I am reading a wide variety of spiritual literature including Yes, And…Daily Meditations, a collection of Richard Rohr’s writings and Real Life: The Journey from Isolation to Openness and Freedom by Sharon Salzberg. Rohr is a Franciscan priest; Salzberg is a Buddhist meditation teacher. Both of them play with the idea of “yes, and” as a spiritual practice.
Rohr’s idea of “Yes, And…” is expressed in this essay from 2015:
Jesus told his Jewish followers to be faithful to their own tradition. He did this by strongly distinguishing between essentials and non-essentials, and then pushed it even further. The only absolute essential is union with God. We see this creative tension throughout Matthew’s Gospel, but perhaps no place more clearly than in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Then he goes on with six repetitions of the same phrase: “You have heard it said . . . but I say. . . .” I call this the “yes/and” approach: yes the law, and there is something more, which is “the real and deep purpose of that very law.” For both Jesus and Paul law is never an end in itself. (This is Paul’s primary point in both Romans and Galatians! How could we miss that?)
If you read to the end of the essay, you will get a real flavor of Richard Rohr, a compelling spiritual thinker and writer I have only come to know this year.*
That’s what the Spirit teaches you to do, too: read the same scriptures, but now with a deeper understanding of their revolutionary direction—“that all may be one, you in me and I in you” (John 17:21). Today we are recognizing that that many Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sufis, and Native religions seem to live this divine unity much better than many who call themselves Christians. This embarrassing and obvious truth can only be denied by people afflicted with deliberate blindness.
In the introduction to the book of meditations, he continues this idea of being part of the past but always moving forward: the yes connects Rohr to “the entire force field of the Holy Spirit” while the and is his addition to that field, “that bit of the Great Truth of the Gospel to which we each have our own access.” Rohr believes others can also have an and when it comes to spiritual truths, and I think that gets him in trouble with the authorities now and then.
In her most recent book, Real Life, Salzberg suggests “yes, and” as a way into gratitude practice that might help us see it as more authentic, especially on those days when we aren’t feeling particularly grateful for anything. Forcing feelings we don’t have can be problematic. Salzberg offers adopting the “yes, and” approach from improv theater as a way to deal with the often ambivalent, contradictory places we find ourselves in life. In improv, “yes, and” means that the actor must accept the scenario as given and then move forward. You don’t have to agree, you don’t have to like it, but you must accept it and, only then, can you move on.
*Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987. I recently subscribed to the daily meditations and was pleasantly surprised to see Rohr quoting extensively from Buddhist teacher angel Kyodo williams who I know through my meditation practice.