I’ve been reflecting lately upon the nature of knowing- of knowing anything at all. How exactly do we come to know? And what is it that may be known? The context for my reflections is not a vacuum, but my life, and the way that my deepest desires have driven me to wrestle with questions of meaning, purpose and identity. As is unavoidably the case for each of us, I have had to answer the questions asked almost daily by my own suffering and that of those around me, even if all I had at my disposal that day were half-cocked, makeshift remedies. A wound must be patched. When you see blood pouring out of you, you use whatever rags or leaves or cloth are handy. I’ve had no choice but to try and make sense of myself and my place in the world, and have ultimately sought to learn the means by which to live in peace and freedom, to find my way to a life not fractured by convention into roles, boxes or norms.
At some point, with a depth of help by my side that no one could rightly say they deserve from their perceived point of origin, and which I scarcely recognized at the time, it became apparent that the fundamental cause of suffering was mistaken identity, which manifests itself as misperception of everything. Mistaken identity is one way of saying it, but perhaps a more accurate truth of the matter is that it was a case of uncertain identity. There can be no peace without certainty, no certainty without knowing. The conclusion about the relationship of misplaced identification to suffering is nothing new, obviously, and I take no credit for it. The important thing is that, at some point, the nature of the fundamental problem of this world became something that I knew. It wasn’t a theoretical problem. It was eating me alive.
Looking back, I realize the type of certainty that arrived with this discovery was profound, and that it’s dawning within me was a genuine miracle. It is commonplace to think of miracles as spectacular, phenomenal events, but this is seldom so in my experience (which is not to say they don’t sometimes pull out such stops). Miracles are gifts of awareness, the unprecedented blossoming of knowing, the replacement of uncertainty with certainty. If you think about it, there is no obvious way for this shift to occur. How can a mind trapped by its own uncertainty bootstrap its way to certainty? A broken record cannot play the song. An out-of-tune guitar cannot tune itself by systematically testing its own notes in the absence of the archetypal tone. Likewise, a mind that lacks knowledge cannot interpret events properly of its own accord- they merely reflect its own uncertainty. It cannot correct itself by rearranging its own thoughts. No conclusions with the requisite power to shatter falsehood may be drawn by studying phenomena in isolation. The miracle is the moment when the mind becomes an open system, and a reorientation of perspective dawns within it. This is the proper position of the mind, as giver-receiver, rather than originator.
The arrival of this knowing of the world’s fundamental problem was a miracle, and also one of the most difficult experiences of my life, for it was utter and unabridged. At a moment when I was anticipating an otherworldly blessing, I was given (seemingly) instead, a maximal dose of clarity, a raw confrontation with the meaninglessness that prowls beneath the masks we don in efforts to temper the pain of our identity uncertainty. I wanted to throw in the towel, to shrivel up and slink into the corner. I sunk to the bottom and quivered in disrepair. I hurt inside, in the marrow of my heart, like a sonuvabitch, and there was nowhere to go.
The miracle was a two-pronged attack on the fundamental problem of the world- first, it was a clear presentation of the problem as I’d never before encountered it, in all its brutal and debilitating reality, and then later, it was the realization that only holiness can broker such an experience. Only holiness can answer our prayers with such power. I probably saved untold lifetimes by experiencing that encounter with such stark uncertainty and inner discontentment that night. I was shown who I was being- where my mind was leading me. When I realized this, I also realized I’d been shown there was a way out. The realization of the problem and the realization of the existence of the solution were integral. It was a miracle. It took some time for this to soak in, but it eventually did.
How do we move from uncertainty to certainty? How do we recover the knowing of the true identity within each of us? What began that night in earnest meandered through the following years, as, like a man who had nearly starved to death, nourishment could only be given in small doses.
I know from this experience just a couple of things. First, my own specific route to this recognition of the problem, and the fueling of my desire to become the solution, is irrelevant. Each of us has a way that will be distinct, volatile, and perfect. Each person’s way is incomparable and profound. I think each person’s experience of breaking through the egg shell of uncertainty is more unique than we might dare imagine, for the world within when we are in isolation is off all the charts. In our true state of unity, we are more alike, more unified, more deeply known to one another than we would dare imagine in our states of uncertainty. In our states of uncertainty, we are alone and isolated, adrift in empty and unbounded misinformation and misperception. We think there are rules, and ways to be right, good or at the minimum, better. We think there are things happening. We think our efforts are contributing to something, but we’re simply drifting in la la land, a bubble of passing dreams. We are awareness masquerading as originator, rather than awareness in its authentic function as giver-receiver. So, the part that is unique is the path back to knowing. The port of arrival is the Same.
