The Unknown vs the Unknowable

Is there any material difference between the terms ‘unknown’ and ‘unknowable’? Absolutely!  The relationship between the two terms has metaphysical significance.  It involves, as well, the relationship between science and spirituality.  As science has proven its enormous value to uncover the secrets of the physical universe, there has developed almost a ‘religious’ belief that it provides ‘all the answers’ to the mystery of existence.  Many have proclaimed, ‘if it can’t be proven scientifically, it does not exist!’

There are many problems with that metaphysical [and it is] belief.  Do you love your child? your parent? your friend?  Prove it!  Of course this is impossible in the scientific sense.  Yet would anyone deny the reality of feelings and emotions? It is the platform in which we live our lives.  There are neuroscientists who believe that all thought and emotion are illusions, the product of neuronal electrochemical reactions.  Perhaps so–but it IS reality to the rest of us and science cannot adequately explain it.

Science may presently describe the creation of the universe as the Big Bang.  But what came before it? Did time exist prior? And if it originated with a ‘quantum fluctuation’, how did this occur before the laws of physics existed? 

When the universe was a ‘machine’, it was easy to believe that the unknown would ultimately become the known.  It was simply a matter of time before all would be laid before the mind of man.  The 20th and 21st century science, however, has laid waste to that fantasy.  Cosmologists, astrophysicists, theoretical physicsts have no idea what over 95% of the universe actually IS!  The entire field of dark matter, dark energy has left them IN THE DARK.

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Concepts of darkness and light have always had profound metaphysical implications. Light implies a beneficent divine presence, or wisdom, or holiness while dark implies just the opposite.

By our physical natures, as well, we are drawn to light. all life is derived from the electromagnetic energy of the Sun through the miraculous process of photosynthesis. Just ponder this truth. Energy is extracted by living cells, through the green pigment chlorophyll in a chemical reaction which also extracts carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere.  Energy is stored in chemical bonds which are then incorporated into the carbon based sugars that all life, animal life in particular is totally dependent upon. 

To make matters more fascinating, these carbon condensations are also used as the building blocks of plants. We eat plants that have done the hard work for us. We obtain the carbon that forms our bodies indirectly from carbon that is in the form of invisible gas.  That seems astounding to me.  True alchemy.

Equally puzzling is the discovery that everything we see as well as every demonstrable piece of matter in the universe  [as well as the energy it emits] represents only 4% of reality.  And God said, ‘Let there be light" . So who created the rest?

There is the present scientific proposal that dark matter [called dark because it emits no energy at all as we know it]  represent 22% of the universe and dark energy represents a whopping 74% of the rest.

The metaphysical implications of these findings are yet to be even discussed. Here in the early years of the 21st century, science is uncovering a level of reality which they cannot explain.  We thought that relativity and quantum theory were perplexing [and they are!].  This adds insult to injury. 

Yet the mystery is appealing as well.

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Kavanah–The Intention to Do Good

The Kabbalistic notion of kavanah means intention or desire. It is associated with the inner feeling or motivation to do something. It is rather mysterious, difficult to grasp completely, because it is totally subjective.  Rarely is it possible to intuit what another person is truly feeling when they perform any activity. True, sometimes it is reflected in an obvious facial gesture or visible reluctance to do the activity.  But more often, it is hidden, internal.

The activity is most associated with prayer.  Anyone can read the words, go through the motions, while actually thinking about where they are going for dinner, the football game they are planning to watch, or the attractive woman in the next aisle.  We often forget this, concentrating on the precise performance of ritual or prayer itself.

There is a fascinating Kabbalistic story about a small synagogue in Eastern Europe in the days before Hitler on one of the High Holidays, Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the year for observant Jews.  All the men were praying in their usual fashion, saying the words, speaking to each others, looking around.  A young boy who had just begun to study the Hebrew alphabet began to shout out the letters, one after the other.  It was obvious to all that he did had not yet learned the prayers.

The boy’s father tried to keep him quiet, ‘shushhing’ him as he continued to yell the alphabet as loudly as he could.

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Managing Imperfection

There is a famous story from Buddhist legend about the young mother who was beyond consolation at the death of her young child.  She ran around begging someone to help bring him back to life.  An old wise woman suggested that she bring him to the Buddha.  The Buddha saw the woman and child and said that he could bring the child back to life under one condition.  That the woman collected a tamarind seed from every household who had not suffered a death in the family.  The woman proceeded to run from house to house begging for information about their lives.  The truth was saddly apparent.  No household had been spared the pain of death.  She returned with her dead child to the Buddha without any seeds.  He offered her his compassionate wisdom–life is impermanent and death must be recognized and accepted as a part of existence in this or any incarnation.  According to legend, the woman was able to bury her son and went on to be a great Buddhist teacher.

