Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Making Assumptions

a rainbow surprise

The other day I was surprised to see an unexpected rainbow in the desert skies. It immediately reminded me of another surprise experience that happened to me when we lived in Los Angeles. 

Our L. A. home was very close to Hollywood, and very near us was a fashionable little strip of boutique shops, cafes and coffee houses often visited by celebrity types. One day, soon after arriving in Los Angeles, I found myself sitting in a little sidewalk coffee shop located along that trendy little street.
I was sipping coffee and a woman was sitting at the table next to me. 

The woman had obviously just come from a yoga class- mat in hand, sneakers, pants, pony tail (the yoga look). I asked her about the class and she told me it was a good one and that I should try it out. So, we started up a bit of conversation. I told her I was new to L.A. and she gave me some suggestions about places I should explore.  Then she asked me what I did for a living and I told her I was an Episcopal priest at a nearby church; and we chatted about that.

I then asked about her work and she replied. "Oh, I'm an actor." At first I was a bit surprised. (We didn't see, let alone chat with actors at coffee houses back in Syracuse.) "Yes," she said "My name is Diane Keaton, maybe you have seen some of my work?"  

I couldn't believe it - all along I was chatting with one of the most well known actors in Hollywood- I was talking with "Annie Hall," but I couldn't recognize her. My assumptions about who the person next to me blocked me from recognizing her. She was a yoga person. She was a fellow coffee drinker. She was a guide to Los Angeles - hardly a Hollywood super star.

I still remember my ridiculous response when she introduced herself and I recognized her: "Yes, you are Diane Keaton."

As I see it, our assumptions always get in the way of appreciating what is directly right in front of us. 

We make all sorts of assumptions about who God is or who God isn't. We make all sorts of assumptions about who we are - who other people are, and we "assume" that our "assumptions" are true. We can encounter another person and before a conversation begins, we have the other person "pegged." And so we often miss opportunities to meet potential friends or discover that a perceived enemy is not an enemy at all. 

In an essay of Buddhist writings, I came across an interesting commentary about how our assumptions limit us:

Assumptions bind us to the past, obscure the present, limit our sense of what's possible and elbow out joy.

Since moving to the desert, I have discovered that my daily period of morning meditation (contemplation) has been very helpful for me in dealing with my assumptions.

First of all, I almost never pray with words any more because the words of prayers feed into my assumptions about God. I find that prayer words limit my immediate experience of God's abiding Holy Presence.  So I just sit in silence, and breathe mindfully, focusing solely on the moment-- without judgement, thinking, analysis - without making any assumptions.

I also have discovered that the daily practice of mindful meditation helps me in checking my assumptions in my everyday life's interactions.

There is an interesting wisdom saying from the Hindu tradition which makes great sense to me:

Meditation is not what you do in the morning, that's a practice. Meditation is the daily result of that practice.

In my daily meditation, I suspend my assumptions. I am available to what is available to me in the moment and so I am "practicing" how to live without limits - more fully and more abundantly when I go out  to live my everyday life.

If it ever happens again, maybe this time I'll be able to recognize that I am having a chat with Diane Keaton. 



  1. Hello. I'm very new to blogger and in my exploration came across your post. Just beautiful. Thank you. I was particularly moved by your quote - meditation is not what you do in the morning.....
    I'll definitely be back.
    But one thought...maybe you saw beyond "Diane Keaton" to a just another person. Maybe that connversation/connection would never had happened otherwise.
    Peace, Jennifer French

  2. Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your response. The idea that I saw beyond Diane Keaton (as a personality) is a very interesting "take" on this post. Thanks again