How to Widen Your Circle
I am a creature of habit. I like my daily routines. I’m happiest doing the same thing every morning, meditating then exercising, followed by showering, dressing in clean clothes, and eating the same set of foods for breakfast and lunch. I like following the grooves that are quite comfortable. I enjoy going to the same office, parking in the same spot, sitting at the same desk, day after day after day.
Maybe I like having sameness in my life because of how much change I’m constantly experiencing. Every Sunday is different with special challenges. I’m always looking for new stories and illustration to enliven my sermons. There are the crises of the week to deal with. The problems to resolve. The connections to make. Ministry is very stimulating.
Yet even that can get stuck a bit in a rut. My attention can get narrowed to just what is happening in our congregation, what I read about in the Times Union or the New York Times, and my circle of attention can shrink.
It might also be a function of getting older. I’ve explored a lot of life by now and have found what I like and don’t like. There is a natural drive toward what I like and away from what I don’t like. The Buddha had a lot to say about that tendency and the problems associated with it that cause stress and suffering. This can be a major problem when we seek to embrace more diversity in our congregation when people would rather stay with what is comfortable and feels safe. I find myself falling into the comfort trap again and again, much like my comfortable morning routines.
The first words of our mission statement are: We welcome everyone. Our vision says we want to be “an inclusive, welcoming congregation. Our sacred work is to lift hearts, broaden minds and do justice in the world, in service of building beloved community,” Both our mission and vision challenge us to widen the circle of our congregation. That challenge extends to the personal level to widen our inner circle as well.
Here are some thoughts on how to do that!
One of the easiest ways to experience diversity is with your mouth. Try some new foods you don’t usually eat. I find I settle on one or two things I like to order in a restaurant. Why not pick something different until you’ve sampled all the dishes. Experience the cuisine from a culture that is new. New restaurants with non-American cuisine are often attractive, offering new experiences of décor, smell and taste. What about bringing home a root vegetable or something that is leafy and green that you don’t usually eat. Maybe something you can’t pronounce. Google knows how to cook everything and make it tasty. The challenge is to widen the circle of enjoyed foods without expanding the circle of the waistline.
Clothing can be another way to experience diversity. From a new hat or gloves to a color or pattern you don’t usually wear. A texture of fabric that you’re not used to wearing. I never wore light, puffy down jackets so I thought I’d try it. Now I enjoy being warm without the weight of a heavy coat. Even a different kind of socks can be delightful. One doesn’t have to spend lots of money for the latest fashions to experience a new diversity in clothing.
One of the places few people pay attention to for diversity is movement. I learned about this from a practitioner of the Feldenkrais method devised by Israeli Moshe Feldenkrais. As a way of healing people’s physical problems with their bodies, he showed people how to learn to move in new ways. Using somatic educational methods and gentle, mindful movements, he helped people learn to move in different ways that rewired their brains to resolve physical problems. This can be a lifetime of movement exploration that leads to both inner and outer transformation. Yoga, Tai Chi, martial arts, are other examples of mind body exploration.
Another way to explore sensation is outside the body through the visual and auditory arts. Going to art museums or viewing the constantly changing natural world around us are ways of expanding the diversity of the experience of seeing. The world of music, bird songs, sounds of the planet like lightning, wind, rain, snow, sounds of people’s voices, create a wide awareness through our ears. But our looking can become routine as our eyes go to the same places over and over, look at the same kind of art that appeals to us, looks away from what our mind doesn’t want to see. The same with screening out unwanted sound. There are types of music we don’t listen to because we don’t appreciate it or haven’t listened to enough to hear qualities in it that the ear picks up with repetition. Repetition helps us appreciate subtlety.
A more sophisticated kind of seeing and hearing involve words and sentences. Our world today is saturated with words and sentences. Hundreds if not thousands of television channels. So many virtual places to go to watch and to listen. And then there are the 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of podcasts, blogs and videoblogs. And then there is Vimeo and YouTube. So many different places to absorb content. Again, we can choose to go to our favorite places, or we can choose to explore new channels and hear new voices we’ve never heard before. Explore new ways of thinking and knowing by people who are very different from us.
That matters when we want to explore the diversity within our local community. We can stick with comfortable or familiar voices or we can explore new and different voices and be challenged by unfamiliar ways of thinking or perceiving.
The most intimate way to do this is in our relationships. We can just spend time with people who attract us and we enjoy and ignore the rest, or we can choose to spend time with those who are different from us and who challenge us and make us question our thinking. Maybe not all the time but finding the people who we can have some of both, the comfort and the challenge.
That has been one of the great delights of being in a congregation like ours that emphasizes a wide welcome. We are striving intentionally to appreciate and welcome greater diversity in our congregation. Where we do set limits is on the kind of behaviors we tolerate. We are very intentional, however, not to set limits on how we think and understand our faith or lack of faith.
Here, you are free to widen your experience of living. The guide we suggest isn’t what society or the crowd says you should do or think. It will not be driven by shame and guilt. What we encourage is a growth and development of your inner sense of interest, curiosity, and attraction. We call it a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. It is a beautiful way to widen the circle of your love.