Coherence is in motion. It is a moment, much like a river as it moves from higher to lower ground, bounded by banks. This distinction matters, inasmuch as we seem to have a tendency, innate or otherwise, to look for static, one-off solutions. We imagine that there is a blueprint for truth and reality and if we can find it and study it, then we will have the answer and every conflict will be solved and will remain so forever.
But coherence is not like that. Indeed, no sooner do we say “this is coherent” or “this view will make us coherent” then we are wrong. We are being incoherent. Coherence cannot be trapped in amber or reduced to bullet points. Krishnamurti said that “truth is a pathless land.” So what I are suggesting then is that maps are static but the territory is alive and shifting and changing moment to moment. It is a movement for which the map – even a very good one, a very clear one – is no substitute.
Thus, if we want to be coherent – or have an experience of coherence – then we need to let go of some presuppositions. Chief amongst these is the notion that truth can be caught in time and held in place. It has no qualities that allow us to do this. It is not even an idea or a thought. Ideas and thoughts are easily held, fossilized or codified, and given physical manifestations. Sometimes that activity can reflect coherence but it is not itself coherence.
What I am saying – what I am sort of circling around saying – is that we cannot ourselves make coherence. On some level, even to have it as a goal is to miss the point, and so ultimately to miss coherence. Some Buddhist teachers will tell their students, you cannot become enlightened if you wish to become enlightened. Or perhaps it is also a bit like the artist Jasper Johns who said that to be a great artist, one has to give up everything, including the desire to become a great artist.
For most of us, this sort of direction – if it even qualifies as direction – is maddening. We believe that reality can be known and measured and that actions can be taken based on those measurements. It is like building a bridge or updating software – orderly and predictable to the point of routine.
But if that is so, then why are we in crisis – personally, communally, globally? Why are things breaking down at all levels?
It is seeing that – seeing the incoherence of our fundamental assumptions, the ones that give rise to our beliefs, which in turn drive our perceptions and then our actions – that enable us to take our first tentative steps in the direction of coherence.
I say “tentative” and I mean it. If we are going to create meaning in a coherent way, and experience coherence, then we have to move slowly. We have to keep in mind that we are not building anything nor even discovering anything but simply encountering something that is already present and already dynamic. It has its own energy apart from our judgment and perception.
In that light, then, the qualities that enable us be coherent are not necessarily what we would expect. For example, a quality of attentiveness is very important. We have to pay attention to what is happening in an internal way. We have to see how our thoughts emerge, the shape they take, the nature of their movement on the inside, and how that affects the outside.
Really, it is a kind of attention that slows things down, or takes things one at a time. It doesn’t multitask. It wants to see what is happening with our anger, say, but then it also wants to see what is happening with our assumptions about the anger. As David Bohm often pointed out, if we are looking inward without questioning our assumptions then we are not going to get anywhere because it is the assumptions that are doing the looking.
What is meant by that is simply that we might assume that anger is bad and if that is the case, then we are going to “see” anger as bad. We have to see that assumption. When we do, its power is diluted considerably and we get a clearer sense of how the anger operates – its relation to some central self, the way it drives the body into fight or flight and so forth. All of that can be very valuable but in order to get to it, we have to get to the assumptions. And in order to get to the assumptions we have to be patient, and attentive, and even painstaking. The reward for this can be quite impressive – coherence is healing and peaceful – but we cannot overlook the hard work upon which it rests.