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Sunday, 15 January 2017
WHAT CAN I REALLY KNOW?
John Alexandra, author of The Wisdom of Being, tells it like it is. What can I really say I know? And what is the difference between knowledge and being?
I know, for instance, that I exist. And, apparently, so does everything around me. Including the endless, staggering profusion of galaxies that reduces my existential self to less than nothing.
However, it usually doesn't occur to me that this infinity extends in two directions. To the microscopic creatures that live in and crawl over me, to the individual cells of my body, the viruses afflicting me, the load of bacteria in my gut, the colonies on my eyelids.
In other words, I rarely if ever comprehend that I am a miniature universe—perhaps a mirror reflection of the immensity engulfing me.
Then, beyond this microcosm, a further infinity dances—the still incomprehensible mystery of particle physics.
So what, after all, do I know when even the greatest minds are stumped and can't, for example, locate most of the matter of the universe?
I know that I am here?
But what is 'I'?
A tree is here, but, deconstructed, becomes a collection of leaves, an accumulation of cells, a chemical combination, a seed that becomes a tree which seeds again and dies.
Anything reduced to its components vanishes into nothing.
Am I any different?
If I observe my psychology, I find a collection of emotional reactions which in turn prompt associative thoughts and physical tensions. Each potentiates the other. My so-called personality is simply this random collection running in habitual groves, entirely without supervision.
As such, I am an automaton. There is no 'I' to monitor this process—this pinball cavalcade.
Just like the tree, if my psychology is deconstructed, it becomes little more than a process. My 'I' is fictional—self-delusion.
So what can 'I' know when there is no I in my mechanism at all?
Which brings me closer to the truth of myself. I know nothing. Except, at times, vaguely, that 'I' am here. But even this 'here' is uncertain. In the midst of my multiform reactions—external and internal—am I aware even for an instant that I am surrounded by a body with sensations?
Are you aware, for instance, now, of the impressions coming from your left foot? Perhaps, of a moment, now that you are reminded. But then the sensation is gone. Because you are back thinking about it. Thinking your life away. Back in your busy head, a function of random thought which has no consistency or weight.
I know nothing. Least of all myself.
Now let's change the question.
What is this universe, that I am apparently a miniscule part of, for? Why is it here? Why does it exist? Why does anything exist?
And, as I am here, to what purpose? Is there something I am expected to do? And, if so, why is my lifespan so trivial? What on earth can be accomplished in a fleeting 75 years?
And does this limitless miracle I inhabit have a purpose? Or is it all just insensate clockwork—a vast, empty, terrifying process?
What, after all, can I know? Why think about such things?
Certainly, we'll never find answers by 'taking thought', because thought is a mechanistic process—an agitation of the mind.
So, if I'm really serious, I need a finer tool for observation.
As Jacob Bohme put it: 'If thou canst for a while but cease from all thy thinking and willing, then....the eternal hearing, speaking and seeing will be revealed in thee.' Is it true? Or simply the ravings of a medieval mystic?
The answer to all questions comes when we abandon our habitual linear thinking and enter the arena of Being.
If I can abandon myself entirely—equivalent to psychological death—something new appears. The energy, previously consumed by my churning, reactions to life, is freed. Free attention. Suddenly, I begin to BE.
Some call this shift entering the NOW. I no longer think in the old way. Thought becomes a watchfulness that does nothing but observe. A finer energy infuses me that resolves all contradictions.
All questions are resolved at that moment. Suddenly, I have everything I need. Nothing is absent, wished, required. I simply, inclusively, AM. But not I. Because there is only one thing, not two.
Of course, next moment, the vision is lost and I am back in the process of myself.
But if I can find the door to this once, I can find it again.
What remains—is offered—is to open the life to this quest. Or, in other words, to this inner tuning, alignment, listening. To the unmistakeable, revolutionary certainty of becoming.
But I can't do it. 'Doing' is the old. A process in time.
And the NOW is not in time at all! NOW stops time.
Therefore, all I can 'do' is BE.
As the Zen sage Baso put it: Miraculous deeds and acts of wonder. I carry water. I fetch kindling. In short, I join the universe. And fulfil my destiny and purpose.