With new awareness I recently began exploring the concept of living more consciously. That is to say becoming more conscious of my choices and their impacts to my health, finances, family, environment, and community.
Awareness may arise from discovery, difficulty, loss or trauma. Reflecting back on painful times in my life, it becomes clear that each such event has changed me. Either my beliefs are confirmed and strengthened, or they are disproven.
For each belief that is disproven, I have a choice to make. I can change my belief based on new evidence, or I can ignore the evidence and stick to my guns. One could call the disregard of contrary evidence foolishness; some may call it faith. Perhaps both are correct.
It would be premature for me to offer much in the way of final conclusions for myself, let alone the reader. However, I would like to share a few discoveries as an encouragement to others to begin or continue their own journey.
Observation #1 – Every decision divides. You will face opposition. It may be passive, like a child who won’t embrace whole foods because she prefers fast foods. Or it could be active, like your HOA preventing you from growing your own food, or cities that prohibit capturing rainwater. Not making a decision is actually a decision, so I am learning to be more informed and intentional in my decision making.
Observation #2 – Beliefs can take time to change. For me at least, some of my changing beliefs have been years in the process as I gather information. question, listen, and decide what to do. Sometimes the cost (socially and/or financially) for changing one’s position can be frightening and can delay those decisions.
Observation #3 – Often I don’t know what to do. Either the problem is so large and complex I feel powerless to make any difference at all, or I cannot effectively determine the trustworthiness of the information I have access to. With all the voices out there on any given topic, it’s hard to discern truth from manipulation.
Someone once said just because I cannot do everything doesn’t mean I cannot do something. Maybe I can’t erase human trafficking, racism or famine. But I can do small positive things to make a difference. Author Wendell Berry says “it all turns on affection” – so begin there. Open a door for someone. Put your shopping cart away. Let someone merge into your lane. Check on an elderly neighbor. Wave. Plant a garden or a single potted plant. Take the stairs. Wish someone a happy “whatever your holiday is” and mean it. Feed birds. Hang dry your laundry. Give financially to a person or organization important to you. Listen to a co-worker’s problems. Smile. Pray.
Observation #4 – Change is hard. I know, I may be channeling Captain Obvious, but let’s call it out. My tendency is to be loyal to individuals, groups and causes. Choosing to leave one camp and go to another seems disloyal and treasonous. But I am learning that some loyalties I have given were not justified or earned. In fact my loyalty was abused and manipulated by those in power.
Observation #5 – I will never “arrive”. As a young person I assumed at some point I would have all my theology, politics, and personal choices determined and locked in. However now I now realize that this kind of personal stagnation is ignorant, and oppressive. In order to reach a final unassailable position I must have full access to all the information on a given topic, and I have the capacity to make an unerring decision – neither of which is a certainty.
Thus in order to grow, I must learn to be open to information and opinions that conflict with my own closely held beliefs. That doesn’t mean I accept all I hear. Aristotle said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. Thus, I must trust myself enough to listen and make an informed choice.
I grew up in a denomination that discouraged listening to or being friends with anyone who didn’t believe as we did. That, we were warned, led to apostasy. Even as a child I realized this indicated that our theology was weak, and wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. Questions were considered a challenge to the authority of the pastor, and thus were rebellion, and thus sinful. We as congregants could not be trusted to make good choices, so the thing to do was to follow someone who we presumed could be trusted with such knowledge.
This is one example of a conscious choice I made to reject a belief that was disproven. It cost me friends, a community, and made me the subject of negative sermon illustrations on more than one occasion. But I had been giving my unearned loyalty in that situation. To break that agreement was hard, but it was necessary and ultimately life-giving. New friendships were formed, a few remaining friendships were deepened, and a life-affirming community was discovered.
My own journey of late has been fueled from many sources, and I list several below in case they are of interest to you.