By Liza Braude-Glidden
Physics Joke 3:
Q: Why are quantum physicists so poor at sex?
A: Because when they find the position, they can’t find the momentum, and when they have the momentum, they can’t find the position.
To engage with the growing community of the Center for World Spirituality is to accept an invitation to the dance of certainty and uncertainty. The relationship between certainty and uncertainty is one of the key teachings of World Spirituality in the writings of Dr. Marc Gafni, The Center’s teacher in residence. These recent teachings emerge from Marc’s book The Uncertain Spirit published in Hebrew in the mid-eighties. An updated, expanded version of Marc’s teachings on certainty and uncertainty will soon be released in English. This essay is a series of ten short reflections on Marc’s teachings on the dance of certainty and uncertainty from a feminine and inter-subjective lens.
A Granular Truth Test
How detailed is this truth?
Breeze wafts through my open window. Outside, flower vines bob in a slow rhythm. I feel your eyes looking out on whatever scene is yours to see at present, feeling honored by your presence here, wondering how you will come to know what you know in your moment about what I am writing here in mine. In this moment, dear reader, how are you knowing what you know?
Consider this scene from Science fiction: a man stands joyously on a twenty-story rooftop edge about to leap. He’s certain he’s found a way to prove that the reality around him that seems real, isn’t. He’s confident jumping will show him what’s real. A female character calls him to step away from the edge. Her voice is too inviting. He grasps her hand. “Grit” he says, “I feel gritty sand on your fingers.”
“Yes,” she says, “I touched a broken plaster wall on my way up to the rooftop.”
“How could my mind fabricate that level of detail?” The main character questions, “Perhaps you are real.” Her feminine presence plus the sandy grit on her fingers gave birth to enough uncertainty that he stepped away, at least long enough for the story to continue.
Traditionally, “certainty” and “reality” and “truth” are used in close connection. In Marc’s writings reveal truths of both certainty and uncertainty.
Some of us love to jump; others habitually hang back. Is either choice inherently wise? What kinds of details make a moment more certain than your interior can fabricate? What details in your life might give you what Marc calls” the core certainty of your existence?”
Of what, dear reader, are you absolutely certain?
Is there a place in you that rests gently in the natural uncertainty of each arising instance? Is there some uncertain country inside your heart that longs for inspired action? Is there a nostalgic wish for the certain unity of the One True Right and Only Way? Or do you cling ironically to uncertainty, like a post-modern security blanket?
As globally connected spiritual practitioners, compelling and seemingly contradictory texts on certainty and uncertainty call to us from religious scriptures of many eras and cultures. “The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao” is a common invocation of uncertainty stated in the first line of the Tao Te Ching, primary text of the Taoist tradition (Forth Century BCE.) In contrast, in the New Testament, John echos Genesis: “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. “
Is it possible that two great traditions could differ so completely? Can we see these two perspectives as part of a larger whole? World Spirituality lives into the question:
If consciousness is indeed evolving, our recognition of revelation must also evolve. In a post post-modern world, how can we recognize authentic revelation?
In the quote below, Marc recounts a revelatory process of discovering Maybe Stories, tales of inspired certainty about the central importance of uncertainty:
It occurred to me in a moment of graced intuition that although the word Safek (Doubt LBG) does not occur in biblical text, the word Ullai, meaning, Maybe, does appear. Not once but in seven major pivoting points in the book of Genesis.
It also became clear to me in that moment of grace, that there is a distinct and intentional biblical genre of Ullai- Maybe stories which form the basis of the biblical theology of Uncertainty.
In each of these stories the ability to hold uncertainty and not be seduced by easy certainties is the key to the triumph of the Biblical Hero. (2011)
God, who could be called a biblical hero, died. We attended His funeral throughout the twentieth century, yet for the vast majority of people the thirst for the Divine refused to be quenched. Something in us refused to be seduced by the easy certainty of His demise. MAYBE, our hearts said, the Beloved is becoming more present through the act of dying. MAYBE a death of God in each unique heart sweeps the slate for a flood of Eros, a unified yet multiple revelation of the Beloved. MAYBE God’s heroism is revealed uniquely through the heroism of each and all of us.
