Living a Life of Openness

What does it mean to live an open life? What does such a life look like? Let's appreciate three aspects of living an open life. There is the way in which you open to your own personal experience. There is also the way you open to others which allows you to remain connected with them. And finally, there is the way you open to your larger world that helps you be aware of what is actually taking place on the larger planet which is your home. All three of these aspects of your life intersect in many ways, and all have to do with living an open life which is integrated, well and awake. Opening to them is how you learn to live a Zen-inspired life. It's important to appreciate that integration and well-being are synonymous. When you are well, you are integrated. You are able to take whatever life throws at you and assimilate it and digest it in a way that allows you to remain open and fully functional. When you are not able to remain open, you become dysfunctional, which is another way of saying you go out of integration.

There are only two ways you go out of integration. Either you become rigid and contract or you become chaotic and act out. This is a useful and empowering lens to look at your life through. You can begin to appreciate the habits and ways you behave that are not serving your life without pathologizing them. When you close down, you lose access to the full awareness of your own experience and your capacity to communicate and connect with others and your world. When you act out, you also lose your capacity to remain open to yourself and others. Your communication suffers and you easily become disconnected which is one of the most painful experiences you can have as a human being.

Personal Experience Opening to your own experience requires awareness and courage. You are constantly subjected to experiences which are unsettling, difficult and stressful. If you identify with this experience 100% then it becomes very solid and seemingly real. It's difficult to step back from this, so you easily get trapped in it, along with the stories and scripts that go with it. If you get curious about how your discursive mind works, you may notice that often when you get caught in your story you tend to globalize your experience.

Having a regular practice of mindful meditation can help you learn to remain open to your own experience. The awareness that arises from meditation allows you to widen your window of tolerance for experiences that would normally pull you out of integration into a rigid or chaotic behavior.You learn how to keep company with yourself  in a way that is kind, generous and spacious.

This spacious awareness helps you shift from fully identifying with your experience to watching and reflecting on it. When you are able to do this, your thoughts and feelings don't seem so solid and heavy and you can begin to see them for what they really are. And in doing this you relocate the focus of your experience in a larger, more grounded embodied awareness. And here's the paradox. When you move from the way you globalize your experience through you discursive thoughts to this embodied awareness, you move from a small experience to a much larger one.

Interpersonal Experience You are a social being. Relationships are part of who you are as a human being. Openness with others has to do with how well you remain connected. Are you receptive? Can you listen deeply to another without interrupting them? Can you stand your ground and speak your truth in a way that doesn't blame the other person?

It seems to me that in many ways we are loosing the art of having ongoing conversations and this is sad, because the way we  remain in process with others is a significant aspect of welling being and integration.

Again when you go out of integration with others, you display behavior and habits that are rigid and/or chaotic. And both kinds of behavior lead to dysfunction and disconnection. Being disconnected from others is one of the most painful experiences you can have. So being open means you are able to remain connected with others in all kinds of trying and difficult circumstances. Mindfulness awareness can help you modulate and modify the knee-jerk tendency to disappear and run away or to attack and become more aggressive. When you are open to others, you are able to both speak your truth and listen to them in a deep and empathic manner.

Your Larger World You also live in a larger world. What does it mean to be open to your world? This can mean many things, but perhaps we could begin by appreciating how overcoming denial about the suffering in our world is a first step. In all these areas, opening has to do with your capacity to be present to suffering without running away. In the case of your world, there are currently many life-systems which are threatened. Joanna Macy has written about this as the work that reconnects.  Can you open to the grief you feel for oil spills in the gulf coast? Can you overcome the denial you have about the dying coral reefs or the miles of plastic bags clogging the open waters of many oceans?

One example of a current difficult issue is natural gas. Natural gas seems to be less expensive than many other natural resources. And it turns out that we have many areas of natural gas in North America. Mining and retrieving it can help us become less dependent on oil. But it turns out it may not be so cheap after all. Mount Equity Zendo in Pennsdale, Pennslvania and many of their neighbors are currently threatened by slick water hydrofracking that is taking place near them. Water is being polluted. Animals and birds are dying. Can you open to the pain of this? Can you appreciate how something in your world is out of integration–out of balance? When life-systems that support many plants, animals, birds and humans are threatened, your world becomes more dysfunctional. When your world is out of integration and unwell, so are you. This is also an aspect of living an open, Zen-inspired life.

Living an open life is challenging. It calls on you to remain aware and to be brave. It calls on you to be willing to open to your sadness, grief and out-rage about the suffering that is taking place in yourself, in others and in the world around you. And in the end, living a Zen-inspired life calls forth that in you which is completely committed to ending this suffering.

by Robert Althouse