Second, I think it takes both heart and mind to pull this off. The whole Universe is choreographing each and every experience to usher us back to the known experience of unity, something we cannot fathom until we do, but while we’re coming from the condition of separation with all its inherent uncertainty, it takes all the wits and courage we are able to muster. We have to pay attention, to invest our raw emotional capital, to talk ourselves down from reactionary darkness, to deny perceived limitations and falsehoods, to ask for help, to cry the necessary tears, to walk away from the unnecessary ones, to choose forgiveness, to offer a smile. Neither the heart nor the mind alone can negotiate this gauntlet. We need to create as broad a target as possible to catch the tidbits of Truth that manage to fall through the cracks in our protective facades.
The mind is not the enemy. The mind that clings to its makeshift patches to uncertainty must be nudged into accepting a broader reality. There is tremendous power in a mind that is free to receive and amplify the ideas of Creation. Without the mind’s ability to receive and express ideas, how can the movement of Creation pass through us and bear fruit? An open mind can receive and enact the most beautiful things, but it cannot do this while functioning as a closed system. The heart is needed, too, for without it the mind has no tether to meaning or purpose. The heart is needed to ratify the truth and vanquish the false, and as the mind gives the heart permission to do this holy work, true discernment and authenticity can unfold. The heart and mind must work together. They must align in shared purpose, and this alignment is forged in the heat of our desire.
The way back cannot be measured or navigated. In the end, I confess I have no idea how we move from uncertainty to certainty. There is no recipe, no magic formula- just moments like little stones inside of us that suddenly come alive, unfolding, becoming butterflies that take flight and zig-zag off into the trees. I only know that as we apply ourselves to our lives, as we live what is right in front of us, unspeakable brilliance will find us. Miracles will arrive and offer their gentle corrections. The dawn will come. And all the while, our mailing address may never change. We will never change. We will merely relinquish what never was, release the after-effects of uncertainty, as we drift across the line to the certainty of self-knowing.
And just because I couldn’t help myself… because Gavin perhaps, said it far simpler, and with driving rhythms and grinding chords to boot…
A thoughtful and honest look at the path Michael. I must admit, from your description of a clear breakthrough about uncertainty, I was hoping you had more clues for the trail back home to certainty and unity. I appreciate the reminder that it takes mind and heart together, I often try to do it with one or the other. I’ll pray for more miracles of certainty to help me cross the line. XD
I was hoping to offer a few more clues myself. 🙂
All I know is those miracles are stalking you, Brad. Now they have GPS and smart phones, too. With tracking apps. You’re goose is pretty much cooked, is what it boils down, too. It’s like suddenly seeing a grizzly bear on the trail. Best approach is lay still and let them have their way with you… They arrive like grizzlies and go out like tickle monsters.
Thank you, all kinds of good stuff here. I particularly like the understanding and acceptance that ‘only holiness can broker such an experience.’ For me, the key to the investigation is the part where you say: ‘The realization of the problem and the realization of the existence of the solution [are] integral.’ The question is the answer. Closer examination shows that the state of ‘wanting-things-to-be-known’ which is uncomfortable with the uncertainty, is a magnetic polarity that indirectly causes the uncertainty. My Buddhist teachers would say, bit by bit, with both heart and mind, release the ‘wanting’ and get to know the uncertainty, allow it to be there – it’s like the wind blows sometimes…
The recognition of the “true” nature of any problem seems to come part and parcel with the answer. There is a whole thread running A Course in Miracles along these lines, that if I tried to boil it down as simply as possible, would probably be something like, “you’re only real problem is your willingness to occupy a state in which you think the threat of problems is quite real, and needs attending to.” I am thinking this is somewhat like what you are expressing with your description of a magnetic polarity that indirectly causes uncertainty. To want something is to come from the starting point of not having it, right?
I like what you said of your Buddhist teachers. Releasing the wanting, getting to know that uncertainty, we somehow let it be. There is a paradox here in that letting the uncertainty be allows room for that wind to blow, whereas fighting it seems to give it strength. That is the miracle I was describing I think. It finds us, when we are in a receptive condition. Thank you for sharing your presence and insight here.
