Life is not as it is. Life is as you are
A friend of mine sent me a quote from "Third Rock from the Sun." (He's additionally been waiting forever for a mention in Into the Centre - so, hey, um, what was your name again? - God, I'm cute. Hey David.)
Anyway, here's the quote:
Mary: "Dick, you are just going to have to accept that there are some things in life you are not going to understand."
Dick: "Oh, I accept it… BUT WHAT ARE THEY, AND WHY DON'T I UNDERSTAND THEM?"
Of course, around here, we haven't got much use for "understanding" what is "true." Most of the time, truth seeking and understanding are useless pastimes. Now, of course, I'm referring to inter and intrapersonal communication, not, for example, the rules of the road. Yes, we all need (really!) to stop at stop signs and drive on the side of the road appropriate to where we live.
On the other hand, I was doing some business consulting, and heard the following: "Well, asking questions in a meeting probably doesn't fit within the protocols of our company." Later, it came out that the president is really smart, and no one else wants to ask questions, for fear of appearing stupid. Imagine the communication at that company. Somebody needs to challenge what is perceived as "true."
The following is taken from a new book I'm working on. We'll look at some beliefs that we could well do without over the next few weeks.
We have a propensity for creating stories about what we think is true. Many of them are cultural accretions, created to meet a specific need. Witness the "godless savage" mentality pumped into 18th and 19th century whites on the North American continent. How do you persuade people to head west and kill everything that moves? You create a myth about the people living there being godless savages. You (in the US) create the idea of Manifest Destiny. You tie to this the Horatio Alger myth, the rise of Industrialism, you hand them guns and you get out of the way.
A myth is defined as "a theme or character type embodying an idea." In other words, a story that conveniently explains how some aspect of the world works. For example, virtually all cultures have a creation myth, and a myth about how people came to be. And even myths about how people are blessed by God or the gods, and have dominion over the earth. We have created political myths, hero myths, myths about wealth creation (typically called "economic theories,") and assuredly scientific myths. Those of you born in the early 50's will remember being taught, in grade school, the solar system model for the atom. Big nucleus, little electrons circling in orbits. Then, in High School, we got to learn how many electrons could occupy each orbit.
Now, we know that there are no such things as orbits, that sub atomic particles make up the atom, that they are actually waves, that we cannot know both their speed and their location, making them sort of not there, and then, we find out that atoms are 99.9999999 per cent nothing. At least, that's this decade's myth.
We seem to need someone in authority to tell us what is real, as opposed to understanding that nothing and everything is real. When asked what is real, a good, truthful scientist (the shamans of our age) will say, "That depends."
Let's explore a couple of our cultural myths.
The Myth of One Reality
This one comes from the Enlightenment. It runs thus: If we study things, breaking them down properly, we will be able to understand anything, and the view we have will last forever. It got so bad that, near the end of the19th century, a scientist bemoaned the disappearance of scientists, as, he predicted that, soon "there will be nothing left to learn."
The assumption, and it is rife in religious circles, is that there is only one reality, perceivable by everyone. One answer. One explanation. Of course, by some mysterious process, the right answer is always the one I already hold. This would explain, for example, the Inquisition. The Church, after "studying Scripture," felt itself quite prepared to sort out the wheat from the chaff. And if there was any doubt, a good, red-hot poker where the sun don't shine would clear up the matter. Praise God.
We know that the "one reality" view just doesn't hold water over time. We see its flaws as we study the history of thought on almost any topic. None the less, we still crave the certainty of an explanation that will hold.
Most couples that come in for marital therapy want only one thing. Each wants their view of the relationship to be upheld as the "true" one. They hate it when I say that, in almost all cases, there are two sides or more to everything, and that nothing is absolutely true, even that statement.
Understanding the relativity of truth (as well as the relativity of particles and energy) is a scary proposition. It might actually mean that I may have to discover the reality that is mine, in this moment, and that it will only imperfectly match the reality of another person. We may, for social convention, agree that we agree, but this is more an exercise in semantics than the truth.
It all comes down to choice. I can either mouth the "truths" of my group, family, society, faith community, or speak my own "truth." If I speak the socially accepted truth, unreflectively, I give up my power to be other than what society demands - I give up freedom.
How can that be? Well, recognize that change only happens when something fervently believed in is disproved. You know, of course, that the earth is the centre of the universe, don't you? That humans will never be able to fly? Once a person gets the flu, they die? (Actually, this one may become "true" again, but I digress!) That time is absolute? That marriage is about the wife obeying the husband? That masturbation is a sin? That sex is a sin?
Or not. Depending on your perspective. Someone, some time, decided to challenge the prevailing belief system. It cost not a few of them their lives; many were excommunicated or threatened, in the name of God. Through sheer perseverance, the cultural myth changed.
Each generation, though, wants to believe that the current version is the final truth. All this uncertainty is scary. Which is why older adults are threatened by generation X'ers, who seem to have different work ethics and values. Which is why teen-age rebellion is always about rebellion against the rules (read myths) of the culture. The rebellion goes away when the rebels assimilate.
That's certainly what happened to my generation - the 60's hippie movement. While it might be argued that "we" stopped the War in Viet Nam, brought down a President and brought in Affirmative Action, we certainly are into our BMW's and Brooks Brothers suits now, eh? A sell out? Sort of. An assimilation? For sure. We think life is terrible, but we don't want to screw up the retirement funds.
I press for alternative realities. I spend a lot of time skimming the Web, reading alternatives. A lot is adolescent whining, but occasionally a gem pops up. One I like is Julie Petersen's site, "Awaken" at www.awaken.org. She is a writer who dropped out a while back, and wandered around for a year, looking for her self and her soul. She is still finding out who she is as she examines who she isn't. She has discovered the conundrum - everything is nothing - so what is real?
How do we become comfortable with the idea of multiple realities? Isn't that a cop out, designed to lead to everyone doing anything to anyone anytime?
The saving grace is that we are Spirits incarnate in bodies. At some deep, knowing level, we seek to learn, to join with others in the search, to identify our path and to walk it. The vast majority of people feel this, in the pits of their stomachs or in the hole in their hearts.
Better to note that we haven't exactly solved anything with our present worldview. Doing more of the same, or pretending, along with a generation of deluded neo-cons, that turning back the clock or building a fortress will solve anything is muddy thinking.
This walk into a new myth is not something many people are going to jump into. Scott Peck once said, in a lecture, that he figures 5% of the population ever figures this stuff out. Some find that percentage to be depressing. I don't. I simply choose to be in the 5 %. What about you?