The concept of being an open minded, easygoing person is something I think many of us claim to be good at in the moments that don’t particularly demand the openness of our hearts or minds. We feel completely not set in our ways until our ways are challenged, and the realization that we have predeterminations (or, you know, ways) at all can be alarming. We can effortlessly say, Yes, I would be okay with that or Sure, I would be able to navigate that situation until suddenly, there we are, in the midst of the moment we assumed would never actually arrive and it’s asking: What now?
Something I have been learning (and unlearning and learning again) over time is that my openness depends very much on my closed-offness, on how easily I shut out other ideas and perspectives. What I mean by that is for every time I’ve said, aloud or to myself, that I would never do this or only do that, I am deciding, even if only internally, that I am so predictable and well-defined that there could not possibly be any room for 1. a moment of misjudgment that would lead to error or 2. a moment of enlightenment that just might lead to something more incredible than what I had originally planned.
In a society so fixed on schedules and agendas, it’s pretty hard to get away without at least having a vague idea of where it’s all going. Everyone is interested in what you do and where what you’re doing will lead. The next five years of your life in a rough outline, please and thank you, even the next ten if you’re feeling particularly ambitious and self-assured.
"Out beyond idea of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." - Rumi
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking our need for organization or the beauty that can come from following through with a well-structured idea. I enjoy my rituals and routines, my predictabilities, my securities. And I’m not particularly skilled at the rough patches, the unexpected shit that invades our lives as we’re humming along only to find we’ve run over a metaphorical nail in the road and there’s no service station for miles. I don’t really like surprises unless they involve candles in a cake.
But what I have found is that every time I decide how I will absolutely without-a-doubt respond to a certain situation, I am almost immediately given an opportunity to test that theory, to give my will a go. And while it hurts to be wrong (and it hurts to admit it), it also can shake your sense of certainty about the person that you are. It can lead to questions like, “How little do I really know?” or “How easily do I assume judgement over someone/something that I don’t even understand?”
“We are all beasts in this kingdom, we have all killed and been killed, and some new time has come to us in which we are called out to find another way to divide the world. Good and evil cannot be all there is." - Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder
Should we be so sure of who we are that we leave no room to surprise even ourselves? And I’m not just talking about the moments when we feel disappointed by a choice we’ve made (I’m talking moments when we unexpectedly overthrow our I-will-nevers, like “I will never be the sort of person that eats a donut at midnight or cries alone in a movie theatre, I will never be the person that worries about saying ‘I love you’ first or the one to question my beliefs, to ask big questions in the dark to no one”, etc.), but what if we could also wildly astound ourselves with our strength or our level-headedness or our ability to face fear and not back down?
We should never think we’ve learned so much, all there is to know, even about something as seemingly familiar as ourselves, that there’s nothing left to discover. There is always more, always deeper, always something new beneath the surface.
How will anything really ever amaze us unless we’re standing with arms wide open to the possibility of being amazed? In the same way, how will anything truly change us, at the heart of who we are, unless we are slightly okay with the idea that change could be good, could very well suit us, could be just the thing we seek?
And I think where we stumble is when we assess a scenario without really meeting it face to face. We devise a system of absolutes to live by without really knowing the things and the people about which we’ve made our (most likely judgmental, uninformed) assumptions. Instead of immediately making up our minds, by choosing openness instead, even in the smallest degree, (and I’m talking about holding your index finger and your thumb about half an inch apart), we metaphysically kick open a door to a deeper sense of compassion, of seeing the world through another person’s eyes or walking a mile in another person’s shoes.
Which is where I think our hesitation towards openness really begins and ends: deeply rooted in a fear, which really breaks down to a simple lack of understanding. Openness will make us better at all the skills we think we’ll never need to use: forgiveness, to say the least, of the misgivings of others and ourselves. It is the key to empathy (or feeling with people), which we could all put into more constant practice.
“It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar.” - Anais Nin, 1949
And maybe that door won’t kick down so easily. Maybe it’s one of those slow-moving rotating doors that requires a deep push of your entire self. Maybe it's a door that's stuck on its hinges, one that says "Pull" and yet we keep on pushing uselessly. Or maybe we find ourselves standing before a solid wall, no door in sight. Keep going; keep forcing it along, shoulders first until, eventually, we meet on the other side.