Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
March 2019 - Volume 19, No. 3
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I'll Meet You There - (Part one of two)

In the 13th Century Persia - there was a poet, known as Rumi.  He once wrote these words:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.."[1] 

I’ve noticed myself quoting those words more frequently these past months - even though it was some years ago I myself first came upon them.

We are living in a time where the human proneness to divide primarily means divide and destroy. This is sadly true in psychology, religion and politics. And sometimes in families.

My own struggle

Three times in the last month and a half I’ve tried to write this Newsletter, which, if nothing else, helps me pull together my own thoughts, experiences and feelings about life in this world. At least twice I’ve felt defeated by the task - as if the chaos that surrounds us continues to outpace my ability to keep up even with myself.

I know I can be easily over-worked, and like many others, the stresses of the holidays, which should be now well past, seem to just hang on, like a newfound chaos in weather patterns.

And in the larger socio-political world, I hunger for a way to transcend the all-pervasive malignant dualism of our time. It sometimes walks in with a new client or a new client couple. And in response I have to dig more and more deeply into both myself and my clients to find words or images or guidance toward some healing.

Yes, there is a deep hunger for Rumi’s field.

But how to get there?

As I’ve been pondering this, the answer comes in three parts. Each is important to the search. I’m going to give three separate yet interwoven answers.

The first is to insist the world is divinely divided into right and wrong. This is right and this other is wrong. Choose what is right, and avoid what is wrong - and you will do fine, become wealthy, get to heaven, find your name engraved in brass somewhere, have well-behaved children and healthy teeth.

The second answer has to do with structuring the world in such a way that disagreements can be ordered in ways that lead to agreement. One of the classics emerging out of this is Robert’s Rules of Order, the most widely used manual of parliamentary procedure in the United States.

The third answer or perspective has to do specifically with Rumi’s field.

I consider the first two in this Newsletter, as a foundation for the third - when next month (April) I’ll fully devote myself to the search for Rumi’s field.

1)  Divinely Divided, Divinely United - a vertical ordering

I remember in my studies of human history, there emerged aeons ago something called “the divine right of kings.”

There was right and there was wrong. That which was right was “of God” and that which was wrong was “of man without God.” It was the law of God that was designed by God (or at least divine authority) to hold everything together.

The order of things, that which determined right and wrong, was from the top down. A king “by the grace of God” is a ruler by virtue of a higher order, often considered a ‘divine’ source. And because he (or she) is ruler by divine right is not subject to human laws. (cf the temptation to ‘executive decree.’)

Consider the Jewish/Christian Ten Commandments.[2] When we take a closer look, the first five have to do with our relationship with God, beginning with the commandment against idolatry. Then there’s a second set of five that have to do with humankind’s relationship with each other.

It seems that in Western history, a signal event took place in 1804, at Notre Dame de Paris, at the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte. Tradition was that the Pope (then Pius VII) would place the crown on the ruler’s head. However the 35 year old conqueror of Europe, snatched the crown from the pope and crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I. He faced the people rather than the high altar, thus marking his independence of ‘divine right.’ France had just undergone a revolution to overthrow the monarchy.

Yet even today, our inaugurations, our meetings of legislatures and Congress - and even local town council meetings are by tradition, “blessed” by clerical words. And in our houses of worship, people gather weekly and clergy are paid to maintain and advise according to that vertical ordering of society.

1b) This vertical ordering can easily become the home of the Right and Wrong answer.

And often people are hungry for some authority that can tell us what to do, or can lead us to fix things that are considered broken. Go to church, or a hair-ordering place (barber shop or beauty salon). It may well be that wherever hair is ordered, the world is ordered.

Much of our current political conversation emerges from the deep hunger for a world of the right and wrong answer. People it seems will kill for it. And they do, every day.

2)  Of, for, and by The People - a horizontal ordering

For many years, it seems, I’ve relied on what I’ll now call a creative dualism model. (It’s my basic heritage as an American citizen.) In counseling couples, or families, I’ll work to help dualities (men and women, parents and children, etc.) come closer together. It’s my work to transform even a malignant dualism into a creative partnership. Bringing folks together. Even in the workplace, the work partnership helps humanize the the larger enterprise, and enhance productivity (that necessary overlord of our modern industrial ethic).

1)  Rules of Order

In various times and places of my life, I’ve found myself in leadership roles, some of which have made use of Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s a well-designed structure, especially for legislative discourse. In my experience it has a genius for honing down a ‘contention of energies’ to a duality, which human nature can more easily manage, in what above I’ve called a creative dualism.

