we do this in the spirit of remembrance that, “Love is the greatest power in the Universe!”
As we were approaching the advent of the Thanksgiving holiday, my heart was filled with gratitude for these precious moments. My sister and I were on a journey not just across country, but a journey beyond time. As we drove through Arkansas into the Ozarks on our way to Missouri, I learned more of her journey of childhood and her life observed from a perspective that was so opposite from my own. Isn’t it interesting that this happens in most families where we are each like a blind person touching each part of an elephant feeling our part to be the whole.
My baby sister may die before I do. Does it matter what she believes or what I may believe? Who cares if one is right or wrong, right or left, conservative or liberal, red or blue, purple, or gold? All of Yoga is to transcend polarities to experience the union beyond all divisions. There is a point of convergence where all opposites and opposition meet and that is the remembrance of our eternal state of Being. This is where all points of view and all lines of demarcation dissolve into a vast sea of Infinite Being.
This was only an 8-day journey from the capital of California to Blue Eye, Missouri. But it was an amazing journey back into the timeless depth of unhealed wounds, and the soul of sisterhood.