Friday, April 25, 2008
truth is stranger than fiction
This morning, as I was more or less stumbling around the house very early (no coffee yet,) I noticed a DVD titled "Stranger Than Fiction" in the living room, left there, no doubt, by one of the kids.
It occurred to me, after pondering this rather standard phrase for a while, that the only reason we think truth is stranger than fiction is because we are not familiar with truth. Almost everything we experience is an interpreted fiction of one kind or another, created by our imagination. Which reminds me of a quote from Winston Churchill, in which he said that most men stumble over the truth at least once in their life, but most of us pick up and carry on as before, as though nothing had happened.
All of this leads me back to the question of our fundamental perception of what it is that we are asking for when we ask for transformation.
All of us, as we pursue our individual efforts, agree with ourselves (and with others) that we seek inner change. And of course, we seek it because we have read books about it. Or we have met someone who talks about it convincingly. But we do not actually know what we are asking for.
Nothing could make this clearer than the endless series of stories about Zen aspirants who think they have an idea about what they are up to, only to repeatedly get smacked down by the master (sometimes literally.) The naïve presumptions of the intellectual mind can't be overcome: this assumption that we have some idea of what enlightenment consists of is always hovering in the background.
Perhaps the ultimate absurdity in the context of this unknowing condition we live in is that many Zen masters ( including Dogen) have asserted that the condition we are in right now is not separated from Enlightenment; we just don't know that. All the conditions both within and outside of ourselves are themselves enlightened; it is our consciousness of it that fails us.
Hence the alien nature of ordinary reality: alien, that is, because of our inability to perceive it accurately. And it's not alien as long as we preserve the way that we currently perceive it; this is why we are so diligently invested in our efforts not to change, even though we profess a wish for it. As long as we keep it at arm's length, and interpret it so that it remains understandable, it's safe.
It's true that real inner change can be blissful; it's equally true that it is, as Ouspensky discovered (he recounts this in In Search of the Miraculous) profoundly disturbing. The moment that we encounter a state that is different than our ordinary, deadened level of receptivity, unexpected things begin to take place. Snakes arise and shake the tree; they twist and writhe and upset our apple cart. That's the only way it can happen. You cannot, as Jesus pointed out, put new wine into old bottles.
So we fix our sights on the unknown, setting course for a distant shore that we have never seen, trusting (based on hearsay) in the idea that once we get to that place, it will be a place we want to be in.
That does require more than a bit of faith, doesn't it?
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.