By Liza Braude-Glidden
An Opportunity and Crisis Truth Test
When uncertainty engulfs the present, how do you respond?
Hot winds off the Mojave Desert engulfed our neighborhood in towers of fire when I was seven. Dive-bombers careened overhead as if we were at war. Our teacher rushed us out of our second grade class crying, “ we must evacuate,” words instilling more fear than understanding in our seven-year-old hearts. Soon our bus rumbled though familiar streets made hellish by black smoke. We huddled together, wondering if our parents had saved our pets. When would we see our families again? Some of us wondered if our parents were alive.
We were right to wonder. My father, for example, stood on the roof of our home with a hose until the water ran out. One third of my friends lost their homes and possessions. Whirlwinds of fire charred the tops of our trees. The Fire spared my father and our home, but it could have gone another way. Miraculously, no one died. Yet in those moments we shared as children it was as if God had suddenly thrown all the balls of our young lives up into the air. No one knew how they would come down, MAYBE not even God.
We call our historical moment “the age of information.” We seem to know whatever we care to know on almost any subject including the chaos and suffering that seem ready to overwhelm our humanity daily. We know enough to be awestruck by the forces in play. Do we know enough to be willing to dance with all the balls God has tossed up in the air?
A Solitude/Isolation Truth Test
Am I allowing this truth to isolate me or using it to connect to a larger whole?
Most expansions of consciousness wrestle with shadows of isolation. I am connected with the universe in a new way and suddenly bereft of anyone with whom to share my new world space! William Blake is an example of a visionary who complained bitterly that the gutless cartoonists of his time received glory he deserved. Eastern influenced Westerners may see his rage as a lack of equanimity, yet wrestling with this shadow may have given Blake’s vision greater strength and integrity. One can imagine Blake alone in his workshop by the light of a single oil lamp, working furiously through the night on his engravings of the story of Job.
The shadow, the truth that I am alone in my revelation, is true enough, but not as true as the sense of belonging that knows that every opening to a wider embrace weaves me deeper into the fabric of life and being.
Expansion of consciousness connects. Its shadow dissociates and alienates. This dissociation and alienation is an important shadow truth. In it’s best expression, it aids in the evolutionary process of differentiation. At the same time, truths that connect me, that bring me into engagement with the whole and its parts are truer than those that isolate me from my fellow humans and the universe we share.
Expanded consciousness is sometimes described in terms of increasing self-reference and individuation and this is of course, true. Such beings are recognized by equanimity and lack of fear. And in the truth test I call Solitude/Isolation, an expanding consciousness is described as an increasingly vulnerable, engaged connectedness, thus the apt term, embrace. Such beings are recognized by monumental acts of love.
A Mud Hole Truth Test
How much humiliation does it take to humble me where intuition is concerned?
Glastonbury, England, home, some say, to the Holy Grail, has more than it’s share of mud holes. On You Tube, you can see a couple on their way to an outdoor concert disappear when what is beneath the wet, reflective surface of their path is much deeper than it appeared! Soon two thickly coated brown, demoralized beings are shown, struggling out of the depths.
Have you followed intuitions’ path only to land in a messy, inconvenient and perhaps wounding mud hole? Were reflections sometimes misleading? What was revealed in that messy instant that was invisible a few moments earlier? Did you hear, at loud volume, voices that ordinarily mutter in the background? Does the drenching shock of the mud hole discredit the original intuition? How does the baptism of the mud hole inspire your courage and resolve?
Like old-fashioned cartoon characters, we may walk a long way with only intuition supporting us and only notice we have done so when we fall painfully to earth. Does that mean that the steps we take on solid ground are more real than those we take in flights of intuition?
Maybe there is strength and integrity in both. Maybe each informs the other. Mud holes are crucibles of evolution and you never know whom you’re going to meet there. While the baptism of certainty may be water, perhaps the baptism of uncertainty is mud
An Authenticity/Complexity Truth Test
How can authenticity emerge from complexity in our historical moment?
Recently an iconic photo circulated on the web of an indigenous man in traditional dress weeping with his face in his hands as he received the news that his tribe had lost the battle to save their entire cultural homeland from destruction by a hydroelectric project. Have you faced an uncertainty that wiped out all knowledge and meaning?
Many of us have experienced a dark night of the soul or considered that God might be dead. It’s still more painful to consider how many of us have come to a moment when it seemed our fellow humans had just executed God. How do we move forward from such a moment? This is one of the deep uncertainties shaking the foundation of our world.
A central task of World Spirituality is to help us respond to such moments in a state of engagement with one another and with All that is Holy, rather than in a state of alienation from one another and flight from the Divine.
How can our personal encounters with truth become a part of this Holy engagement in the face of convulsive forces? How can these encounters become a gift to the Pool of Knowing that connects us with one another and with the Whole? Our power as individuals and as groups comes in our ability to respond.
Certainty and Uncertainty emerge in the most intimate places. What we long for in our romantic partnerships is often certainty in the face of our almost infinite vulnerability, yet what we discover, both in our own hearts and in our encounters is often uncertainty. Every therapist and pastoral counselor faces endless variations on this dilemma.
