We all act as though we know what is real and what is not real. We act as though we know what is fantasy from what is real but are we right? Many think that to be knowledgeable is to be wise, but is this so? If we acquire enough knowledge will we then gain enlightenment and wisdom?
Fantasy, illusion, myth, intuition, the subjective, imaginal, real, sensory, rational, or objective are always seen as opposites of what is considered reality when in all possibility they are just aspects of the whole. There’s an objective reality that each of us interact with subjectively i.e. the subjective creates the objective that in turn creates the subjective. We project onto everything our image of it. Basically the reality that we see is imaginal even what we call ‘rational’ is imaginal and subjective. Yes, it’s all real, but what real and whose real?
All the so-called opposites i.e. the real and not real things are actually compliments that support each other. They are facets of the whole each contributing to the whole and without them there is no whole and without the whole we do not exist.
Get it? No?
Let me try a few quotes from people who are smarter than I am.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”
–Daniel Boorstin (also attributed to Stephen Hawking)
So you think you know? In short,
“It’s hard to fill a cup that is already full”
–Tao Te Ching– Lao Tzu
“Your cup is only useful when it’s empty”
Have you emptied your cup today?
“If you want to become full, let yourself be empty”
–Tao Te Ching
They all seem to be saying, ‘Be less so as to be more’. But aren’t these opposites? Try living that for a while and you’ll see the truth in it. Maybe more and less define and complement one another and are not in opposition.
So if being more knowledgeable or ‘all knowing’ doesn’t gain wisdom, how do we gain wisdom? In order to find wisdom we might need to open our hearts and minds. Perhaps knowing a lot or thinking that we know cannot help because they fill us up and close us off, but an innocent and curious mind might open us to see what’s really there. This is what Buddhists call the “Beginners Mind”. It’s the mind of a child that is open until we fill it with all kinds of sense and nonsense.
“Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
–Jesus of Nazereth
So whadda ya think? Is being empty of yourself being full of yourself?
A while back my granddaughter and I snuggled up and watched the film Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp. In it Alice tries to pinch herself out of what she assumes to be her dream, but is it a dream? She wanders confused and unable to assert that she is even who she claims to be.
“’Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Like Alice are we in a dream? And like her is it our own unmet fears that keep us there? Is it our unwillingness to assert our true self that keeps us trapped in our own little madness?
Often the whole world seems a confusing place and trying to figure it out is like trying to answer the Mad Hatters oft repeated riddle, “Why is a Raven like a writing desk?” The point is that sometimes there just isn’t an answer, or meaning–sometimes life is just absurd. As one looks closer at the world we’ve made, it all gets “curioser and curioser”.
Falling down the rabbit hole into the dark underworld of our dreams will lead us to a curious and confusing realm. But if you were to imagine falling up the hole and into the daylight might it be the crazy conscious world we’ve all adapted to that is mad and the dark world of the unconscious holding the actual enlightenment we seek? Ah what then?
Trapped in a hole of our own making, preferring to limit ourselves to a very small landscape rather than to open our selves up to the endless view of our real self i.e. to be willing to live in hell for fear of heaven–what madness is that?
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Ah, but we all think that it was happenstance that we’re here, that we didn’t choose to be here. Are you sure of that? Maybe that thought is your ego’s way of not having to be responsible for how it all turns out?
But what is madness? Deviating too far from a norm or from what is the standard for common sense? Was it madness to believe that sound and image could be broadcast through the air across great distances? Or that women could ever be the equal of any man and deserved the same rights and privileges? And that there would ever be a willing confederation of traditional enemies as is being witnessed in the European Union? Was it crazy to believe that humans could be made to fly or step foot upon the moon? Or that two young college dropouts could change the way the world communicates? At one time the answer to all of these and more was an unquestioned, “yes, it is madness”!
“The Mad Hatter: Have I gone Mad?
Alice: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
Real madness seems to be a society that fights desperately for its freedom and then votes for someone to restrict and oppress them. Then there’s a society who believes that the answer to personal safety and security against guns is to buy more guns, bigger guns, with more bullets, and more power. Or how about those who believe that if you punish hard enough the transgressor will learn not to do bad things (look how well that works in our penal system) or that if you hit a child for hitting that it will teach him not to hit? And why the human love affair with retribution and revenge, how’s that working?
I’m sure that the readers of this blog could come up with many more bits of curious madness than I’ve detailed here. The point is that perhaps in our madness we’ve reversed what it means to be sane. Maybe we all ought to be a little more mad? In the best sort of way, of course, I mean, all the best people are.
The gist of this blog came from both John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And a Flannery O’Connor’s quote, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you odd.”
We live in an age where truth is whatever you want it to be– that is whatever makes you right (or at least makes you think you are). We also live in an age with unprecedented access to facts. One click of the “return” key on a computer keyboard can give you billions of facts. Never before has the ability to dispel ignorance been so available to so many. And yet…
For the sake of personal need, or greed, or zealous beliefs the truth as it is reflected in facts is ignored at a profound level. It’s as though the world is embracing ignorance at an ever-increasing rate. If you don’t believe this just listen to those who run for political office (or are currently in it), or those who dominate the radio waves with political ranting–twisting and turning truths into macabre representations of reality. Religions no longer represent the truth of the Spirit from whence they were born, but for many have become a form of sanctioned self-delusion.
