Ideas and Truth

“The universe is an ongoing explosion. That’s where you live. In an explosion.  Also, we absolutely don’t know what living is.  Sometimes atoms arranged in a certain way just get very haunted. 

That’s us. 

When an explosion explodes hard enough, dust wakes up and thinks about itself.

And then writes about it.     

             – Jarod K Anderson

But I’m scared to write.  I’m scared because writing my ideas down makes them permanent.  It takes an idea and makes it real. Unchanging, unshifting. 

Anything that doesn’t grow and expand is dead. 

Can I really do that to my ideas, when those ideas are always changing, always growing, always shifting?  If I put something into words,  can I change my mind later?  Can I do an update?  

But I guess that happens all the time

Long ago, there were proto-humans.  And now there are humans. And later on there will be post-humans.  Whatever it is we’re all evolving into as the pressures on our species shift and change.  The proto-humans were perfect.  Humans are perfect.  Post-humans will also be perfect. 

Perfect messes.  Humanity as a whole is impermanent – constantly shifting, constantly changing.  And yet, each individual human is written in stone. My genetics are my genetics.  My limitations are my limitations.  My past is my past, permanent, dead, and unchangeable.  But in all of my permanence, I am but a microscopic piece of the grand machinery of humanity.  My permanence is but a tiny part of the great and glorious impermanence that we are all a part of.  And perhaps, so it will be with my ideas.  If I put them out there, they’re just one small, permanent thing.  But it’s only if I put them out there that they’ll ever have an opportunity to grow beyond the smallness they would eternally be if they lived only inside my head.  Unshared, my ideas will die with me when I die.  It is only when I put my ideas into words and share them with other people that those ideas have an opportunity to grow, change, and evolve past the life I am capable of giving them on my own.  My life is ephemeral.  I will end.  But perhaps, like children, my ideas can outlive me.   Other people can take my ideas, add them to their own, and help them grow into something I could never have imagined on my own. Glorious impermanence, infinite growth.  Would it be too bold to hope that my ideas could have that kind of life?  Only one way to find out.  

The time has come for me to outgrow my fear. Writing my ideas and sharing them doesn’t make them dead and permanent.  Much the opposite.  It brings them to life. 

And so, I want to write about truth. 

Truth and love and beauty.  These are all one and the same.

God and heaven and spirit and the divine. We use grand words when we’re trying to give a name to our experience of the truth. 

Truth is the thing that we seek, every single time we seek anything.  It is the thing that we long for, every time we feel longing.  Any time we feel incomplete, the incompleteness we feel is in some way a measure of the disconnect between ourselves and truth. 

And, as hard as we try, we will never understand the truth. We can never, ever hold it, claim it or possess it. 

The mantra I live my life by is a simple one: 

If I have understood, then what I have understood is not truth.

Truth does not fit inside the human brain.  It is bigger than me, bigger than all of us.  We will never, ever understand it.  The best we can hope for is to experience it. It is the tapestry that spreads out towards infinity in every direction and in every dimension.  And I am but a short piece of thread. I have no capacity to even begin to comprehend the infinite beauty and complexity that I am myself a part of.  Truth is all around us and within us.  Truth is everything we think and touch and taste and smell.  Every element of our existence represents truth in some way, and the moment we learn to look past the surface of things, we can routinely experience the joyful agony that it always is to be in the presence of truth.  Truth exists in an infinite array of infinities that spirals and expands in every direction.  It is both delicate and indestructible.  It is both sublimely simple and mind-breakingly complex.  Contradictions are an inherent part of the experience of truth.

We will never understand truth, but that certainly doesn’t stop us from trying. The moment we experience truth we immediately strive to understand it, to possess it. To claim it.  And we have good reason for this.  We experience a disconnect from truth as pain and suffering.  And it is good and right that we are driven to avoid those things.  This is a good goal.  A worthy goal.  The fact that we will never understand the truth does not mean that we shouldn’t try.  We have to try.  Our brains will allow us to do nothing else.  To be alive is to live in constant pursuit of holding and understanding truth. 

