Thursday, April 9, 2015

Similarities and Differences

"A Roadrunner"
- At The Desert Retreat House -

I was listening to a local NPR program yesterday during which a resident of Los Angeles was expressing great enthusiasm because she had caught a rare glimpse of a roadrunner near her home up in the Hollywood Hills. I couldn't help but smile to myself when I heard this. I see roadrunners every day out here in the desert. They visit me in my garden, live in the palm trees in front of my house,  and often walk along with me on my daily treks out into the wilderness.

It may seem odd that I would be spending time thinking about a "bird" in a blog article about spirituality. The fact is that, like many things out here in the desert, a simple roadrunner has a great deal to teach about walking a spiritual path.

For one thing a roadrunner isn't actually a bird, at least not in the way we usually think about birds. They have wings and feathers and look like birds but they can't actually fly- they run real fast and they hop up into tress and onto walls. They don't utter sweet little chirping sounds like birds do, instead they cluck a low-pitched guttural sound, sounding more like frogs than birds. In addition to all that, you won't find roadrunners at your bird feeders because unlike birds, roadrunners are meat eaters - they eat other small birds, lizards and rodents. 

In a very real sense it's hard to "pin down" these unique creatures, hard to figure them out, impossible to place them into neat little pre-conceived categories--and herein lies the lesson a roadrunner teaches me on my spiritual journey.

When I was teaching college classes in Interpersonal Communication, there was a mantra that I would utter almost daily to help my students improve and understand their communication with other human beings:

Look for similarities in differences 
and differences in similarities.

This may seem like a somewhat simple and even simplistic thing to teach people about how to interact with fellow human beings, but it's way more complex than it may first appear to be, especially in our Western culture that is so primary governed by a logic of "either-or" thinking. For us, something or someone is "either" "this "or" that. A person, a race, a nation, a religion is similar to me "or" they are different from me. 

The lesson those little roadrunners teach me as I walk along the trails out here is that the world is always "both-and." Whenever we perceive similarities there are always differences and whenever we perceive others to be different there are always similarities.

The roadrunner has feathers and wings and it runs rather than flies. I am different from people whom I have labeled as strangers or opponents but there are also many similarities between us.  I am similar to the people I love but we are also unique from another.  Christians are different from Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, but there are huge similarities that we all share. Atheists are different from believers but if we talk long enough we will find that we often stand on common ground. 

In the fourth century BC, Chuang Tzu put it this way:

Everything can be a 'that;" everything can be a 'this.' 

This is such important wisdom for a world in which we are all so quick to embrace similar others as being all on the same team, while judging different others as the enemy before we also see how similar we are to each other.

Like many things in the desert, a simple little roadrunner can be a wise teacher on the way.

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"

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