Though I did not understand it at the time, joining Sawyer was my first spiritual practice. Joining, as I have described earlier, was the practice of doing whatever he did, which in our case was running back and forth humming and flapping and thumping our chest. The idea was that instead of telling the child to stop doing what he was doing and join you in the “real world,” you join him in his world and see where it goes from there.
I did not see it as a spiritual practice because, A) I didn’t know there was such a thing; and B) all I was trying to do was get him to spend less time humming and flapping and more time acting like what I believed was a normal kid. This wasn’t so easy. The real challenge in joining wasn’t doing what he was doing, but not judging what he was doing as wrong. This meant that even though I wanted conditions—that is, Sawyer’s behavior—to change, instead of pouring my efforts into changing those conditions, I instead changed my perception of the conditions.
Or in other words, I had to learn to change what I actually had the power to change. Because once my perception of Sawyer changed, once I said to myself, “What if he isn’t broken? What if I’m not broken? What if no one is broken?” conditions did change—namely, my behavior. Then, lo and behold, once my behavior changed, so did the world around me, including Sawyer’s behavior. Moreover, I saw that if I judged humming and flapping as wrong as I hummed and flapped, Sawyer would go into another room to hum and flap in peace. If I didn’t judge it as wrong, he’d stay with me.
Which meant that even the effect my behavior had on the outside world depended entirely upon the perception from which that behavior was born. This is why joining was a spiritual practice. Though the world seems full of conditions that appear to need changing – from children’s behavior, to police departments, to rioting cities – my job is not to correct all those conditions until they suit me. My job is to correct my perceptions of those conditions and then behave accordingly.
I have to admit that this seems like a dangerous choice sometimes, like walking through a warzone without my helmet and bayonet. I pay attention to those conditions precisely because they threaten me. I must remain vigilant and alert, ready to correct conditions with a bayonet thrust or a letter to the editor. Such is the perception from which a world of enemies is grown—enemy nations, enemy weather, enemy children. It is an intolerable world, a world begging for change, a world no one would choose to live in if they believed another world existed.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.