In the hearts and minds of seekers of truth resonant questions on certainty and uncertainty continue to surface. Theorists in many fields speak of the importance of novelty, a scientific term for the emergence of stuff scientists can’t predict. Psychologist and Complexity theorist Terry Marks-Tarlow in her new book on clinical intuition in psychotherapy writes:
…clinical intuition is an inner faculty necessary for therapeutic change both in therapists and patients alike. True change requires openness to novelty. This is the bailiwick of the right (and not the left) hemisphere. Transformation during psychotherapy harnesses imagination and creativity. Unless we can conceive of a future that differs from the past, we cannot live one out. (emphasis mine LBG)
What does it mean to us as an emerging global community to conceive of a future that is different from the past? How do we, as a global community address what every psychotherapy patient addresses: Stuff has become unworkable. We need new stuff. Yet self-replicating bots are hard at work in our global consciousness. We need new intuitions (on a personal scale) and new revelations (on a global scale.)
The Traditional Christian Author, Lael Arrington, blogging in the women’s Christian collective, Tapestry, laments that faith in a post-modern era has become a process of sitting with unanswered questions. These questions sit in the post-modern heart where conviction once was. Yet she knows we cannot go back to our old certainties. She quotes Jesus in the Book of John: “• Jn 18:37-38 “…for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
What could it mean, in a post post-modern world to be “on the side of truth”? Arrington reflects: “But how do we do this (testify to the truth LBG) with cognitive humility? Authenticity is the key.” These terms authenticity and cognitive humility lead into a rhythmic engagement with certainty and uncertainty that gives access to both.
Personal truth tests, such as the ones I recounted here, are a source of knowledge of my unique authenticity. Through sharing them and relating them to liberating structures, I am able to know and test both my authenticity and cognitive humility, even in those intuitions where I am currently alone, or in a small cohort of understanding.
Testing personal truth, inquiring into authenticity and cognitive humility invokes the liberating structure of Marc Gafni’s teachings on Unique Self. The emergence of Unique Self in the face of certainty and uncertainty, is, Marc says, a transition from the statement “It is true.” to the statement “I am true.” Through my eyes, God reveals unique and essential features of truth that sheds light on my inner life, my human family, and on the physical and practical world. I reveal myself as a Unique and necessary source of revelation. When I am true, I am making my truest contribution to the Whole. I am offering my unique piece to the puzzle of an emerging World Revelation.
Up until now, revelations of our collective spirit required compromises of each individual spirit, placing every human in an unacceptable dilemma: either narcissism or cream of wheat. Neither makes much of a party.
Can we tune our antennae to the signs of a revelation of the Whole that not only permits but in some sense requires the full expression of each unique human perspective?
Care to Dance?
Inviting an important person to dance creates a bit of trembling- will you? Won’t you? Dear Reader, have you found one exquisite detail here that got your feet moving to a rhythm?
We dance best in festive rooms full of dancers. There is music, maybe a live band. Perhaps interesting lighting, firelight, or maybe it’s warm and we’re dancing outdoors. World Spirituality’s invitation to the Dance of Certainty and Uncertainty is an invitation to gather enough inspired certainty and cognitive humility to engage such macro complexities as population growth, climate change, diseases of starvation and overindulgence, the extinction of species and cultures; and to engage intimate complexities such as how to be human and humane in a world of accelerating novelty and complexity.
To dance in affirmative engagement in such a world, each of us must do our best to embody an inner spiritual authority that provides alternatives to literal readings of scripture and fundamentalist ways of knowing. In these ten reflections, we have explored seductive glimmerings of alternatives. We have glimpsed World Spirituality’s challenge to apply liberating structures to our unique encounters with truth. MAYBE, dear reader, you have found renewed enthusiasm for offering your tests of truth as gifts to a matrix of collective wisdom without diluting their unique authenticity.
Some truth tests didn’t make the cut, so I’ll mention two: The truth test of the market place in which my daily life is engaged deserves an essay of its own. Another, as important as any I’ve mentioned is gratitude: How grateful am I for the opportunity of this moment and the consciousness I am able to bring to it? How grateful am I for you dear reader, for your response, whatever it may be, and for the teachings of World Spirituality that brings us together?
As consciousness evolves, we evolve new ways to recognize revelation in ourselves and others. I’m hoping for a good party with lots of dancing. I am grateful to be invited, grateful to remain curious about the unique gifts arising in each moment in you, me and we.
I hope for both Divine and human help in finding the courage to act in the face of uncertainty. For without such action I may not find enough knowledge and energy to contribute to the evolutionary momentum of the Whole. This means being willing to act with the certain knowledge that infinite numbers of God’s balls are currently up in the air. Which will come to earth? Which will hit me on the head? No amount of mapping will provide an answer, yet maps are glorious and needed.
The Integral map is like a pattern of landing lights on a runway. When God throws me up in the air, I use the map to return to Earth safely. I land where important others live, people with whom I can talk, people with whom I can build. Together we find the power to resist easy certainty and MAYBE in that resistance, a revelation of WE is being born.
“Physics Jokes, Number Three”, From Jupiterscientific.com, 2012
Life on Mars, BBC Wales, 2009
* It turns out this Einstein quote is a persistent urban myth. It’s likely Einstein never said it. The quote simplifies an insight that Einstein did exemplify. Intuition was central to his process and values. The quote was likely born out of a need to have one simple phrase to express that fact.
Lao Tsu, trans. Mitchel, Stephen. The Tao Te Ching, Harper and Row, 1988, 1
John 1.1, King James Version, 1769
Gafni, Marc, “The Path of Wrestling,” in The Marc Gafni Blog, 2011.
Mark-Tarlow, Terry. Clinical Intuition in Psychotherapy, W.W. Norton and Company, 2012, P.29
New Testament, New International Version, John, 18:37: ”You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Arrington, Lael, “Certainty Versus Cognitive Humility, Why Does it Always Have to be Either/Or?”, Tapestry, 2010.
Photo Credit: Liza Braude-Glidden