Thursday, September 13, 2007

Personal sense and taking things personally

This topic has flitted through my life frequently lately, and then a reader actually asked me about it outright, so I guess it's time to address it here!

Christian Science includes the concept of "personal sense." I've heard it used in many ways over the years, most generally in the sense of personality, or a person's personal tendencies to be mean or impatient or to hurt people's feelings. "That's just personal sense," the observer will state. (Interestingly, the term is not often used to describe when a person is nice or loving or caring.)

However, at one point many years ago, I did a reading of Science and Health for the express purpose of defining terms such as this one solely from what the book said (rather than alternative meanings that had cropped up over time). And to me, when Mary Baker Eddy talks about personal sense, she means the five physical (or personal) senses.

John wrote this on his blog recently, in an entry called God Governs All:

In the first edition of Science and Health (1885), Mrs. Eddy (then Mrs. Glover) gives much attention to personal sense. Personal sense is made up of several related beliefs: that our senses are in matter—that the eyes see, the ears hear, etc. Another is the word “my”—MY eyes see, MY ears hear. In other words, my senses are mine because of organic factors in my physical body.

I found this to be true of the current edition as well—check it out by researching the term with a concordance.

So how does that relate to taking things personally? It can help to remember that when personal sense is working in your life, it's never what the other person is doing that gives it its bite—rather, it's always what you're perceiving that makes you suffer. It's your personal senses taking in the information and your reacting to it that gives you any bad effect. You would never have any problem with anyone else at all if you discounted what the senses were telling you and simply and only believed what spiritual sense tells you about them as God's image and likeness. Think about it—there are no exceptions to this.

Personal sense, then, is something *we* do, not something someone else expresses. Part of the discipline of Christian Science is to discount the evidence of the personal senses and see only divine being. To see the light, even in the darkest personalities.

Lately, this came up in my life in three different ways.

First, someone in my networking group did something that was personally offensive to me and at me in front of everyone else. To say I was livid would be an understatement. There were ramifications to what he did that I had to deal with for days. True, I did get many calls and emails of support, which was nice and is probably the only way I got through it without doing or saying something regrettable. I didn't achieve any real plateau of grace on the subject, though, until I did what I've been taught, and that was to see through the boorishness to a man deeply passionate about the issue at hand and to have compassion on his flaws. Later, the man apologized to both the group and to me.

Next, I had an interlude with a very dear friend where there was simply total misunderstanding and miscommunication. We both said what we felt, but neither understood the other enough to come to a place of resolution. It was like we were both so committed to getting our point across that we couldn't hear the other at all. In retrospect, I now feel I was as culpable on this score as my friend was, although I didn't realize this at the time. In the end, we just stopped talking about this issue. It's resting now, unaddressed. But I know I love this friend, and have learned so much from our relationship over the years. When I think of it, I fill my heart with love and trust that that will keep our relationship strong.

Finally, my son and I reached an explosive point after a few days of unresolved frustrations between us. This is the only circumstance where I feel I did what I should have, which was to state my case even though I was upset, to apologize for my tone even while I was venting, and to invite his response and promise to listen even though I was sure I was right. He was also upset, but didn't lash back at me. Instead, he pointed something out about how I had been communicating with him that needed to change. It was a very simple change I could agree to on the spot. I immediately felt so much love for my son and his growing maturity that the irritations I'd been so upset about suddenly seemed inconsequential.

I think the third way is the best way to get over personal sense or personality or hurt feelings or whatever. We make such a big deal out of little things, when in fact it's the love between us that is real and overwhelming. If we let it, Love could rule every relationship all the time—wouldn't that be nice?

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 9/13/2007 11:24:00 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Thanks for this post, Laura! the ideas will help me check my thought and notch it up even higher on some issues I am facing at church and in our homeowners' association and how I am thinking of those involved. Love for the other person, sincere compassion always is the key to these resolutions, isn't it? Great examples! Thanks for sharing.


At 9/13/2007 12:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,

A talk I heard several years ago by Stephen Howard (curator of the Longyear Museum)validates your conclusion that "personal sense" refers to the physical senses. Mr. Howard reviewed key changes that occurred in the various editions of Science and Health. As I recall, he showed a particular passage (or maybe more than one) where Mrs. Eddy in an earlier edition had used "personal sense" but in the final edition had clarified it by changing it to "material" or "physical" sense. I'm going from memory here, so I may not have the details exactly right, but I do recall definitely that Mr. Howard had come to the same conclusion as you have - that, in Mrs. Eddy's writings, "personal sense" is probably not a reference to a sensitive personality but is synonomous with material or physical sense.



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