Whenever we can order chaos into a duality, the chances for humans to work things out is greatly enhanced - hence my term ‘creative dualism.’

Another structure, which seemed to enjoy a renaissance recently, is known as the consensus model, where the broader human ability to give and take becomes the vehicle for the emergence of an agreed solution or process. In my experience this can work well where there’s a higher level of training generally within an established mature community. But in so many places that maturity just hasn’t been developed yet, especially in these days.

2)  What I haven’t come to terms with yet, is a gnawing awareness that this isn’t working as well anymore. Just cast your eye on Washington DC, then Wall Street, then “America First”, then our borders, then the question of “others” (nations, peoples, tribes…).

WalMart is now reportedly dismissing its Greeters - perhaps its last vestige of a truely human face.   

Sports - has long been a place where greatness could still prevail. Yes, the world of sports has continued to provide us with high caliber human beings. But even there, these recent days, the center is rotting. Money and ego do their damage.

There’s the Church - for years we’ve both known and not known her propensity for sanctioning abuses. Her moral voice has been seriously diminished, silenced.

I recall back in seminary, sometime in the 1960’s, Martin Luther King came by. We were wrestling with the issue of racism. It was the time of the Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, Selma.  Many of my fellow seminarians went south to march, putting their own lives on the line.

One evening, the conversation was active and serious. But one question hung silent in the air - and a few of us were present enough to voice it: To the extent that we recognized aspects of racism within each of us, how could we eradicate it? (I knew well that just to decide to have it gone wasn’t going to work, at least for me.) And to my amazement, nobody had an answer! We all knew there were activist answers, there were ‘religious’ answers. There were psychological and behavioral answers. There were political answers. But the honest silence I heard in response to the question, said there were no “real” answers at least at that time to the deeper question.

And even these days, I hear swarms of answers buzzing within my head. And many of them are supposed to be ‘right’ answers. I’ve shared some of them with a number of people - and often they do work.  

But they still don’t get me to Rumi’s field.

There’s something beyond the two approaches I’ve outlined above - 1) the Right/Wrong answer, and 2) the creative dualism model.

3) The search for that “Third Thing.”

Holding it together

In retrospect, I’ve been writing for some months now about how to hold it together in these difficult times. This especially in a time when the human penchant for dividing and conquering, which has been ever present ‘here below’ has been super fed ‘from above’ as well. My massage therapist, once she begins work on me will often ask “OK Bill, who are you taking home with you these days?” She knows there are stories behind every stress knot she wrestles out of my aching musculature.

It’s taken me longer than usual to pull this Newsletter together. Perhaps you’ve noticed.

I knew something was happening to me. (Yes, I even considered dementia.) So I would let it go, drop it for awhile, then pick it up again. Rumi wouldn’t let go of me.

I know a river is being crossed.

Definitely a time to “pay attention.”

Till next month.


[1] Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273), a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic, wrote

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. 
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'
doesn’t make any sense…
Coleman Barks translation - from The Essential Rumi (Harper 2003)

[2] Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5

Comments (2)

  • At this late hour what comes to mind is a folk song I learned at Onawanda Girl Scout Camp, along the Susquehanna River just south of Tunkhannock near Keelersburg, PA, on the Sullivan Trail.

    VERSE 1
    Walk shepherdess walk
    And I’ll walk too
    We’ll find the ram with the ebony horns
    And the gold footed ewe

    VERSE 2
    The lamb with fleece of silver
    Like summer sea foam
    The wether with its golden bell
    That leads them all home

    VERSE 3
    So, walk shepherdess walk
    And I’ll walk too
    And if we never find them
    I sha’nt mind, shall you

    I can hear the ethereal quality of young girl voices echoing against the rock walls across the river and opposite the camp, sung around a fire. Keeping the silence afterwards we walked through fields lightly damp, mist rising from the silent river, we returned to our tents. I never realized how that may have been the requisite and nascent field of being there and no where else. How hard it is to move into what just was. You know, I don’t think they taught us the last verse. :) That one’s for me to find tonight.

    — Cynthia Garman, 4/5/2019
  • The timing is so interesting...

    This morning, I heard this on On Being, and thought of sharing it with you. I find it overwhelmingly ironic that now we can look up to what’s happening in Northern Ireland as a salve to possibly help heal our currently so divided America. But, it appears they are doing as good a job as anyone can.

    For when you have an hour or so to dive into inspiration:

    — Heather McDonald-Sand, 4/14/2019

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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