July 23, 2017
The Truth — Hidden in Plain Sight
Volker Brendel: Welcome to everyone once again. It feels like we have an intimate group on the line today, representing a much larger group of friends who participate by reading our transcripts, representing an even larger body of people with respect to all of those in contact with any of us directly, and all of those representing ever-increasing concentric circles, encompassing the whole population of the world! I'm always mindful of how close we really are to anyone, anywhere. We may not have visited every place on earth, but through a friend, or a friend of a friend, probably we actually have! And even if we go to remote places, we find shared experience with anyone. There's so much more in common than what separates, and thus by this very simple thought experiment, we are immediately assured that no matter how big or large our immediate world may seem, in fact we are in the midst of everything, and our every thought and feeling and action does make a contribution to the whole.
Last night we had an awesome display of thunderstorms in southern Indiana and a welcome break from three or four days of extreme heat, temperatures in the mid-90s and humidity upwards of 90%. Watching the lightning across the sky, being frightened by thunder, and observing tree branches waving vigorously in significant winds made me feel small, small relative to the forces of nature, and small relative to the scale of creation all around us. We live in a very small sliver of the universe, in a very narrowly defined comfort zone. Add a few more degrees of heat and our lives would be terribly endangered. Go down too far in the temperature range, and life becomes impossible. So here we are in a range that is amenable to life as we know it, and we operate and create in that range. When all is well we may feel mightily proud of our achievements as human beings. We have tamed nature in many ways, we have built our own infrastructure. But once in a while, mighty thunderstorms or other forces of nature assure that we are reminded of limitations in our stature. Now some folks take this to mean that in the end we are so small and insignificant that we have little to do with the design of life and the course that nature takes. This is prominent in the climate debate and the argument that there are so many larger cycles at work that human behavior makes but a minuscule, if any, contribution to what is working out on that scale. And yet honest observation shows us that human behavior on the whole is changing the course of nature, and dramatically so. Deforestation, draining of wetlands, and so forth are just a few examples. And there certainly is a diminishing diversity of species as a direct consequence of the expansion of human infrastructure.
We have to live with dualities. On the one hand, we can acknowledge how small and insignificant we are in the larger scheme of the universe. But the dual side of that is that we do have influence and that we are powerful and significant. In our last two considerations, we discussed similar dualities. Sanford explained the beauty of the design all around us and yet the large number of degrees of freedom within that design allows for some apparent randomness to contribute to the overall emerging picture. Then two weeks ago, Bill discussed the duality of the mystery of our identity and yet innate and natural knowing of who we are. So, on the one hand, the small stature and a large design that is mysterious to us, and on the other hand, a powerful recognition of our identity and our role in creation.
It seems to be a general tendency of human beings that they wish dualities away. We seem to be much more comfortable in the extremes, in the black and white cases. On the one end, there are religious believers who assign ultimate responsibility to God. We abide in His creation, living by His grace, doing the best we can, but ultimately the fate of the earth is decided on a different level and by acts of God, both unwelcome and welcome. We may pray for our own individual good life, but ultimately at best, life is a test for us. Real contributions occur elsewhere. In the other extreme, some of us think we are alone in the universe, and human beings with their human intellect are the only intelligent force, and it's up to our ingenuity and hard work to create environments and societies that function as best as we can.
The problem with either approach is that, ultimately, we are found out! Life is such that we simply have to live with that duality. It was never in our contract that everything should be black and white for our understanding. I sometimes think that God has a fondness for mystery fiction. A common device in that genre is to place clues in plain sight, but both the detectives and other protagonists in the writing and the readers are so busy following other lines of thought that they miss the clues, and it's only towards the end when enlightenment comes and we realize that the clues were there all the time for us to see.
It seems to me that something that is in plain sight for everyone thinking about Life and Life's design is the following fact: There is always vastly more that is unseen and unknown than what is known and accessible to the conscious mind. There are abundant examples of this clue to the nature of Life. For example, we discussed the limited temperature range in which we can live, indicative of really a very thin layer of biosphere in which life as we know it occurs. It's obvious that we know very little about what is a few hundred feet below our feet. Even the deepest mines don't probe very far relative to the diameter of the earth. We live on a very thin sliver of the earth's outer skin. Going up in the other direction, even within our own atmosphere there is plenty of space, but going beyond that, we may recognize that even our immense solar system is just a tiny speck in our galaxy, which is one of many in the universe. And we know very little about all of this! Now, physicists tell us that in these considerations we are ignoring most of the mass of the matter of the universe, called dark matter, which constitutes something upward of 70% of the universe.
