Going Public: A Meditation on Public Life as a Bit of a Spiritual Practice


One of the less pleasant aspects of becoming a public person, for me public person means being a Unitarian Universalist parish minister, a Zen Buddhist priest & meditation teacher, as well as something of a social activist, and a writer reflecting on these things from my pulpit and in other public venues, in books and on social media, is that people not only have opinions about me, but they say them out loud. And not just about what I think, but who I am, about me.

Turns out my skin isn’t very thick.

At various times people have opined in public that I misinterpret both Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism, that I’m a communist or a stalking horse for the capitalist system, sometimes for shadowy motivations, sometimes just because I’m not all that bright, others have opined that I’m dangerous to the commonweal, which okay, I kind of like, or that I’m in fact pretty shallow offering shallow shallowness to the masses, which cuts more than I would ever have thought…

But, there’s something else going on beyond self-aggrandizing and being poked and swatted in a great mix of just and unjust.

I’ve often spoken in UU circles about how while we are non-creedal, have no test of belief for coming together, we are covenantal, that is we have an agreement, which is our presence to each other. By being public in that sense, by bringing myself into presence, it just isn’t going to all be beer and skittles. We bump up against each other. We agree sometimes, and often we don’t. We are like a bunch of potatoes who’ve agreed to be thrown into a great burlap bag together, a bag that is then shaken. Our skin and bumps begin to be worn away.

And something is revealed.

I’ve found this larger public life has similar qualities. I try not to get caught by the more bizarre statements, although getting caught by anything shows things, so, just or not, I do try to hear what people say. Bump. rub. Polish.

And, I hope, it becomes part of the larger practice of noticing.

Paying attention.

Becoming.

It is a bit of a spiritual practice. Or can be. With emphasis on bit. We need more, I need more for a complete life. But it has value. I really think it does.

And, so, what for you? What does this little reflection hold for you, dear reader?

Well…

Of course you can join a UU congregation and get a bit of this yourself. Could be a good thing. Or, and, you could dance out to the edge a little in your life as it is, speak out a little, with some sense of kindness, with some hesitation (the rule of thumb I try to follow is not to joke about people with less power than me, and to be aware of how much power I have), and with that to pay attention…

Who knows what’s under the skin, what might be revealed…

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  • Jeanne Desy

    Thought I should mention that lay leaders in my church find they get much more criticism than praise or gratitude for their work, particularly in visible positions like Adult Programming or Worship Committee. I don’t know what makes people think you’re a dartboard, but I wonder whether it’s worse in UU churches, where everyone wants to be a minister. Or at least thinks they’re her equal in theology, etc.


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