Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trying to Make Sense of It All

Hey Guys,

For many of us, Autumn is approaching as the northern half of the planet begins to seemingly tilt away from the sun. The Fall Equinox is about a week away, and change is much more noticeable as days shorten, temperatures cool and leaves begin to fall. Change is constant, but one thing remains the same, and that reliable constancy is what most of us are all looking for in order to feel safe and secure.

I’ve written a bit about how we tend to go about finding that one constant truth a bit before, but this writing came out of a recent discussion regarding the analytical approach to truth seeking. Being a very analytical person myself, it was fairly easy to analyze the process of analysis ;)

Reduction - Latin - To lead back, or bring down the size, quantity, value or intensity of something

Deduction - Latin - To move away from, or infer from a general principle

Words at their very basic level are vibrations of the vocal chords that we ascribe meaning to. Each vibratory noise has a definition, typically one that has been agreed upon by those in a given society who speak a common language. If you believe in evolution, then it’s safe to say that millions of years ago words began to form as a necessary part of human survival and development. As the human species began to migrate, so did different languages. I have no idea how the evolution of languages (much less dialects) really happened, but it is certainly a fascinating area to explore.

An interesting thing about language is that most words not only have an accepted dictionary definition, but are also accompanied by a mental image. That mental image usually varies from person to person, and is unique to his or her upbringing – cultural, parental, educational, etc. From that perspective it could be said that no two people “see” anything the same way since everything we see or experience is filtered through, and interpreted by, our personal grasp of language. For example, say the word “tree” and a mental image pops up of something, whether it is a generic tree or a specific tree, its setting is going to look different from the image that comes to mind for anyone else. As far as I can tell, the same is true for most words in our language.

So, what does this mean? It means that we are all seeing the world as one big run on definition, which we tend to assume is the same as everyone else’s run on definition. Then, when we encounter someone who has a different definition of something, we think they are wrong. Why wouldn’t we? After all, we have spent our entire lives determining which definitions are true and which aren’t by using language to define the world and ourselves.

How did we determine what’s true and what’s not? How did we go about figuring out this whole ball of wax? I would suggest it’s been through a process of reduction and deduction. First, we reduce the Universe into manageable concepts. It seems too much to take in as it is, so we organize it using words and categories, which formulate the foundation of our beliefs about the world. Instead of seeing shapes and colors, we learn to see things as distinct objects with names and characteristics. This starts when we are very young as our parents introduce us to the world we inhabit, and it is absolutely necessary for our growth and survival.

As we reduce the world out there into digestible ideas, we use those ideas to learn more about how the world works, and how we fit into it. In order to do that, we make deductions based on a combination of our acquired concepts and experiences (i.e. everything we have ever said, done, read, heard, seen, etc.). We combine our definitions with our experiences, and use them to determine what the world is really about. It would seem we are hard wired to desire knowing the truth, even if it’s only a relative truth.

Therefore, we reduce the whole into parts, then deduce or infer from our knowledge of those parts in an attempt to know the whole. So what happened to the whole that we had to reduce to find out what’s true and what’s not? We stripped it of its wholeness, then rebuilt it using words that someone handed us with attached definitions, which we assumed to be accurate. It’s still whole, we’re just not seeing it that way any more. We’re stuck seeing our interpretations of it.

So, if our desire to know the truth is indeed instinctual, we go about trying to find the whole again (i.e. truth) with our filtered and diluted deductions about the world. We’ve broken it down, then built it back up, but can never completely rebuild it. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle of the Universe where pieces are missing – we are constantly running into gaps as we try to rebuild it.
When we run across an area where a piece is missing, we either fill it in by deduction (cutting a piece to fit), or just forget about it and leave it blank. But, no matter how hard we try, we’ll never get an accurate view by using what we’ve learned. That’s why it’s said that discovering the truth involves unlearning what we think we know, and a surrendering of our preconceived ideas, beliefs, and opinions.

Our ability to parse environmental data and extrapolate that information to reach certain conclusions about the inner workings of the world is a wonderful gift. The mind is a very powerful tool, and all you have to do is look around to see examples of how well it has served the evolution of the world we live in. All of the modern technology we take for granted (i.e. the wheel, indoor plumbing, electricity, atom bombs, iPods, etc.), we owe to the incredible power of the mind. But it’s important to realize that it has an equally destructive side to it that has resulted in hundreds of years of war and suffering.

However, if you look you will see that most of the mind’s energy is wasted on trivial matters: dwelling on past conversations, speculating on future encounters, wondering what others think of us, passing judgment, singing a song you can’t get out of your head, etc. Here’s a quote from Gina Lake’s book “Radical Happiness.”

“We need the mind to function, but it is also full of useless and incorrect information – conditioning – that passes as facts. We need the aspect of the mind that allows us to do mental work, but we don’t actually need the egoic mind to function. Self-realization entails a certain mastery of the mind that includes being aware of our thoughts and being able to discriminate between ones that have some truth and usefulness and ones that don’t.”

Finding the truth involves finding who we were before we “knew” everything. That’s why the present moment is the key. Without past everything becomes new again, just like when we were infants looking at this world in a state of awe. Katie Davis says it well in her book “Awake Joy” – “When you are free of past mental images, you recognize that the world is created new every moment that you become aware of it.”

That new and mysterious world is staring you in the face 24 hours a day, and has been all along. Do you want to see it for what it truly is? You have to be willing to set aside everything you hold true. Drop all of your labels and look at what’s in front of you right now.


Here’s a parting quote from Eckhart Tolle’s book “Stillness Speaks” – “When you perceive without interpretation, you can then sense what it is that is perceiving. The most we can say in language is that there is a field of alert stillness in which the perception happens. Through “you,” formless consciousness has become aware of itself.”

1 comment:

Ramesam said...


The essay is a very clear expression of "sabda (word)" and "namarupa (name and form)."

The projected "name and form" itself is the mind. When the projection of name and form abstracting bits and pieces of the "Whole" is gone, what remains is what is "Present" and That is the nameless formless Truth.