On Seeking Truth
I know I donít write just to inform or convince or entertain other people. I donít write just to inform or convince or entertain myself (although Iím conscious of doing that, at least sometimes). Mostly I write to draw something out of me. I feel the urge to write when I sense that thereís something going on in my head or my heart somewhere but Iím not sure what it is but it feels important to me. Iíd like to think itís Truth.
Oh, I know, there are lots of truthsómy truth is not necessarily your truthóeven with the remarkable fact that sometimes we see the same one. Itís remarkable because no two people live entirely in the same world. We see things in different colors a lot of the time, acknowledging the reality of something yet not necessarily agreeing on what it means.
Take Bill Clintonóheís the president who will be remembered for, among other things, his response to a leading question with, "Well, it depends upon what your definition of is is." His questioners wanted him to admitóno, they really wanted other people to thinkóthat he had done something bad. It doesnít matter much what it was, at this late date. It was a sparring match, a jousting tournament between opposing camps, and they were simply trying to unhorse him. It pretty much worked, but it didnít prove anything in particular. Except perhaps that he was better at schmoozing with people who liked him than with those who didnít. I can sure identify with that.
Itís an important point, I think. When Iím listening to or reading someoneís words, I get different meanings from them if I like the person or notóeven a word seemingly as simple as "is." The same thing happens with my own words, depending upon how Iím feeling about myself at the moment. Whereís the truth in that? Sometimes it feels as though searching for the Truth is a futile effort.
Perhaps itís because we expect "truth" to be fixed and immutable, something one can scoop up out of the tub and pick apart without altering it in any way. Actually (here comes a "truth"), itís altered as soon as itís separated from the tub, the context in which we first encountered it. Truth is more like a clear crystal, absorbing and reflecting and refracting its environment. How it absorbs, reflects and refracts its environment is its unique nature. All we see is the result of all that absorption, reflection and refraction.
Some of the Eastern spiritual traditions emphasize learning to be aware without the corrupting effect of our own fears and desires, to see the crystal without the coloration and contamination usually added by our conditioning. It seems that Truth, then seen, is from a different level of reality.
Iíll give an example:
Thatís a rough set of descriptive words to indicate me. There could be a lot more, scattered within the list as well as on either end. No one of them, indeed no combination of words, could be considered as exhaustive. Whatís the truth in Donald Skiff?
Plato would have said something to the effect that the Ideal of Donald Skiff is something apart from any of them, and that ideal is the only real truth of Donald Skiff that existsóor can exist. Everything else is just reflections or refractions through the idea from the context. The crystal-clear Donald Skiff is more than any of these things, and yet in a way is none of them.
Thatís pretty discouraging, when what most of us want most of the time is to understand each other and to be understood.
I happen to have a hearing problem. If Iím in a room where a bunch of people are talking, I have to work very hard to follow the conversation, because I miss a lot of words. I try to piece together a narrative in my head that seems to coincide at least a little with whatís really going on. Sometimes Iím way off.
In fact, we all do the same thing, even when our hearing is perfect and we catch every word. Sometimes we misinterpret, sometimes we slant things in our own mindsóalways, we color the conversation with our own thoughts and feelings. Whereís the truth in all that?
Iíve been interested in photography all my life. I know that a particular kind of film (or in these days, a digital sensor) records light of different colors differently. I must use a filter of some kind when I photograph in a particular light, or things look funny. Our eyesóactually our brainsótend to compensate for different colored light, such as sunlight, or open shade, or indoors in incandescent or fluorescent light. (The new digital cameras can do that as well, to some extent.) We donít have to think about it, but our brains do the work anyway. Whatís important here is to know that this filtering is being done. Itís exactly the same kind of filtering that our minds do when we hear and see things and try to extract meaning from them.
Seeking the truth doesnít have to be a futile exercise. What it takes is to know ourselves, what our preferences are, what our feelings are about whatís going on. Itís not easy, but itís possible. The first step is to want to.
Itís important because until we become aware of our conditioning, we are held hostage to it. We cannot know the truth while we are looking at it through a blue or green or red filter. The second step is to learn to recognize our filters. That can take years, even decades. But so does learning to play the piano, and look at the benefits of that!
Most people that I know of have used some kind of meditation to learn to be aware of themselves. Sometimes teachers can help the process, but the work is all inside oneself.
Truth is not elusive. Itís right there in front of us, and inside us, all the time. When we see it, when we remove our filters and actually see its crystal clarity, we can drop our defenses and be free, maybe for the first time.
April 23, 2004