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Thinking Like an Immigrant
by Stewart Blackburn

Immigration is a big topic these days in this country and in many others, and it reflects the great need for many people to find a better way to live. Almost all of us in this country were either immigrants or are descended from immigrants. It is a deep part of our cultural heritage.

I find that all of us experience times in our lives when we need to make radical changes and the metaphor of being an immigrant is quite apt. It takes a substantial degree of courage to leave behind a life that, while it isn't working well, it is at least familiar. There are a number of inner things that I imagine an immigrant experiences and I would suggest we all have some things to learn from them.

I see four distinct emotional/spiritual stages here: the pain of staying becoming greater than the fear of leaving, letting go of the past, stepping into a new world, and constantly creating the new life. Perhaps I should add a fifth, dealing with adversity and resistance. That seems to be a natural part of the process for most people, as well.

We are always making calculations about which choice we're about to make that will decrease our pain and increase our pleasure or joy the most. These calculations can get quite involved when we have to factor in one or more painful elements and the time delay in getting our reward. We also have to be mindful of a natural resistance to change. So the motivation to change our lives has to not only change the balance of pleasure and pain to the new plan, but also to overcome the inertia of daily life. The incentive to leave an old pattern has to be large enough to make us willing to change all we know.

Letting go of large chunks of our past and our identities is a big psychological commitment. For many immigrants around the world these days, they are simply trying to survive at any cost. When possible many people hang onto whatever patterns and perspectives of their old lives they can. Others do their best to blend in to their new circumstances. But all of them have to say goodbye to the lives they have known.

For those of us in less dire situations, we can use these insights to guide us in changing our lives for the better. The opportunity to let go of all that has gone before is a great gift. What and who we were in the past may have been just fine. However, as the creator beings that we are, creating new lives for ourselves is an innate power that we all have. In deciding to let go of the past, not the memories themselves necessarily, but the destructive influence of those memories, we take a step into our own freedom.

And when we take that step, we get to play in beginner's mind.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few" "The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind." Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

So I suggest that we look for opportunities to use the beginner's mind and see through "Beginner's Eyes." Think like an immigrant and use the challenges of that life situation to our advantage.

When we look at the world through "Beginner's Eyes" we can see much more of what's in front of us than by automatically dismissing parts of our experience because we think we know what it is. "Beginner's Eyes" see with curiosity, wonder, and awe. We learn much more with these eyes than with the eyes of the overly familiar.

We can choose to see the world any way we like. We can choose to look at the world as a source of never ending discovery after discovery. There is deep spiritual fun in finding new ways of looking at things and how we fit into the magic of Life.

"One of the great pluses of being an immigrant is you get to start again in terms of your identity. You get to shed the narratives which cling to you." Joseph O'Neill

I wish every immigrant in the world peace, love, and the safety to make a new life. And I am grateful to them for reminding the rest of us that we, too, can remake our lives, shed what doesn't work for us, and by looking through "Beginner's Eyes" we can learn to be more effective and open to the wonders of this amazing life.

Copyright 2016 Stewart Blackburn

Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is:; email:

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