MAYBE I will get the job. MAYBE she will say yes. MAYBE I will conceive a child. MAYBE the Arab Spring will bring enduring change to the Middle East. What are the MAYBE moments in your world, dear reader? What is the worthy fulcrum on which your life is leveraged at this moment? What is the heroic challenge? Is there a temptation to be seduced by easy certainties?
A Bouquet of Truth Tests
How can I offer my personal truth tests as a gift?
On one hand, a field of study with centuries of tradition and scholarship, sourced mostly by male sensibilities, inquires into how human beings know what they know. On the other hand each of us, in an intuitive space and in each fresh moment must make judgments about what is certain using whatever skills and resources we have. In that spirit, beloved reader, I offer this bouquet of truth tests, as an empowerment and blessing for the intuitive leaps your life inevitably asks of you. For, as the title implies, truth is a gift, one that emerges uniquely in each instance of expanding human consciousness.
No one test makes something true or insures that I am able to share my truth with you. Yet a well-arranged bouquet of truth tests helps. The purpose is not to assure ourselves that things are real and solid. They both are and aren’t. Rather, the purpose is to inquire into what inspires us to believe that they are and aren’t. What truths move us forward? How do we come to understand the authenticity of such truths?
Sometimes your truth tests may be the same ones I use, sometimes they may be remarkably different. Do your truth tests tend to be linear or rational? Or do you find yourself relying more on whole pictures, leaps of intuition, and nonlinear juxtapositions? We all need and rely upon both of these styles yet in everyone, one or the other is dominant
Some people assume that linear processes have truth tests while holistic, intuitive processes do not. Some assume that only the truths we share with others can be tested. These assumptions have at least two downsides: first we do not give intuition credibility, and second we do not hold intuitive individuals to the level of integrity necessary to fully integrate them into our most vital conversations.
As our world becomes more complex, we are asked to make more and more leaps of creativity and intuition. As the technology we have collectively sourced demonstrates it’s linear superiority over us as individuals, intuition and the synchronicities it stimulates become our assignment as warm-blooded, wet people. Since the latest research in neuroscience affirms the centrality of intuitive and right brain functioning in all human decision-making, we may as well enjoy it and explore it.
There are few things more interior and personal than how you or I know what we know; yet these inner intuitive tests of truth become truer when we share them. Gathered from wild fields and carefully cultivated gardens within, I offer this bouquet of truth tests, and though I cannot, through the medium of writing, receive your bouquet in return, I hope that in every passage of this writing you will feel my curiosity about what is in your bouquet. How are you engaging your essence by testing your personal truths?
An Inquiry Truth Test
How can I rest in my questions in a way that evokes ever more beautiful and functional questions?
At one point in the dance of certainty and uncertainty, we may have assumed that the purpose of testing the truth is to find a clear answer. Another way of testing truth is to assess the depth, beauty and power of the questions that emerge from it.
Each section of this essay poses contemplative questions. One way to use them is as starting points for journaling or dialogue. Questions are italicized so you can find them easily. Another way to use the questions is as contemplative tools. Here are some steps:
- Read the piece through once with open eyes and heart.
- Scan through again, this time underlining the questions that have the most resonance.
- Choose three questions and write them, perhaps long hand, on a paper you can place near your bed.
- Instead of writing responses, simply read the questions in a quiet, relaxed moment, ideally before sleep. When answers come, bow to them gently, jot a reminder, and keep asking. Sit with the questions.
- Out of step four, new questions are born. They will lead your curiosity in important directions. MAYBE to an ever-expanding sense of wonder at the particular flavor of mystery to which your being is most alive.
