You need to remain open, yet maintain discernment and critical vigilance. Critical openness is true hospitality and receptivity. … Freedom challenges us to awaken and realize all the possibilities that sleep in the clay of our hearts. … In the inner landscape of the soul there is a nourishing and melodious voice of freedom always calling you. It encourages you to enlarge your frames of belonging — not to settle for a false shelter that does not serve your potential. There is no cage for the soul. John O’Donohue (from various essays in Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger to Belong)
O’Donohue’s words resonate deeply with an inquiry that emerged as I journaled early one morning recently. “Am I a critical thinker? Or just critical?”, I wondered. What does it mean to be a critical thinker? What is critical thinking’s role in discernment? And what about the heart?
The questions weren’t unfamiliar, but they rose in the wake of watching a controversial (some would say conspiracy theory) documentary that opened a familiar question: how do we know what is accurate and true? What stories in me may block my capacity for ‘critical openness’? How often do I engage in critical thinking? How often do I follow those with whom I tend to agree, without much consideration? What stories are so embedded in me that my automatic pilot kicks in with little if any awareness on my part?
I remembered an experience that brought this home to me decades ago while attending a Spiral Dynamics workshop. During a break the workshop leader casually inquired and determined that I was an alumnus of a particular university with deep and long traditions. As we settled in after the break to explore the impact of unconscious memes on our behavior and choices, the fight song of that university began to play. With nary a thought and zero awareness, I jumped up, began to sing loudly and move enthusiastically as I’d done many years before at football games.
Point made! That day we all learned anew that deep, unconscious memes, stories, and beliefs are with us 24/7 standing ready to blast forth when they hear the call. Whether we want them to or not.
As my inquiry continued, I wondered what other life experiences have a hold on me unknowingly and, thus, could be holding me hostage. What role do they play when I jump to being critical rather than thinking critically?
I recalled stories and beliefs that kept me in the ‘false shelter’ of a marriage until an event broke their hold and I chose to leave. I remembered a friend challenging my stories about all the reasons I could not purchase a house. Although years apart, my choice to end the marriage and my friend’s challenge awakened possibilities beyond any dream I’d ever allowed myself to have: living joyfully and gratefully in the paradise of a woodland sanctuary and being guided in how to honor this sacred dot on the planet.
Remembering those personal events of breaking free sparks a deeper inquiry. I wonder what memories, stories and beliefs live in me that block possibility, or that stifle any critical thinking about how to navigate today’s chaotic world? A world, I should add, that I hold less and less interest in and that seems increasingly irrelevant to what life truly is. Yet a world whose systems hold us hostage. Muse nods in agreement and prompts that this is a story for another day … from Prison to Possibility, Part 2, perhaps.
Returning to my inquiry, two experiences come to mind. During my early school years when our country was gripped in the fear of nuclear attack, we were instructed to ‘duck and cover’ under our little desks. This would keep us safe, it seemed we were to believe. Perhaps much like the lockdown drills in schools today. What of this experience still lives in me and impacts my views of the world? What are today’s experiences imbedding into our precious kiddos?
Later, in my junior high and high school years, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were periodic reminders of the danger of speaking up and speaking out. What might I/we hold deep within about the risk of taking a stand, speaking our truth?
How deeply and unknowingly do these and other events and experiences influence my choices? Our choices? Do I/we allow them to imprison us, or do we use them to open doors of possibility? In a world that so often would have us follow its ways, how do I maintain the ‘discernment and critical vigilance’ necessary to live as the sovereign being that I am?
The inquiry continues …
Cindy studies the practical application of mysticism, reflects on life, writes, takes long walks with canine companion Zadie Byrd, and stewards a small property at 8000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Southern Colorado. In the midst of the changing environment of a chaotic world, each week Cindy invites the Muse to explore how to navigate these uncharted waters and how to live a life aligned with our highest values in her blog at www.cindyreinhardt.com/blog