The World is our Field of Practice

By On Being

In this excerpt adapted from one of the latest episodes of the OnBeing podcast, Krista Tippett and Rev. angel Kyodo Williams touch upon some of the richest themes of the zeitgeist, love, identity, learning from the intolerable and the collective evolution now upon us.

Ms. Tippett: I want to talk to you about love. 

Rev. Williams: The way that I think of love most often these days is that love is space.

It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are—that that is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It’s bigness.

It’s allowance. It’s flexibility. It’s saying the thing that we talked about earlier, of “Oh, those police officers are trapped inside of a system, as well. They are subject to an enormous amount of suffering, as well.”

I think that those things are missed when we shortcut talking about King, or we shortcut talking about Gandhi. We leave out the aspects of their underlying motivation for moving things, and we make it about policies and advocacy, when really it is about expanding our capacity for love, as a species.

We’re at this unique time. I’m surprised, actually, that more people aren’t talking about it. I think I may have glimpsed an article that I disciplined myself to not read. But we are at a time, so incredibly unique in human history, where there is a meaningful number of us that are not driven by mere survival, and we are not defined by the work that we do or the place from which we come. We are able to be transient. We can move around places. We can create meaning out of things and ways of being and work that we choose to do. And we can recreate it, over and over again. We’re not defined by where we are or what we do. We can make meaning out of it, but we are not defined by it in a way that former cultures and societies that were limited in transportation and had a necessity to be able to put food on the table, and so we farmed, and so we did a whole bunch of things that were about fundamental necessities. 

We inherited identities from our kin, which is part of our great conflict in this country right now. We are running into the conflict between people that inhabit an inherited identity with the place that they are—coal-mining country, and the work that they do as a result of the place that they are—up against people that have values and ways of perceiving the world that have shifted because they are not identified by their place and the work that they do in the same way that location and a fixed place tells you who you are and how you be in the world.

And that conflict, and the values that come from those two disparate locations, is the conflict that we are up against right now—in this country, in particular, but also in other places in the world.

We are in this amazing moment of evolving, where the values of some of us are evolving at rates that are faster than can be taken in and integrated for peoples that are oriented by place and the work that they’ve inherited as a result of where they are.

And who are in survival mode as a result of that, and so our values and what’s acceptable to us—enough of us—is shifting at a pace that is just outside of some of our ability to even take in. And the problem is — that’s always been true, but the problem is, now we have a meaningful number, a substantive number of people that have those rapidly evolving values in confrontation with people that are, understandably, still working with the location-, survival-based orientation. This means a lot of things for us. This means that, in terms of values, we can be more spacious. There are many of us that can afford, literally, to be OK with people that are really, really different. In fact, we can be curious about it, because our sense of threat is diminished, because our identity is not prescribed by sameness and being afforded belonging because of sameness.

Our own identities have evolved in such a way that, because we’re not merely trying to survive—I’m not saying we’re not trying to pay our rent and everything—but because we’re not identified with merely trying to survive, our sense of survival, our sense of thriving is embedded in a sense of movement and spaciousness and increasing allowance for more and more difference that is in direct conflict with people that are in a space-time continuum that is still place-based, survival-based, get-food-on-the-table-based. “If I don’t cut off the top of this mountain, where will I go? If those people are not beneath me, how will I know my own value?” Et cetera, et cetera.

Ms. Tippett: There’s this wonderful notion that runs all the way through your recent writing, that the world—you said, for people who are not monastics, the world is our field of practice.

Rev. Williams: Our teachers—are really the people, the situations that we confront moment to moment, day to day, month to month, year to year, that incite a sense of discomfort, dis-ease, awkwardness in us. And rather than seeing those moments as threats to who we are, if we could reorient, if we could center in our relationship to ourselves as evolving, fluid, ever-expansive creatures whose role is to be in observation of: What is that? What has that inspired? What has that called forth in me, that discomfort that is speaking to something that feels solid and fixed and is now challenged in its location? If we could do that, if we could live our lives in a way in which we understand that our deepest learning, our deepest capacity for growth comes not from walling ourselves off from the things that make us feel a sense of threat or discomfort or out of alignment or out of sorts, but rather, figuring out what is speaking to us when we feel those things, and what do we have to learn from that teacher that is embodied in that situation, that moment—not so that we become something different than who we are, but that we’re evolving into a greater and greater sense of what it means to be fully human, to be radically, completely in the truth of the human experience and all of its complexities.

I think that if we can move our work, whatever work we’re up to, whatever kind of desire that we have for our own development in life, to be willing to face discomfort and receive it as opportunity for growth and expansion and a commentary about what is now more available to us, rather than what it is that is limiting us and taking something away from us, that we will—in no time at all, we will be a society that enhances the lives of all our species. We will be in a society that thrives and knows that the planet must thrive with us. We will be in a society that knows that no one that is suffering serves the greater community, and that no one that is suffering is not an indicator of the ways in which the society itself is suffering.

I think—we are evolving at such a pace—even what we’re experiencing now in our society, we’re just cycling through it. We’re digesting the material of the misalignment. We’re digesting the material of how intolerable it is to be so intolerant. We’re digesting the material of 400, 500 years of historical context that we have decided to leave behind our heads, and we are choosing to turn over our shoulders and say: I must face this, because it is intolerable to live in any other way than a way that allows me to be in contact with my full, loving, human self.

There’s a death happening. There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial.

And that is extraordinary. The willingness to be in denial is dying in a meaningful number of us, the tipping point. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift. And then what I feel like people are at now is, “No, no, bring it on. I have to face it; we have to face it.” We have to face it. I also think, what people know is that, short of a nuclear war, we’ll survive it.

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