There are no perfect lives ‘out there’.  It seems to be our human nature to dwell upon our individual suffering and to see others as having an easier time of it. Why do they have more, live in a bigger house, travel more, seem happier than I do? The truth is that nobody escapes the inevitable  pain and suffering of existence.  No one is free from physical, emotional or mental stresses and strains.  No one is completely happy, or completely sad.

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True Vision

A patient of mine who had not been to see me for quite a while returned for a visit.  Upon questioning him about his medical history he revealed that he had been having eye problems. He explained that he had problems with the macula area of both eyes.  It was rather annoying because it distorted much of his vision, especially at a distance.

So,your vision is greatly disturbed, I’m sorry to hear it’. I responded.

Well, Doc. I refer to it as a problem with my ‘eyesight’ not my ‘vision’.

Perplexed by that statement, I asked him what the difference was.

He smiled and said, ‘It’s like this….I used to be able to look at people from a great distance.  I could see their faces, their shapes, the way they walked.  I was particularly fond of the ladies and would sometimes fantasize about the really pretty ones.  Now I can’t do that. Everyone I see at a distance appears distorted.  Their is a wavy, sometimes blurry quality  to their outline.  But you know something.  That’s OK.  It means I can’ make those easy judgments that I used to do.  So that’s what I mean about having a problem with my eyesight but not my vision.

I apologized but told him that I still wasn’t sure what he meant.

laughing a bit he said.  Doc, I thought you were a pretty bright guy, into philosophy and the like, but I guess I have to spell it out for you.  My eyesight is distored.  But I now hold my judgment about people until I get real close to them.  I have to do more than look at them now.  I have to actually be with them.  Then I can see them for who they truly are!  So you get it now, I hope.  I actually think my vision is better than ever.

New Beginnings–

A joyous and peaceful new year to all–. To my loyal reader [s]:  My lack of posting was not due to a sudden metaphysical implosion or abandonment by my muses.  It was a strictly technical glitch associated with a computer meltdown and arbitrary unilateral change in my password by the people.

It is all part of the process. No one I know believes that life is supposed to be easy.  In fact, I submit, those who expect the unexpected are less overwhelmed when it inevitably occurs.  It is all about the nature of existence, metaphysics once again. The path is littered with debris, wrong turns, blind alleys–or is it?

My wife and I recently saw Pan’s Labyrinth by Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro.  Fascinating and intriguing, Del Toro, in an interview, differentiated between a labyrinth and a maze.  A maze, he pointed out, leads one in circles or into cul-de-sacs, blind alleys, dead-ends. A labyrinth, although confusing and convoluted, seemingly chaotic and mistaken, lead us to the place we were meant to go.

The difficulty is this–when one is on this path, it will often appear to be a maze. It is difficult to trust that there is a purpose to each detour, each road block, each road-under-repair sign.  In hindsight, it is much clearer–one can then understand how delays and diversions were a necessary part of the ultimate journey.

What inevitably happens when we find ourselves lost and confused? Fear materializes from the abyss.  Del Toro writes about his obsession with fairy tales, archetypal frightening images, mythologic creatures.  The character of Pan, the gigantic faun, plays a prominent role in this film.  It is at first tremendously frightening.  The viewer is uncertain whether it can be trusted. Eventually it proves itself to be a benevolent entity but we are left questioning its intention, its ultimate source and motivation, throughout much of the film

Fear is the most powerful human emotion and when it is unleashed, it can raise itself before us with all the fury of a mythologic monster. Fear itself then becomes the beast to be tamed, before we can continue our along our path.  The young girl in the film had to ultimately choose to trust Pan in order to complete her journey.

Perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is to accept the proposition that one’s life is a labyrinth, not a maze.  It will empower us to continue down our path with courage and  conviction that we will transcend the obstacles and confusion that will present themselves to us. It will offer us a modest antidote to the inevitable fear  that lies ahead.

Whom do we trust? And when? —-No one said it would be easy.  But unless we are willing to trust someone, something, we will be unable to take one more step. Perhaps we need only trust one thing–that our journey is a labyrinth, not a maze.  It will liberate us from paralyzing fear, it will enable us to live ours lives to the fullest, no matter what happnes,  and even enjoy the journey.