Oh wow, I want to cut and paste so many descriptions that are ping ping pinging! The guitar trying to tune itself without the archetypal notes, and the small doses that can only be absorbed after starving for so long, the power of the mind to receive and amplify creations – wow, just wow. Yesterday a student told me in class that man cannot really create anything new, he/she can only take the raw materials (god-given in his view) and give them a new shape; like colors, he said, we cannot create a new color that does not already exist. I love that he shared this with me, and here again you bring him to mind with your amplification of creations. I have been unable to see a non-existent color in my head since hearing his comment(sorry for the tangent:) Is our power of creation to take what exists and twist it in our unique way? I recognize the familiarity of this path walked, but you’ve expressed the process beyond my abilities in your accounting here. Can’t run away from your heart. I am going to link to this far-out man who caught my fascination today – he makes me giggle, but not at him, for I think he expresses the way I feel lots of time – I am really making those faces and sounds – and wish more people could flow in this way – what an improv party that would be! (If you don’t like this link – feel free to erase – no worries:)
Lots of great threads in your response, Marga. First off, I loved that link. That was awesome. I haven’t gone nearly so far with any public states of abandon, but I think quite honestly there is a very real place for this- a necessary one. I am reminded of reading about the “clowns” in various Native American traditions. Here you are trying to have a ceremony to bring the rains that nourish the earth and the people, and some crazy man painted all sorts of colors is being completely profane, cracking jokes, distracting people, making sexual gestures, having a snack. There is something profound about it. I am thinking our modern culture is perhaps lacking in that department. Humor that highlights the sacred. We definitely have some hilarious comedians and movies, but we go and enjoy them at certain times, in certain places. Imagine teaching your class, and this guy just breezes through with a troupe of Sufi lovers. Imagine this in our boardrooms, in our hospitals, on our city streets. Now I’m sounding crazy, perhaps, but I thought the video was great.
I love your question about taking what exists and twisting it in our unique ways. A couple of things strike me about the notion that we cannot create anything new, that this is the province of “another”, and that we can then create by shuffling the given pallette. There is an implied distance between ourselves and the deeper creative Power in this delineation of thinking, and while I would have once been likely to agree right away, I now think we are closer to being integral to that Power than we generally dare consider. So, it’s like, I don’t know if we can or will create a new color or not, but we are the living embodiment of that which created all color. There is no distance. Does it still make sense to imagine that a Power separate from us created color? I don’t know. I’m no longer convinced.
I think Creation builds on itself. From colors, there arise arrangements of colors, paintings for instance, multi-layered, deeply meaningful forms of expression. And I think the phase we are in now is moving into our paintings, bringing them to Life, bringing more of that “original Power” into our very lives. In A Course of Love, Jesus speaks about the possibility of creating the New, through the awakening of deep and genuine authenticity within us. He suggests this is all that is really needed to transform the world. So, I just have that twinge of resistance to the notion there is this hard and fast gap between the latent potential within us and the power that gives rise to color.
I think we are on the verge of discovering our power is to reinvent the world- through Love, which invites acceptance, which enables transformation. But I think it is an unforced transformation. Not an efforting. Something that is arriving like a thief in the night… Something that caught hold of the man in the video! 🙂
Oh, you are more right on than perhaps you know. I found out who the wide-open dude actually is – and it is so much like your modern clown concept. Are you near NYC? Perhaps you could bring Mr. Silver in for a meeting at work? 🙂 Here he is, with his purposeful presence in the lives of those who pass by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWEk0_Y333o
I think there is a divine genius in this role too, of clown, in our polar world of heady or trashy (as it seems some days).
The student who brought up the concept of nothing new does have an externalized power belief system – great thoughts and questions in class – but as we all experience in our day to day – many people are firmly planted in one camp or another, which dictates where the questioning begins and ends. I’m sure I have those belief systems myself still in existence as finer and finer and more hard to find levels as well. I do plant little radical seeds, here and there, with an eye twinkle for good measure. But I recognized – how marvelous your awareness of lack of separation – that we are that – does give over to a lack of limitations instead. New color creation – Here we come!
I wish you a year filled with days as light as this solstice, today!
Wow. How great. What an inspiring video! I’m occasionally in NYC for work, but not based there, and it strikes me that inviting clowns to other people’s domains could be a stretch. But the seed is planted… 🙂
Likewise, Happy Solstice!
There is this magic little switch that flips when one makes the leap (if only temporarily) from living from the idea of taking raw materials to living past that layer of separation and being a part of the raw material ourselves.
There may only be colors already know at this level of reality (however, I am still not convinced if I could look out your eyes for a minute that what I would see would be the same as when I look at my own…I think those rods and cones are slipperier perception tools than we think), but look around the space you are as you are reading this reply…it is the only space on the entire planet that has the raw materials that we are in color combinations in that way. Light does not ever show the same mountain twice 🙂 .
Your reflections made me recall this:
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…–Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
-Juan Ramón Jiménez
I am certain that there are many things I am uncertain about. It is all I can say with complete confidence some days. 🙂
Wow, what a poem by Jimenez! I’m reeling.
That question about whether or not we all see the same colors is always intriguing, but I have to say… I’m weighing in tonight on the side of consistency, and the only reason I say that is that it seems like colors have meanings, certain energies they convey, and so it makes sense for them to be “what they are”… but of course I have no idea. Someday perhaps, as we dissolve into the light of one another, the ability to peek through one another’s eyes will emerge, and we will have both our answer, and paradoxically, our Certainty of who we are… 🙂