The Not-Knowing Approach and Clinging to Ideology, Being Right

Lone Tree In Mist And Sunlight; Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland

As I reflect on the importance of embracing a curious, not-knowing approach in our encounters with others, I am reminded of some more words of John Amodeo’s in his book Dancing with Fire. Amodeo explores the Buddhist idea of nonclinging, discussing perspectives and approaches to life and others in which clinging to our perceptions and beliefs can hold others at be, keeping us from seeing the fullness of who they are, who we are, and what is possible together. For me, at least, some of these words not only connect with my work as minister and chaplain or your work in whatever supportive role you find yourself, but to my own struggles in close relationships, where so often I find these very patterns warping my ability to be a good friend, family member, neighbor, church member, community action group member, or romantic partner.
Amodeo first talks about “ideological clinging”, in which our holding onto beliefs about others or the world, ideology, can become a barrier to true connection:
This “is often so pervasive we don’t recognize it. Our beliefs shape our worldview and set us up for heartache when reality fails to match it. . . Our beliefs are only approximations of reality; they never fully capture what is real and true, so clinging to them keeps us caged in a dim reality. To avoid solitary confinement, we may try to lasso people into the same shadow prison to keep us company. We may attempt to convert people to our religious or political viewpoint so that we don’t feel so alone…”
trust-fall1This ultimately, according to Amodeo, can inspire a squashing of other’s freedoms politically and communities of injustice, something many of us progressive people of faith hear in the south are working every day to resist. Yet, more importantly to our discussion, he argues that such pushing people into a box keeps us from fully experiencing them.
It “removes us from the present moment and deposits us firmly in our heads. We usually don’t notice how we restrict ourselves by clinging to fixed images and limiting stories… Instead of living out of some myth or story about who you are … live in a state of openness, of welcoming everything that comes into your awareness,” and every person too.
He also notes the other types of clinging which can stand in the way of true encounter: clinging to a desire to change people rather than accept them as they are, holding tightly to our perceptions and negative interpretations of other’s motives, holding on to a person who is continually abusive or emotionally/physically unavailable, and clinging to patterns that disconnect us from those around us.
Writing of this last barrier to true connection, Amodeo writes about the four factors that ultimately tear relationships apart according to social science research – “contempt (sarcasm), stonewalling (shutting down), criticism, and defensiveness”. He fleshes these out by saying “these slayers of intimacy” are “manifestations of clinging. We desire connection but we are so consumed by old hurts or fear of rejection that we resort to sarcastic comments and hurtful criticisms. We’re so convinced that love won’t be forthcoming that we scratch and claw for it. We cling so tightly to the shame of feeling wrong or undeserving of love that we get defensive or shut down”.
At heart, this letting go of clinging whether to one’s beliefs (ideology), one’s expectations, or to outcome is a part of the apophatic path of embracing a bit of not knowing in our relationships.
As I reflect on moments where I have been able to be a part of really connecting with others, I can see where I have learned to let go of holding my beliefs about life, God, or others so tightly I tried to push someone into a box. I can see where I let go of my expectations from past experiences of how life would work. I can see how I let go a need to control outcome and thus opened myself up to vulnerability.
But I can just as easily point to occasions that are a plenty, some very recent, where I let my strict need to be right about my beliefs, my expectations of from past experiences, and my own need to control outcome cause me to trip up and damage or alienate people I loved or for whom I cared.
The hope though, of the letting go which is a part of this practice, inspires me, though. For I know that my shortcomings and mistakes do not have to define me. All about us there is a goodness that surrounds and guides our days, which just as winter dark ushers in the greening shoots of spring can so renew our days that even out of mistake and falling on our face good new beginnings can be borne.
Rather than focusing on our capacity to fail, I want to close this reflection with the hope that ultimately each of us can learn, grow, and evolve beyond our propensity to fall short of our goals in relationships. There is a goodness and love that is beyond our failures to love and embrace, the goodness I know as the all-surrounding love of the God I meet daily as Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.
I conclude by sharing the words of Rich Mullins’ classic song “If I Stand” which so beautifully pictures this all-surrounding love which makes all hope of relationship possible.

There’s more that rises in the morning than the sun
And more that shines in the night than just the moon
It’s more than this fire here that keeps me warm
In a shelter that is larger than this room

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs that I can sing
The stuff of earth competes with allegiance
I owe only to the Giver of all good things

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That You will pull me through
And if I can’t let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You

And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be
As a man who is longing for his home
Oh, yeah

There’s more that dances on the prairies than the wind
And more that pulses in the ocean than the tide
There’s a love that’s fiercer than the love between friends
More gentle than a mother’s when her baby’s at her side

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs that I can sing
The stuff of earth competes with allegiance
I owe only to the Giver of all good things

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That You will pull me through
And if I can’t let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You

And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be
As a man who is longing for his home
Oh

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That You will pull me through
And if I can’t let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You

And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be
As a man who is longing for his home

And if I weep let it be
As a man who is longing for his home

Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

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One thought on “The Not-Knowing Approach and Clinging to Ideology, Being Right

  1. brotherdoc says:

    Letting go is so hard. How well I know that! The dearest inter-generational friendship I have ever had (much younger than me) has effectively ended as he has moved 5500 miles away to take a fabulous job and has no intention of coming back to NC any time soon. Facebook and cellphone are better than nothing but sometimes I feel so bereft. Thanks to your post here I am inspired to order the Amodeo book you refer to. The introspection required for self-examination is difficult but necessary if one is to get on with one’s life.

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