Niels Bohr, one of many leading-edge quantum physicists who also speak metaphysically, has concluded that there are two kinds of truth – small truth and great truth. He said, “You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth.” I’ve come to agree that great truth is paradoxical in nature. It exists in the realm of mystery and is so big that, while it may be apprehended in the heart, it cannot be captured conceptually. Words fail us here. At best, they convey only part of the story.
As someone who writes in areas spiritual, I roam not so much in the realm of facts, where truth can be separated from falsehood, but more often in the murky waters of mystery, where truths intertwine. Awhile back, I shared a story I'd written ten years ago about the cosmos. Here’s another cosmological tale, written around that same time and tweaked for this posting – a partial truth perhaps – addressing that perennial big question: Who are we?
Softening to Mystery:
A Story of Us
Softening to mystery means saying “yes” to apparently contradictory things, accepting paradox, living with ambiguity. Softening to mystery means opening to darkness and light, the infinite and the infinitesimal. We humans are part of the mystery. We cannot be easily sized or sized up.
In this story, we exist in three levels: Personality, Individual Soul and God Soul.
The level of personality includes the material body with all its physical attributes and bio-chemical quirks, the mind with its habits and patterns, and the ego identity with all its stories and attachments. Even at the level of personality, where we are the most obvious and observable, we are quite the mystery. Biological and social scientists spend their lives trying to make sense of us at this all-too-human level, where we are a mass of contradictions. With all our weirdness and goofiness here, our capacity for the heroic and horrific, there is one constant: we are finite beings. Ego is going to die with the body – and it knows it.
While the personality is unique and temporary, the individual soul is timeless. It's the unique consciousness in us that transcends time. For those who believe in reincarnation, this is the part of us that survives, evolving and deepening over lifetimes. God speaks creation in the eternal now. Each of us can be viewed as a word in God’s vocabulary – all interconnected, part of one lexicon, each distinct. At the level of individual soul, we are unique, eternal, and many.
There is only one God Soul, and we all share it. At this core level of being, we are one with God. Mystics in every spiritual tradition speak of this oneness – the mystery of all mysteries. Here, we are infinite, divine, and one.
In this story, each level of being is true of us. Each has its unique reality. And all three are woven together in seamless wholeness. There is oneness in this three-ness.
While we have some choice about what parts of ourselves we notice and nurture, we don’t have choice about what parts of us exist. For example, at the level of personality, we are wired to react quickly to fight and flee. That reactivity is built into our nervous systems. Likely, long ago, it had survival value. Nowadays, our fearful and cantankerous tendencies usually do more harm than good. We can work constructively and respectfully with this wiring, but we can't force it to be different, pretend it's not there or wish it away.
We can’t eliminate the divine part of us either. We can forget about it or choose not to see it in ourselves and others, but we can’t make it disappear. In this story, God is unavoidable – eternally and inextricably woven into the fabric of who we are.
There’s an often-told Zen story about a monastery that was floundering. Membership was dwindling in a climate of bitterness and back-biting. Somehow, a rumor began spreading that one of the monks was Buddha reincarnated. There was much speculation about who that person might be. Soon, the monks started treating each other with new gentleness and care. After all, no one wanted mistreat the Buddha. The monastery grew to be a center of joy. It flourished, attracting new members from miles away.
I remember being taught in grammar school that we are children of God. Many religious traditions and spiritual practices invite us to cultivate an awareness of our divine origin and connection. As we open to this aspect of the mystery, a reverence for ourselves and others grows quite naturally. We may even remember that, at the level of soul, we are deeply in love with each other – always have been and always will be.
In this story, no matter how hatefully we behave, we still have a divine spark. No matter how holy and evolved we become, we’re still goofy. In us, both the sublime and the ridiculous find a home. Softening to the mystery of the human condition invites inner spaciousness – compassion and appreciation, humility, humor and awe.
As I soften to mystery, I savor this story – along with many others – even though I don't know for sure how true it is or how it ends.
I'm leaving soon for an extended vacation, mostly in wilderness. It's likely a few weeks will pass before I post again. Till then, may summer sunshine warm you inside and out.