Beyond Opinions

The word polarization indicates that a conflict of opposites prevails. Who is not familiar with that, or with the media that ceaselessly fan the embers of each disputed subject into as large a conflagration as possible?

If we inquire into the meaning of our polarized milieu, we quickly find its source in our individual and collective proclivity to adopt and cling to opinions. We are widely encouraged to do so by various people and institutions in our society. Indeed, those holding and identifying with such opinions are typically characterized as being “strong” individuals. But when we accede to this temptation or suggestion, we accept contention as the unavoidable norm in our lives, seemingly unaware that harmony and peaceful coexistence are our birthrights. Not only that, our attachment to opinions tends to promote and propagate the adversarial atmosphere so common and disruptive in our culture today.

It can be helpful to understand this tendency to form and assert our opinions, even in the face of discordant opposition. We may be impelled to win, know, attain recognition, control others, or dominate our environment. If we examine the nature of all kinds of interaction thinking and their troublesome consequences, we can see that they arise from the prolific breeding ground of firmly held opinions. The dictionary provides one definition of opinion as “belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge.”

If, however, we seek a compassionate perspective regarding this all-too-human weakness, we may recognize the nature of each of the five forms of hellish suffering as consisting of unfortunately, invalid opinions of what constitutes the good in life. For example, we might see materialism as a desire to possess goodness, emotionalism as a wish for feelings of exaltation or ecstasy or security, sensual-ism as a love of the power of the body’s senses, intellectualism as an urge to understand or attain mastery, and personal-ism as an inclination to be an effective, harmonizing force in human relations.

Marriage is a specific domain in which polarization may readily occur, and sufficiently so that it may produce the dissolution of the relationship. Each of us tends to have at least some different values or interests from one another. When a husband or wife gives priority to a personal opinion about how things should be, and relegates compromise or harmony, not to speak of the good of God, to a role of lesser importance, mere discomfort may escalate into outright strife. The ever-increasing divorce rate attests to the growing prevalence of divisive polarization within marriages, forging a seemingly irreversible trend. Our ignorance of both the purpose of the marital arrangement and the real basis of peaceful coexistence sustains this disintegrative force.

Speaking from experience, I am more often than I would like to acknowledge justly chastised by my spouse for clinging to opinions that she finds demeaning. She even wonders how I have the audacity to ever write anything about spirituality when I can so readily enter the thrall of such pernicious ideas and values. Notwithstanding the fact that some of these beliefs are strongly held as a result of childhood conditioning, they are terribly harmful because they deny the truth of our and others’ spiritual identity. It is of vital importance to marital equanimity that they be recognized for their polarizing influence, and that they be swiftly rejected.

Similarly in family life, it is crucial to maintain awareness of how our attachment to opinions impacts the spirit and well-being of our loved family members. Even hoping secretly, non-verbally for their conformity to our way of life and values is inimical to their freedom, growth and maturity, for it exerts a subliminal pressure that can and frequently does create even more harmful rebellion or resentful acquiescence. Only the appreciation of the infinite diversity of God’s universe that is the underlying basis for comprehending the Zen master’s suggestion to “above all, cherish no opinions” liberates one and all from this oppressive and ultimately tyrannical narrow-mindedness.

It is interesting to observe that being opinionated is the antithesis of being humble. We know that humility is an essential element of receptivity to divine wisdom. Hence, we need to learn to regard our thoughts as just impressions, not cling to them as personal opinions, and be willing to relinquish them if they fail the test of existential validity. This means that they must prove to be a harmonizing, as opposed to a disturbing, influence in our lives.

It may be helpful to examine the thoughts passing through consciousness to determine whether they are merely impressions that are inevitable and to which we need have no particular attachment, or whether they have hardened, so to speak, into opinions to which we have become personally attached but which we can refuse to retain. Meditation is acclaimed for many reasons, but for me one of its principal functions is to help us become aware of the ridiculous opinions that captivate us, and allow us to release them. I suppose that that is what is meant by the phrase “mind fasting.” For, in truth, we really do not know what is best for us in this life; we need the constant guidance of divine intelligence, creativity and love to help us make beneficial choices and to respond wisely.

It has been remarked that the enlightened individual may appear to be a naïve fool to the sophisticated, most likely because he or she expresses no opinions. That same individual, when asked what enlightenment is like, has been reported to have responded that it is the same as always, except two inches above the ground. This means that unburdening ourselves of self-confirming opinions allows us to float more readily through life, and to inspire others by our example.