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…