Similarly, and much closer to home, we realize that we have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. Considerations as we have today play out in the conscious mind. I tried to present the logical flow of thoughts and words, stringing these words together to sentences and paragraphs and so forth and make all blend into an argument, all happening in the conscious mind. At the same time: where do the thoughts come from? A vast reservoir of thoughts and ideas and impressions lie in our subconscious mind, and so that gets called up and contributes to the logical flow in the conscious mind. After the fact, we know very well that our life experience has this dual nature of a vast unknown and the sliver of known in which we operate, both with respect to the physical world and with respect to our own thoughts and feelings.
The other day I was commenting on my friendships with some local friends here, and I mentioned that I had the experience of "an underlying current of grace and wonder" in our interactions. My friend commented on the beauty of this phrase, "an underlying current of grace and wonder," and then in the context of Bill's question of "how does newness enter the world?" I was caused to think about how I came up with that phrase? I like it, too; it's a wonderful description of my experience of these friendships. But how did I come up with these few words describing it? It's not that I was wordsmithing something; it just came to me without effort and without realization at the time that this thought would lead to more discussion. What I would discuss here is that we all have that experience in our own lives, that thoughts and feelings arise in our conscious minds, including new thoughts and feelings; and where do they come from in our experience? Well, they come from our subconscious minds. Now, we can go on and ask as well how they got into our subconscious minds, but I think the whole point of our discussion this morning is that in many cases we simply don't know—and that's okay. Obviously, as psychologists or generally observant people, there are some things that come out of the subconscious mind that we can trace to particular events or experiences. But in the day-to-day living, creative impulses, thoughts, feelings of all kinds and natures, do arise from this depth of our subconscious minds into the layers of our conscious mind. That is the reality of the design, and presumably there is some randomness to that as well.
Acknowledging this nature of our being, we have all the clues to the mystery of life. You might say the mystery of God is finished on earth. Why? Not because we have big egos and big intellects that say we've got it all figured out, nor because we subscribe to religious doctrine that tells us all the answers are premade, just look them up. No, the mystery of God is finished in our experience because we acknowledge our very nature of living with duality, of knowing what we need to know and not knowing what is beyond our realm, and that state is beautiful and sufficient, completely noble, and satisfies our search for meaning in life. It actually is a statement of great humility, as well as willingness to play our part.
There is a great allure to mysteries, and that can make good business. There are certainly those who sell mysteries or purported solutions to mysteries, but within ourselves there are already all the keys that we need to play our unique parts in the creation. It has always baffled me why anyone can hold the belief that God created us and then shrouded all the creation under a veil of mystery, leaving us alone in our misery. That's not something that inherently makes sense to me. My experience is one of knowing, of knowing everything I need to make the contribution that is mine to make. Now that attitude does not discourage learning by any stretch. On the contrary, as we assume our unique responsibilities with both humility and confidence, there's nothing more fulfilling than being with others, particularly being with those who are similarly conscious and humble, and to work with them, to learn from them, to add what we can add, and to receive what is ours to receive.
Speaking of mysteries: obviously there is no mystery that we are created in community, that it takes more than just one of us. So how delightful to continue in this vein, both with those with whom we discuss these insights in a conscious way, and with many others, in fact everyone, in all kinds of other ways. Because again what is playing out on the conscious level is hugely important, but is clearly not all that is going on. And as we have many conversations and many activities, if we pay attention to the underlying current, I'm sure we will recognize that kind of grace and wonder. What does that mean? Well, grace refers to humility, to the sense that we're not here by our self-activity, but that we are bound in the Lord's creation. And wonder referring to a sense of awe with all of the creation already around us, and all the possibilities ahead of us. That current is felt by many people, it is a reality, it is a reality of being alive. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to share these thoughts and currents with you this morning.
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