Celebrating Differences

This theme has been showing up strongly in my life over the last year. And more persistently, over the last few months. I have been noticing in the relationships in my life and around me, that we have the urge to have our point of view be the right one.

It may be subtle or strong but unconsciously hold the view that our perspective towards life, our way of doing things, our modes of communication and expression, and our path is the right way. In our conversations and interactions, we try to convince the other to see, understand and accept our view. More often than not, that is what we experience from others too; people convince us to agree with their points of view. That is when a barrier comes between us and others, our differences separate us, and conflicts come to the forefront. When we are here we find it challenging to move past our differences. That’s when we create separation from another.

I am sure each one of us can relate to this. if we explore our relationships with our parents, spouses, siblings, children and other relationships including work, we discover that most of us are trying to create our territories and boundaries according to our point of view. We don’t have the tolerance to see and explore beyond our point of view because we are so used to sorting any information that come into our brain via our experiences as either right/wrong,  good/bad, acceptable/non-acceptable. This tendency is so automatic that we even start categorizing people we meet as acceptable or non-acceptable based on the points of view they hold with respect to ours.

Let me share one of my recent experiences with you.

I have been staying at this Ayurvedic Retreat for a few days now. Every evening at 5.30 pmthey have yoga followed by a session of chanting at  6.30 pm. I joined in for the yoga session led by one of the patients. It was a beautiful experience and I was introduced to different kinds of Pranayama. There were three of us. After the yoga, it naturally progressed to the chanting session, since this has been their routine over the past week.

Here is the thought process that started creeping in… the differences started to come in for someone who considers herself as quite open to all faiths. I started to think, I am a Muslim, and they are Hindus. At that moment in my mind, we as a group were divided into “I”and “they” camps. I felt uncomfortable. I started to fidget, wondering what to do next, whether to stay or leave.

Initially I stayed because I thought it was rude to leave so abruptly. I then also started thinking… “would they be open to reading the Quran as I am sitting here participating in their chanting sessions? I felt so much resistance in me. After a while, as I observed my thoughts, I found it quite amusing as to how far it took me in a matter of minutes. It was obvious from their interaction with me that they weren’t aware of our differences.

I then asked myself, if this had been some newly released music album I was listening to, what would have been my reaction? I would have been interested, open and curious. But this was different, I already had a mental label attached to this, hence the resistance. It was the assumption built over the years in coming from a place of fear and assumption. With the certain result that those other people (friends I just haven’t met yet) became objects.

When I caught myself with these thoughts, I let myself ease into the experience as though it was a song/music I was not familiar with. That helped me change my perspective and be more open to the present. After a while, my judgements started to fade away, I was able to hear and feel the beauty of the chant, even though I did not understand a word. I was amazed at how these two women chanted away in Sanskrit for about half an hour. There was such beauty to the language and a rhythm to their words, that I was blown away. I realized in the process that I hadn’t been up close with an experience like this before.

I am also pointing to everyday situations like creating separation from others because they are a certain way or do things in stark contrast to us. We might find people too short tempered, too indifferent,  too emotional,  too controlling, too loud, too soft, too aggressive, too laid-back, too active, too expressive, too shallow, to deep, too materialistic, too religious, and that becomes the reason for the sense of separation we create.

There are million of varieties of plant and animal species on our planet that co-exist in the eco-system. From a purely creative point of view, the power and magic of what keeps the planet running is the different parts working together. Why aren’t we humans open to diversity among us? Why is that threatening? Why do we have so many rules and systems that divide us?

What would it look like to accept our differences? Not just accept, but celebrate our differences! These differences are there to open our worlds so that we can expand ourselves. To take us beyond “us vs them” and “I vs you” and  connect us as “WE”. To take us beyond  the “my way” vs “your way”. We would find ways to align with each other instead of trying force agreement between us.

We are influenced in different ways by key experiences in our lives. Those can be very important but sometimes come with serious liabilities and challenges, and get in the way of our seeing the other as human and fully being in relationship. Those experiences can sometimes create realities that make it hard for us to be ourselves. And so, we often act in ways we believe others want us to.

We don’t lose ourselves when we accept and appreciate our differences. We run the risk of losing ourselves only if we do not fully know ourselves. In fact, in appreciating our differences, we build bridges to each other and different communities. We all become part of the bigger WHOLE.

This experience of bridging the gap is an unmasking experience. So long as we stay comfortable in our “must be seen as” boxes, nothing changes. My freedom came in that moment of stepping out and surrendering. I did not lose my essence. In that experience, my world became richer and deeper. I invite you to dare to cross your edge and discover what awaits you. Will you?

Sheena Yusuf

24 August 2015

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