Friday, July 27, 2018

What Do I Really Know?

“I want to know all God’s thoughts; all the rest are just details.” Albert Einstein

People have been telling me what to think all my life. Starting from the moment of my birth, and continuing throughout my long life, voices of “instruction” have been aimed my way. Much of it has been well-intended: to keep me safe; to inform and strengthen my decision-making; to open me to new experiences; to inform me of what has been and what now is; to give me the skills to provide for my own existence. Yet some of it was not so well-intended: to keep me within societal norms; to keep any of my differing thoughts safely at bay; to fulfill others’ needs of me for their own benefit. Yet all was given “for my own good.”

My teachers came in varying forms. Parents explaining the world; older siblings passing on their learnings; school teachers offering static facts across a variety of subject areas; employers dictating what will be produced, and when and how; religious figures defining a specific moral code, reinforced by an unseeable – and therefore unquestionable –greater authority. And so on.

It is a structure well-honed over millennia. The process starts at birth, delivered by authoritative figures. The instruction, and our passive acceptance of it, is ingrained in us before skeptical resistance in this education has a chance to develop. We go along with it because it is the accepted process for living, the way to get along with an often seemingly hostile environment. Besides, there are times when we need information, and proactively seek it out.

The problem is that, while we are continually taught what to think, we are rarely taught HOW to think – i.e. “critical thinking” that challenges accepted beliefs. Complex issues are thereby reduced to incomplete simplifications. Our teachers rarely confess that what they are teaching us is predominately limited to what they had been previously taught – information passed down generationally over time. Even as broader information has continually been made more accessible over the centuries, we remain far too unaware of divergent opinions and experiences that offer alternative ideas to our set learnings. It is too often easier to settle into any available handy truth rather than making the effort to know many expanded Truths and their nuances.

Over time, the lessons embed themselves deeply within us, familiar friends to console our minds as we encounter a bewildering array of questions and challenges every day. We hang on to the lessons tightly, while the source of them fades from memory. The teacher’s lesson morphs into OUR lesson, rather than beliefs reflecting our own discovery of them. Until one day we open our internal ear to hear that quiet voice inside that asks us, “Really? Is that what YOU truly believe? How do you know it to be true, rather than assuming it to be so? Whose thought are you really thinking here?”

The world has much to teach us. Indeed, learning is the principal reason we are here as human beings in the first place. It is easy and comforting to hang our truth on a readily accessible hook. But real Truth is revealed against a backdrop of genuine personal thought. Thought that starts with no preconceptions, and proves itself in the outcomes we see in our own personal experience. Whether or not we may have been encouraged to “think for our Self,” we will find very little Truth without deep introspection. How many once rock-solid scientific, societal, and religious Truths have ultimately fallen by the wayside over time?

We strive to live an ethical life guided by deeply seeded principles, while also pursuing a continual quest to refine and expand those principles. Ultimately, we come to realize that what we know, we know only in this moment. We come to know that our knowing is only temporary; there is always more to learn about all things. We come to know that much of what we know we have borrowed from others – memorized, not discovered. We come to know that what we truly know for our Self is dependent upon how much time we spend in the pursuit and endeavor of discovering our true ideas. What do we truly know – and believe – for ourselves? We know we do not yet know. We pursue answers continually fueled by our curiosity. In that pursuit, we find joy in our unknowing.

“Let your … beliefs come from your traditions, family, ancestors, opinions, writings, reasoning, or a captivating spiritual teacher. All of these can help inform you. But when you see all of these things in action, and you see good results flowing from them, such that in your own heart you know directly that these things are good – only then should you adopt such teachings as your own.”
“Lesson from the Teacher Buddha,” #35, by Randy Bell

©   2018   Randy Bell