A friend of mine put on her Facebook status the following quote: “I live with an open mind because I want to be at peace.”
A seductive sentiment. Who doesn’t want to be at peace? But this sentence needs to be unpacked if it’s going to help us.
We can start with that pesky I. What exactly is this I? And, while we’re at it, what is this thing we call the universe (and I’m not talking physics here)? We don’t have, you should excuse the expression, a prayer of attaining any genuine state of peace unless we perceive this I and this universe. Words can’t touch it. Ideas are beside the point. Thinking just leads us in circles. How can you see it clearly?
Then there’s that open mind. Everyone thinks s/he has an open mind. Osama Bin Laden thinks he has an open mind. Sarah Palin thinks she has an open mind. I think I have an open mind. Even Fred Phelps thinks he has an open mind. Your mind, my mind, everyone’s mind is open to whatever doesn’t contradict our deepest beliefs. And, since we believe our deepest beliefs to be absolutely incontrovertibly true, holding them doesn’t contradict our belief that our mind is open.
But a truly open mind has nothing to do with opinions or beliefs, whether they agree with our own or not. There’s a reason why Paul spoke of the peace of God which passes understanding. It’s not about understanding. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about self or other, ideas or thinking. There’s something deeper and more fundamental than any of this. Can we touch that? That’s the open mind, the mind that can touch that.
Finally, there’s “I want to be at peace.” That’s a lot better than wanting to be at war. But I can’t have peace until you have peace. You can’t have peace until I have peace. Wanting peace for myself is guaranteeing that I’ll never get it. It’s like a friend of mine from decades ago who’d yell at his toddlers “Be quiet! Daddy is meditating!” What kind of peace does that bring?
So how can we find peace?
In Buddhism we say that there are 84,000 expedient means. In Judaism we cite Numbers 15: “That you don’t follow your own heart and your own eyes which will lead you astray.” “84,000 expedient means” means: find a practice and stick with it. “Not following your own heart or eyes” means: this practice should not confirm your desires and opinions, but liberate you from being stuck in them. Put these two together and you have a recipe, a good one, in fact, the best there is: Find a practice. Stick with it. And don’t get stuck in anything, not even in wanting peace.