But here is what always happens. We experience truth. A tiny, microscopic piece of it.  Our hearts grow a little. We learn something new.  A new way of looking at the world.  A new way to act. A new angle from which to view our own miniscule piece of the infinite tapestry of truth. We are temporarily relieved of some of our suffering and pain.  And then we decide that This. Is. It.  This was the answer to my suffering, so therefore this little thing I have come to understand must be the Ultimate Truth for both me and everyone else.  And suddenly we have a religion.  Perhaps an ‘official’ religion, complete with a unique way to conceive of God, plus a whole set of sacraments and structure and commandments.  Or perhaps an ‘unofficial’ religion.  We begin to proselytize, trying to convince the world of the wonders of this new way of behaving or eating or voting or exercising or meditating or planning our day or raising our children.  Anything we do or think can become a religion, of a sort. We see the suffering of others, and, confident that we know the ultimate answer to all suffering, we try to point them towards our newfound  ‘ultimate truth’.   And the more we do this, the more securely we tie ourselves to this ‘ultimate truth’ that we have discovered, the more we disconnect ourselves from the infinite and ineffable experience of real truth.  

And that’s when things start to twist.  To decay.  To corrupt.   We continue to grow, and, bit by bit, the ‘ultimate truth’ that we had latched onto so tightly isn’t enough for us anymore.  It was never enough.  No finite piece of truth will ever be enough.  And then we face a choice.  We can admit that the ‘ultimate truth’ we once held up with such pride and glory was never the thing we once thought it was.  Or we can cling to it, ignoring the fact that the thing that once relieved our suffering is now causing our suffering, and the suffering of others.  What once was God, no matter how true or right it was at first, transitions into a false idol.  It never fails.  When we cling too tightly to our ‘ultimate truth’, what once had been a piece of actual truth slowly transitions to precisely the opposite.  Religions that were originally founded on connection and love become cathedrals held together solely by divisiveness and hate.  Dietary and medical trends that were originally meant to promote health and wellbeing slowly begin to kill people. 

That’s the choice.  Do we choose to face the pain and humility of letting go of our ‘ultimate truth’ and allow ourselves to grow, or do we choose to face the pain of clinging to our ‘ultimate truth’ and bring our growth and learning to a halt?   Life and growth, or stagnation and death.  What do we choose? 

What do I choose?  Coming to understand all of this is where I’m at in my learning and growth.  I know full well that I can devote every waking moment to learning and growth, and I will never actually understand anything real or eternal or true. I am walking a path that has no end, because its length is truly infinite. I am climbing the side of a mountain that has no peak.  It just continues up and up, on and on forever.   It doesn’t matter how fast I climb, or how much progress I’ve made, I am always exactly as far from the top as I was when I first set out on this journey. 

It’s time for me to let go of my ‘ultimate truth’.  I have been clinging for too long to the belief that if I climb hard enough and long enough, I’ll eventually reach the peak of my mountain.   It’s time to acknowledge that the happiness and fulfilled life I’ve been sacrificing and suffering and striving for doesn’t exist in some imagined future.  It is here, today.   And if I keep on sacrificing and suffering for the sake of future happiness, I am, in fact, destroying the happiness and joy that my life actually has to offer.   My life is happening now, and if I keep on climbing and striving and struggling,  I am absolutely going to miss it.  I don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want to miss the joy of today while I’m climbing and striving towards some imagined tomorrow that will never arrive.  I want to sit down on the side of my mountain and simply enjoy the view.  It’s a simple thing to do, but it’s not easy.  It is painful and humbling to admit that the energy and effort and sacrifice I poured into my climb was often fruitless and unnecessary.   There’s a truth here that my body understands.  Rest is important.  If I go too long and too hard without pausing to rest and recuperate, eventually my productivity slows down and I will eventually die.  My body understands this truth, and perhaps the time has come for my soul to understand it as well.   And then, of course,  the pattern will hold.  I will learn this new aspect of truth.   I will understand it.  It will bring a respite from my suffering and pain, and suddenly I’ll have a new ‘ultimate truth’ to hold on to until the time comes, once again, to humbly admit that, amazing and complex as my brain may be, I will never truly come to understand truth.

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