Binary, Non-Binary, Whatever it Takes

June 13, 2017

I've been a big fan of Ken Burns since his PBS documentaries on the Civil War and baseball. He was on a news program recently promoting his new work on the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, I have a 2% chance of viewing it, as PBS is near the bottom of TV interest here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. During the brief interview, Burns must have used the word "binary" 10 times. Apparently the word, along with it's companion word "non-binary" must be co-words of the year for 2017 because they were also overused in a recent National Geographic cover story on gender and sexual orientation. Most of us know that binary is a computer language based on only 2 digits, 0 and 1. It's only recently hired a PR firm and become more in vogue in popular culture. 

 

To Burns and to many, binary clearly means "either black or white, not gray" and is clearly the wrong way to look at the Vietnam War. Who am I to disagree with my documentary hero who claims that a binary perspective is bad/shortsighted while a non-binary perspective is good/enlightened. BUT, as Ricky Bobby said, "...with all due respect..." to Mr. Burns and many others, isn't such analysis on it's face binary?

 

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I've written often about the limitations of dualistic thinking, which is essentially binary, either/or thinking. It's the thinking that makes decisions by comparison, opposition and differentiation. It approaches life, morality, religion from the perspective of everything being either good/evil, secular/spiritual, fat/fit, smart/dumb, friend/enemy or right/wrong. There are inherent cultural and religious dangers in this way of thinking. We've seen it's impact in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and in this country, from the KKK to elections to church.

 

But we need dualistic thinking, particularly if we're driving a car, constructing a bridge or building, doing accounting or learning the Ten Commandments. It serves a useful purpose, as some things are right or wrong. But we must go beyond this way of thinking if we want to live life fully. Dualistic thinking is what my mom would have called "pretty good in its own way, but it doesn't weigh much." The dualistic mind, without more, creates a perspective and a drive-by religion that can't process concepts like eternity, mystery, faith, grace, suffering, sexuality, love and death. "Forgiving and loving our enemies? Uh, I don't think so! That's just for Jesus." That's why so many of us struggle with these issues. 

 

So how does non-dualistic thinking work? Contemplative Christian writer Richard Rohr believes that a "non dual consciousness is about receiving and being present to the moment, to the now, without judgment, analysis or critique, without your ego deciding whether you like it or not." Personally, I don't know how to do that except through meditation. I can't make these moments of non-dual consciousness happen. Maybe some can, but I can't. I can only put myself in a state of mind that offers the least resistance to the grace of non-dual thinking. Even then, I often fail.

 

The process is what Cynthia Bouregeault refers to as a shift that is "not primarily about WHAT one sees as HOW one sees." It's a different operating system, like the difference between Windows and DOS. We've all experienced flashes of non-dualistic consciousness when looking into the face of our beloved or child or grandchild or when standing near a river or stream or on a mountainside or when watching a storm. The experience is almost always non-verbal, touching both our mind and our heart. It's our chance here on earth to experience the mind of Christ, the new covenant of love that Jesus taught and lived. Christianity somehow lost it for a few hundred years, but it's now finally being restored, on occasion.

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© 2016 by Charles D. Jones