Wake Up Wisdom* #3
“[…] when I opened my heart, I was able to let go of seeing ideas as black and white. It’s like I was a horse with blinders on. And then suddenly, someone took them off and I could see the world in a wider way that encompassed even that person’s point of view. Like the earth, I could embrace all kinds of beautiful things, including the flowers and the birds—but also the rotten mushrooms, too.”
In this response from a Q&A for Wake Up Ambassadors, Brother Pháp Lưu shares how cultivating Right View helps to improve difficult relationships. To learn more about mindful communication practices to nourish and heal your connection with others and yourself, consider joining us for the “How to Reconcile” retreat with Plum Village monastics from April 2 to 4, 2021.
Question: How can I communicate with people who have different perspectives and values than my own?
Response from Brother Chân Pháp Lưu (Brother Stream)
In the past, when I listened to someone else who had a very strong opinion about something that I cared deeply about, I found it difficult for us to communicate. I just wanted to “cancel” that person, to shut them out from my life and go find people who agreed with my point of view.
But when I met my teacher, Thắy, and I came into the Sangha as a monk, I saw that sometimes the people who held a different opinion were my elder brothers or sisters. Since I made a lifelong commitment as a monastic to live in the community, I knew that I could not so easily just cancel that person and shut them out from my life because when I came for breakfast, they were still there. When I went for the Dharma talk, they were sitting next to me. And sometimes, when I went to visit someone’s room, there they were already in the room.
I thought to myself, “What can I do?” I couldn’t just pretend that that person was not there or that their opinion did not exist. My second tendency then became to want to argue with them, to try to convince them through my reasoning that my way of looking at things was the correct one and theirs was very obviously wrong. If I could show them the superiority of my point of view, they could only walk away saying, “Yes, yes, you are right, Br. Phap Luu. Thank you for showing me the light; I’m so grateful.” But I found out that that usually didn’t happen either—in fact, I don’t think it ever happened. So, I soon realized that that strategy also didn’t work well.
Thanks to the Dharma, I have since learned to let go of my point of view over time. That can sometimes be very scary, especially when we feel very strongly with all of our heart that our point of view is the right one. It can initially feel like we are opening up a kind of void underneath our feet. It’s like we’re going to fall into a pit and we’re going to become like the other person that we want to cancel, whose opinion is so obviously wrong.
But when I let go of my beliefs, I discovered that that’s not what really happens. I came to understand that actually my own way of thinking towards that person was closed. I realized that the suffering I felt when interacting with them actually had something to do with the way I was holding on to my own opinion. I was not permitting my heart to open wide enough to allow that person to come in, even with their point of view.
It also didn’t mean that I took on their opinion or that a part of me died. Instead, when I opened my heart, I was able to let go of seeing ideas as black and white. It’s like I was a horse with blinders on. And then suddenly, someone took them off and I could see the world in a wider way that encompassed even that person’s point of view. Like the earth, I could embrace all kinds of beautiful things, including the flowers and the birds—but also the rotten mushrooms, too. When I allowed that person to come in, even with their different view, I actually learned something new about my own way of looking at the world. What I found out was that my brothers and sisters were part of me and not separate. They actually made up part of something inside of myself that I could learn about.
This morning when I was eating breakfast, I somehow had a song come to mind that I liked when I was a teenager. There was a line, “There ain’t nobody leaving.” It means that in this world, no one is leaving. We’re all here together and somehow amidst all the points of view, all of our opinions, we share the same air. We share the same earth beneath our feet. We eat eventually from the same plants. If we want to learn how to really live together, there needs to be some way forward. Because arguing and just ignoring each other doesn’t really work in the long run. It’s not very sustainable.
We say that Right View is the freedom from all views. So, maybe you can let your conversations be a mirror to what is actually going on in your mind, to see why you are still personally caught in a view or an opinion. Letting go of my own views and opening up to others has allowed me to incorporate all kinds of perspectives, so that I have the freedom.
Transcribed by Elaine Fisher and edited by Erica Fugger.
*In our series Wake Up Wisdom you can read the responses to heartfelt questions posed by young sanghabuilders during a Q&A with monastics at the International Wake Up Ambassadors Online Retreat in 2020. We would like to encourage you – the readers – to offer your own experiences and insights when practicing with this topic in the comments section below, so that our community can benefit from collective insight.