Flickr image from Dominic Sayers

“I am you, you are me, we are all together”

By Thomas Schmidt

Spokane Faith and Values writers have been plagued with questions involving the identification of the author of any theory as  a leftist or a conservative. This need to categorize any idea seems to me to be very unproductive, and the need to do so in my opinion serves only one purpose: the unadmitted desire to dismiss any perceived opposition quickly so that the respondent will not have to consider any idea that might challenge his or her thinking.

Folks, with our meaningless categorizations we cheat ourselves from having to learn and grow.

Back several lives ago, in the 70’s, I learned a Zen meditation that has stayed with me ever since. It was called by my teacher “Neti – neti” and he suggested I could think of it as “I am this, yet I am not this.”

Essentially I would relax and on my breath see myself in any way, and admit that I was that. Then I immediately was to see how I wasn’t that, and breath in both identities, owning both. I am intelligent, but so many times I am not intelligent. I am male, but in many ways am not male.

As a psychotherapist this meditation became my second most used and taught meditation for my clients. (The first became mindfulness.)

When one puts on this robe for their companion, and earnestly practices it, simply, it becomes impossible for them to not be able to identify with their opponent. We must listen to old Tyresias of Greek tragedy “I am not your enemy – you are your own enemy.” And, “We are all murderers.” I have to admit that I can identify with those who flew airplanes into the World Trade Towers. Some part of me, dark and unresolved, was with them, as well as with their victims.

In order to understand anyone else with whom I disagree, I have to access that part of me that shares with them. The bad I see in others can not be seen unless I also admit I have that bad. If I hate child abuse, it is only because I have had those feelings too, some how, some way.

None of this paradoxical identification suggests that I have to accept or engage in the activities associated with the other, only that I have to admit, I am not far from it myself. At my best, I must try to see the good, or the acceptable in the identity of the other. I may disagree with one’s application of ideas of individual responsibility, but I also see that without individual responsibility there can be, for me, no grounding in value.

I won’t go into the psychology of projection. It is enough to say that I must accept for myself the identities I place on another, and get to the praxis, the practicalities of working out our values.

About Thomas Schmidt

Thomas Schmidt is a retired psychotherapist and chemical dependency counselor who belongs to the Sufi Ruhiniat International order of Sufi’s and is a drummer in the Spokane Sufi group and an elder at the Country Homes Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. He is a member of the Westar Institute (The Jesus Seminar people). He studied for the ministry in the late 1950’s at Texas Christian Church and twice married Janet Fowler, a member of a long tern TCU family and a Disciple minister. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement, studying philosophy at Columbia University and psychology in the University of North Carolina university system. He has taught philosophy and psychology, and was professionally active in Florida, North Carolina, and, for 25 years in Spokane. He has studied and practiced Siddha Yoga, Zen Buddhism and, since the mid 1970’s, Sufism and the Dances of Universal Peace. He has three sons and three grandchildren. With the death of his wife, Janet, he is continuing their concentration on human rights, ecology, and ecumenical and interfaith reconciliation.

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  1. Good article, Tom. I learned a version of this in counseling. If someone wrongs me, one way for me to find forgiveness for them is to see if I have ever committed that same wrong against someone else, ever. If this is true, and in some way it usually is, then assuming I would want to be forgiven for the wrong I have done, I then must extend that forgiveness to them. I’m probably not saying it very well, but that thought process has gotten me through some tough times. Thanks, Tom!

  2. Excellent, Tom! Thanks!

    You encapsulate the heart of what Joseph Campbell referred to as a lifelong ‘hero’s journey’ and top student, George Lucas, alluded to when he said, “It all comes down to mirrors.”

    The only way I can identify with something in you is if it is first present in myself.

    Allowing our beliefs to be openly challenged so that one might wrestle with parts of oneself not yet acknowledged, much less understood, is deeply rewarding practice.

    Once again, this is why I love FāVS!

    I do think, however, labels are practical starting points in determining where folks ARE AT in their relative beliefs. Personally, I simply stop short of IDENTIFYING folks by such labels.

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