What is the source of all this? How does it come about? Is there only God? Only Mind? Only Consciousness? Maybe many Gods? Many Gods being mind being universal consciousness?
I have asked these and similar questions for a long time. In my spiritual and cultural circles, these types of questions consistently and regularly arise.
Notice the way that a question begets an answer which in time begets another question. It’s good to ask questions but it’s confusing – sometimes violently so – to think that our answers are some kind of “end” or “conclusion.”
Mostly there is just this going on going on. As Gertrude Stein so aptly put it, “there is no there there.”
It is possible when posing the what-is-the-source question to slip into an endless loop hallmarked by watered-down Rumi quotes, A Course in Miracles, Eckhart Tolle, confused applications of the double-slit experiment, Nisargadatta’s rambling and just . . . call the loop itself is the answer.
But there are other ways. One of them is to reframe the basic question from “what is the source” to: what is this? What is this world? This self? This experience?
That is, rather than look for origins or absolutes – rather than look for answers that purport to end in some ultimate way the questions – just try to better describe and understand what is actually happening.
For me, this approach has been more interesting and helpful. It offers a way out of the loop by shifting focus from specific points within the loop to the loop itself.
And at that level, it has been helpful not to rush or assume and/or prioritize certain goals but rather to go slowly and just attend the process. Questions seem to require answers but do they? What do we really want to know? And is questioning the best way to learn it?
Although it is possible to have a sort of meta-experience – oneness, ecstatic union with the Godhead, awakening, enlightenment (note how the name and description of the experience varies with the cultural context in which the experience arises – this is a clue!) – knowledge of “reality” as such is actually beyond our capacity to know.
Again: reality (the ultimate, the one, the truth, the ultimate one truth et cetera) is beyond the range of our perceptual and cognitive abilities and so reference to it is neither helpful nor necessary.
If you can’t get there – because there is no there there – then you can stop traveling. You can be here, which is all the where there is.
To set the question of ultimate reality – The Source, say – aside can seem quite dramatic, especially for those of us who have devoted significant time and energy to meeting/embodying/knowing this Source. But the grounds for doing so are coherent and not unduly complex.
Knowledge is structure-dependent. That is to say, perception and cognition are limits. They are bounds. What appears to us as the world is framed by – made possible by – our organismic capacity for perception. An ant, a butterfly, a sunflower and a grain of sand all perceive a vastly different “world” than a human being does.
Given this non-controversial (but also non-trivial) observation, what grounds do we have for a) assuming that our perception is anything other than relatively correct and b) that our perceptive and cognitive abilities are the ones that are aligned with reality?
It’s not that we can’t handle the truth; it’s that we are by definition closed to it.
Note, too, that the way that we perceive the world guides – makes possible – how we respond to it: by talking, sharing, loving, arguing, et cetera. And this responsiveness also differs according to the context in which it arises.
That is, a communist woman in 1930s Russia is going to have a different experience than a male middle class consumer in the United States circa 2018. Thus, we have matriarchies and capitalism and Christians and – diving down a level – politics, societies, economics, religion. These are invented concepts by which we explain and interact with the perceived world. The one makes possible – and reifies – the other, but neither is a 1:1 correspondence with the Truth or the Whole. They are just organism-specific modes of being.
When one sees that clearly – and then accepts it as a basic fact of this embodied experience – then the spiritual quandaries and big metaphysical inquiries – become a lot less dramatic. They don’t press as hard; really, they stop pressing at all.
The point is that we perceive and cognize – we do our living in – a world defined by the organism we are – and then explain and interact with that world using the language and mythology – the narrative – of the dominant group of organisms in which we appear and do our living.
There is nothing wrong with this! It is natural and mostly beneficial. Where the fly meets the ointment is that we tend to forget that this world and way of living in it is not written in stone, is not some stable singular truth. We forget that the living we are doing is basically A way of living rather than THE way of living.
And then we double down on this forgetting and end up deeply invested in and attached to the mistaken belief that the living we are doing is true or at least intimately correlated with truth – and so all those who are living differently are, to varying degrees and with varying degrees of moral culpability, wrong or false.
That’s why it’s easy to keep chickens in torturous conditions and then kill them, or chop down trees for yet another shopping complex, or enslave people whose skin is a different color, or murder people who decline our invitation to worship a different God or what-have-you.
So if we stop asking after some external Absolute Source – God, the One, the Divine, the Beloved – and simply ask after how things work, then all that dysfunction and incoherence will reveal itself. It’s not mysterious or even difficult.
But it does ask something of us: it asks us to give attention: to be attentive. It asks us to remember that we are not pinnacles or centers but processes. Ripples observing the river, if you will, where the ripple cannot see the lake where the river begins, nor the sea in which it ends.
So what we end up doing when we give attention in a coherent way is undoing the forgetting of the separating that we are doing when we are incoherent and inattentive. Giving attention and being coherent requires study. It requires discipline and reflection. And it requires local action – changing the way that we shop, vote, grow or don’t grow plants, interact with animals, make art, raise kids and so forth.
Tara Singh was right: it is not enough to learn. We have to bring what is learned into application. There is no other way and only we can do it.
Thus, it is not enough to be tolerant of the other! Given the other, we have to see the specific way in which our thinking and being creates – inevitably makes necessary – the other.
We must become responsible for the way that we are thinking and also the way in which we are not thinking. This is the work and there is really no other work. Whatever else we are doing – parenting, teaching, gardening, cooking, dancing, walking, sleeping – we are attending to the undoing of the line of thinking by which the other arises and our conflict with them becomes real and consequential.
Peace abounds but it must be enacted and embodied. This is what we are doing – whatever else we are doing – here and now.