We wrap these delusions in something we call “conviction” and once settled these strong beliefs need no evidence, or proof to exist. But it is these convictions that are the enemies of truth. Worse than lies, they keep us bound up and unable to fly free. In short, our beliefs are a prison for they don’t allow for truth.
“Truth will have no gods before it. The belief in truth begins with the doubt of all truths in which one has previously believed.”
But many are lazy, too lazy to think for their selves, so they leave the truth up to others. When those truths align with what is already thought then they are embraced as truth. The folly of this approach is that we then only perceive what we believe. How much we miss with this approach especially because God does not exist within the small confines of our beliefs. Heck, even you and I aren’t really reflected in the narrow confines of what we believe ourselves to be.
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
~ Winston Churchill
Deep inside us is an unconscious part of ourselves it is full of shadows, bright glowing spirit, joys and fears. It is the home of our instincts, our intuitions, and stimuli for creativity. It can also be the home of truth for us. Truth is not something that is preached from the outside because it only comes from within.
How to tell if it’s truth vs. just another idea? If it nurtures, if it encourages growth, if it enlivens and frees the spirit, if it engenders love and acceptance, and fosters forbearance and gentleness it is said that it is then the truth. Anything else is an ego-self prejudice.
In the I Ching it is said that when the heart is free of prejudices, it is open to the truth. The intractable mind cannot hear the truth. Any form of self-righteousness prevents the discovery of truth.
I suggest that Truth is the essence of immortality. It is in the prisons of belief and conviction that we are mortal, that we are doomed to the dust of the earth. Truth is also something that can be chased after, something like happiness, but never caught as a function of the chase. The pursuit only prepares you for when truth enters the door.
Is there “the” truth, or is it as the Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran suggested, “I have found ‘a’ truth?” And is it forever a truth, or just in the moment? Is it as the physicist Niels Bohr said “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth?“
I suggest that truth is a state of enlightenment, a place where the ego that you think you are becomes silent, when thought itself becomes still. It is here that you can hear the truth. It is here that you awaken and begin to seek. You may look as though you are alone, but in truth there is God all around you and you begin to glow.
A follower of truth, listens to the inner voice, not the one in your head that is talking right now, or the one in the radio, or TV, or even the pulpit (yes, I know, and even this blog). The true follower surrenders their ideas, their thoughts and beliefs. The student of truth accepts their shadow selves as well as the “self” that they imagine them selves to be, or wish that they were. Truth does not tie itself to any illusion, any time or place. Truth is not a judgment, belief or thought, or anything else that one may have attached themselves to. It cannot be held, or given to another. It cannot be pursued, or sought after and only comes to you when released. It cannot be found in efforting and can only be found in the moment. Truth may only come in the letting go of it, or of anything for that matter.
“The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are Illusions.”
Truth is not something apart from you, it’s not something you discover and take in. It’s always been there. It is not in your words, but is sometimes hidden between them. And it can only be found at the moment of death. The death of what you think you are.
In today’s news media we hear about all kinds of mayhem i.e. murder, war, oppression, financial meltdown, high unemployment, ethnic strife, and extreme political partisanship. I’ve also noticed that the more I read, the more anxious and fearful I become and I grow more defensive.
What, I wondered, was causing the seemingly escalating chaos? Could it be something as simple as unchecked fear and was this fear then feeding upon itself? As human beings attempt to deal with their fears, they show up as images in their dreams that sometimes morph into dark and frightening chimera–nightmares. In the Archipelago of DreamsRobert is constantly reacting to his fears and doesn’t know how to effectively deal with them as they come fast and furious and threaten to overwhelm him.
Alas, our typical human response for dealing with that which scares us is to shove it down into the hidden realms of our subconscious mind. In the short run this seems to work and allows us to get through yet another day, but over the long haul the fears become too large to hide and too difficult to manage and we begin to function through our fears as though they were real.
When people operate out of fear their ability to see reality becomes compromised–everything becomes a threat. For those who live in fear, defense–self-protection–becomes the overriding theme of their lives. This posture then fuels their response to their medical needs, leadership, virtually every aspect of public safety, and sometimes even dictates what foods are eaten.
Fear comes from thinking that you are vulnerable to your circumstances and to the events of your life. It is spawned from the animal part of us that reacts instinctively and without thought–the little archaic lizard, or reptilian, brain that hides at the base of the skull. In humans it is incorporated into the ego-self, a construct that imagines itself to be small and isolated and thus vulnerable to the world. The reality is anything but–we are immensely bigger than our image of ourselves.