- If you find yourself stuck in inaction, uncertainty may be dominant. If you find yourself exhausted by relentless activity, certainty may be at an extreme. What questions emerge from inaction? What questions emerge from relentless activity? When new questions become rich and resonant, (or threatening and charged) repeat the process with the new questions.
Most stuff is stuff we don’t know. And while it’s vital to be certain and to act, my hope is to do so with humility born of contemplation of how inevitably mysterious and complex any human life is. Each human life unfolds in a Singing Kosmos that makes the greatest human music seem like a nursery rhyme. In each intimate and expansive moment, how can we best listen to its song?
An Exemplar Truth Test
What do you learn about your own intuitions through exploring those of your exemplar?
Many of my personal truth tests arose as I sang in and studied the choral works of J.S. Bach as a young person. In Bach, complex, mathematically perfect structures refine and amplify personal and religious feeling. As a choir singer I entered the maelstrom of that perfection. Do you remember a watershed series of experiences that occurred perhaps in your teens or twenties that helped you form what later became vital ways of recognizing truth?
In high school and college, my wise, feminine, unstructured presence produced countless songs, poems, paintings and deep conversations under the influence of a marvelous variety of creative women who still influence me including my college mentor, Deena Metzger, Cal Arts Faculty member Judy Chicago, and my grandmother, the abstract expressionist painter and Christian Science mystic, Vicci Sperry.
In the process of obediently following intuition I stumbled into plenty of blind alleys. While nursing bumps and bruises, I had many golden opportunities to become curious about masculine role models of structure and vision that could lend strength, integrity, and direction to my intuitive and empathic gifts. Yet most of the possibilities that presented themselves seemed to want to decimate the pleasure, beauty and energy I recognized as intuition’s life-blood. So, the search continued, who could be my exemplar?
Albert Einstein was a candidate. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.” He wrote, “We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” * True enough, yet as Einstein knew, intuition also has a Master, a divine one. Einstein was not always happy with the warlike masters his intuitions served, and as I mentioned above, J. S. Bach’s comprehensive expression revealed the beauty and identity of intuition’s Master.
Have you searched for an exemplar of intuition? Perhaps if you are quite masculine and/or rational your exemplar has contrasting qualities. Is there a passage of writing or an interview that describes her intuitive process? What moves you the most about her expression? What grounds you the most? What do you most seek to emulate?
At age eighteen at California Institute of the Arts, singing in a choir devoted to Bach, the meaning, theory, and history behind his choral works became an early touchstone that mirrored important intuitions of the Kosmos and humanity’s place in it. At the same time, I began practices from Eastern wisdom traditions. The choral works of Bach stood out as the most unimpeachable esthetic, spiritual, conceptual and structural authority. Studying and performing Bach gave state experiences of early spiritual practice meaning they could not have had otherwise. For a sizable minority of students and faculty at Cal Arts in the seventies, spiritual practice and musical expression were one fabric. We held both Eastern and Western enlightenment in our intuitive musical rapport.
A seed was germinating: Structures such as those I found in Bach make it possible to exchange and cultivate our knowledge of the filigree of manifest love we call our world. These structures have the potential to give us more freedom and beauty than they require from us, and to serve as evolutionary ladders, not only for those coming up behind us but even for those ahead of us, who teeter on the shaky edge of human possibilities.
Much later as the seed that was my knowledge of liberating structures began to grow, Ken Wilber sat down beside Bach as a living treasure whose integral map helps give intuition an honorable and expanding home.
Now, as my emphasis on individual expression intimates, I’ve become a student of Unique Self, World Spirituality and Marc Gafni, who has given inspired context to these truth tests. “Questioning,” Marc says, “is a right which emerges from intimacy.” In intimacy with myself, I gain the right to question myself, in intimacy with you; I gain the right to question you. In intimacy with truth I gain the right to test it. In Intimacy with God, I gain the right to question God.
What questions have you earned the right to pose, dear reader? How does your curiosity inspire intimacy? How does your intimacy inspire curiosity?
(for end notes, see the end of part two)
Photo Credit: Liza Braude-Glidden