Last year, I met a Buddhist teacher who challenged me to think about my preferences. Notice, she said, how much your preferences influence you. Even in meditation, you prefer to sit facing one direction rather than another. You prefer a certain temperature, sun or shade. You prefer to meditate alone or with others. When we had spent some time on that concept, she said, understand this: Your preferences are not who you are.
This is a difficult and frightening concept. Most of us think we know ourselves because we know these preferences. We differentiate ourselves from our families, make our own space, choose people to associate with, all based on preference. Our preferences are our guiding principles, and seeing them as something other than absolute and intrinsic to who we are is threatening.
Recently, I had a conversation with the Photographer about faith. I’ve always had a difficult time with that word and often bristle at its mention because I feel it’s so often misused. In some circles, it’s used to keep people from asking deep and difficult questions, the undefined but virtuous quality you’re supposed to have so that you don’t question anything deeply enough to shake the foundations on which your life is built. For my part, though, I’m a little bit in love with that deep rumbling sound that means some longstanding way of seeing is about to give way to something else, and if faith is the thing that keeps me from that, I want none of it.
The Photographer and I discovered that we come from different directions on questions of faith and belief. He uses belief as foundation and experiences because he believes. I try to depose my beliefs and experience without their filter. For him, faith is what keeps that solid ground intact. For me, faith is what allows me to step off of it. Perhaps some wild element in him is attracted to my constant ground shaking. Certainly something in me is attracted to his strong rootedness.
In the end, I’m reminded that both are only preferences, and the propensity to seek the Other, further evidence that this preference, like others, is not who I am.