However, in a world where the inhabitants are blind to their reality, they build walls around themselves and “things” become important to their defense. How many things and of what kind becomes a preoccupation. As the inhabitants strive to gather more and more things so as to feel safe and secure they themselves become a thing as well and separate themselves even further from each other. And the separation results in each person exploiting the others for what they think will be their personal gain–what they think will quiet the fear.
When you are separated and alone you begin to feel vulnerable and helpless and the fear grows. It is out of that fear that dictators are born, that institutional and religious dogma is created to control the hoards of unpredictable “others,” and where people create points-of-view designed to protect their selves against what is not them. What was born powerful becomes fragile.
In The Archipelago of DreamsRobert leaves behind the fragile ego of his being world and discovers that he is something much more than he ever dreamed of. As he confronts the real cause of his fears, an awareness grows regarding the cost of self-protection–greed, pride, usury, hate, anger, lust, envy, and the ubiquitous self-righteous points-of-view and all of this resulting in overwhelming disruption in both the personal and collective order. The land is raped of its abundant resources and people become objects toward self-centered ends as the bankers, moneylenders, merchants and political leaders use them for their personal lust for safety.
Eventually the scale that is the world tips too far and everything slides off leaving bankrupt institutions and philosophies, wars, political gridlock, and oppression. And the people rail, and wail, and blame, and build their walls even higher. The walls become so high and fortified that the people lose sight of the soul of the world, what the great American Psychologist, James Hillman called the Anima Mundi, and their own soul as well.
It is from this dysfunctional world that Robert comes to the bigger world of the Spirit that we all come from and will all return to. It is in this world that Robert has been tasked to aid in the reconciliation that must take place within a human being in order for mankind to reunite with his soul and his bigger Self, his Spirit Self.
We were meant to be the light of the world and yet we embraced much too much of the shadow. Robert must find a way to reconnect his lost self, our lost selves. But as he learns all too quickly, this will not be easy and much evil conspires to maintain the status quo and to protect the separation. He had to find something within him that he was sure didn’t exist, and he had to find it fast because time was not a friend there, and it didn’t flow in only one direction.
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
–Henri Bergson French philosopher, 1927 Nobelist
Where the optic nerve enters the retina of the eye there is a blind spot that registers nothing. But the mind, the brain, makes up for this empty space by filling in what it thinks ought to be there, not what’s actually there, but what it creates. When seeing in low light there’s an additional blind spot, the Fovea Centralis, that is unable to see color and the objects that are seen are indistinct. As with the optic nerve the brain also fills in the fovea “blindness”.
Don’t believe the blind spot exists? Close your left eye and cast your right eye on the black “cross” sign of the figure below. Move your head close to the screen until the black dot on the right suddenly disappears. The “missing” information will be “patched in” using the surrounding parts of the picture and you see only a white area.
The brain also estimates the size of things by contrasting with surrounding objects. Ever notice how the moon looks at least twice the size when it first rises above the horizon than it does high in the sky? Actually they’re both the same size 1. Also if you were to stand in front of a mirror looking at your face, all looks normal or what you’re normally used to seeing, right? But have you noticed that regardless of how close you are the reflection is only half the size of your real head (measure the mirror image then your head)?
Notice the illusion below: Two different tables right? No, they are actually the same table if you measure them with a ruler.
The above illusion, moon, and mirrored face visuals are all a part of unconscious processes going on in our minds.
And every time we shift our visual attention, the attention of the mind shifts as well. This is part of the bag of tricks wielded by a magician, or even a con artist e.g. shifting your visual attention so as to do something outside your minds focus.
With only a few exceptions in so-called eye-witness testimony people are drastically affected by their level of stress i.e. efficiency of memory goes down with higher stress and then what was seen is stored into recall in a way that makes the most sense to the witness. This is highly dependent on past experiences and prejudices and/or social values. People often will add meaning to their observations that of course affects the observation. For example, the mind will often edit any puzzling or incongruent observations.
Most importantly, and more to the point of this article, what we see is determined by context. A simple proof of this is how we use visual context clues in order to read e.g. You and I can rad this sntnc vn though w hav lft out th ee’s.
Context is also what makes a movie, well… move. In reality it’s just 24 pictures shown per second that when the mind stitches them into a sequence makes it look as though something is moving. 2
But notice it’s not the context of the external reality that I am referring to. It’s our internal reality that provides the context for what it is we see.
And that brings me back to Bergson’s quote from the beginning of this article. What our minds are ready to comprehend is determined by our beliefs, our past experiences, our prejudices, and expectations. In short, our experience of reality is determined by something other than reality–we see what we believe, not the other way around as the popular quotation goes, “seeing is believing”.
Our mind is conditioned to seeing what it thinks that it should and anything outside that conditioning is just not seen.
In order to open ourselves to new possibilities we must first look at the contexts we have created to see what we are currently looking at. We might also be willing to question what it is we are seeing and what about our own minds may be affecting that vision.
2 There are some theoretical physicists who have asked the question as to whether there is any movement other than several moments of time stitched by the mind into what appears to be a moving sequence.