Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Organizing Water

You can’t organize truth. That’s like trying to shape a pound of water in wrapping paper. ~Bruce Lee

I was having a discussion with a friend about a particular theological concept, one that has defied any sort of sensible explanation for centuries. We had read various scholars’ analyses; we had listened to podcasts interviewing well respected teachers and experts. I listened as my friend tried various approaches to understanding, until she finally threw up her hands in unhappy defeat.

Then she asked what I thought. Hmm….

I think that what I think doesn’t really matter. As Adyashanti says, we cannot think our way to truth. We are so wired to analyze, to categorize, to explain, and by so doing, to understand. Our sweet little brains just cannot stand to not know. It’s like a toothache that we keep probing with our tongue. Relief comes only when we have an answer, and we are so relieved to have one that we are loath to question it in case we find it lacking and have to start again.

But our answer is not truth. I can put water in a cup, but the water is not the cup. I can put truth into a belief or a concept or some sort of thinking structure, but truth is not that structure.

So is there a test for truth? Maybe…

Can you explain it? It’s not truth.

Can you describe it? It’s not truth.

Can you disagree with someone about it? It’s not truth.

Can you understand it? It’s definitely not truth.

The Sanskrit expression “neti, neti” meaning “not this, not this,” is a practice or meditation to reveal truth by identifying what is not truth. It is comparable to the via negativa or apophetic theology, which seeks to remove all blocks from direct experience of the divine.

We don’t find truth. We don’t need to find it because it was never lost. We live in truth the way a fish lives in water. Its eternal presence is revealed when we drop all the barriers we have put up with our beliefs.

If you can understand it, it’s not God. ~St. Augustine

22 thoughts on “Organizing Water”

  1. Hmm – I think you've nailed it with the last paragraph for me and of course those barriers can be so powerful and entrenched. I love the idea of truth being simple and not demanding analysing. A difficult topic!

  2. Yes, simple. One of my teachers answered my question "Does it have to be so complicated?" with a simple "No." When I asked him if we could talk about it more, he said, "There is no need. The answer is the same." Thanks for commenting, Lynne.

  3. Your last line and St Augustine really hit it on the head. When I do my Wednesday Bible study posts, I always have to sit back after pounding the verse for a while and ask, "What do YOU want me to see?"

  4. Our limited minds will never grasp the entirety of the truth, so let's just sit back and, like the fish, be content to swim in the water God's provided us.
    Blessings, Galen!

  5. I appreciate this so much. I catch myself striving to pin things down, to know the future, and really it's about trying to control outcomes. But, there is so much more joy in acceptance of where I am right now. Thank you.

  6. So glad this was timely. Someone recently pointed out that "striving" is clue that we are trying to control something or resist something. Striving blocks acceptance. Thanks for commenting.

  7. "Our sweet little brains just cannot stand to not know….. Relief comes only when we have an answer, and we are so relieved to have one that we are loath to question it in case we find it lacking and have to start again."

    We seem to have a need for certainty . If we believe sometime to be true there is a real fear in questioning that, because if we do the whole "house of cards" may fall. I spent 35 years in one big belief system because it seemed to answer all my inquiry into "what is truth?". It took some courage to break free from all those assumptions. Now I have learned to be comfortable with uncertainty. Truth will set you free but not in a way most assume it will.

  8. Your last sentence is so true Brian! Truth reveals itself as it will, not as we will. I can appreciate what you said about your own path, breaking free of long held beliefs. Truth cannot be contained. And indeed it does take courage to be open to truth without the safety of a prescribed belief structure.

  9. Yet another powerful post. Acceptance has been my friend, where resistance has not. As on example when I was first diagnosed with MS why me never entered my consciousness. The only possible answer was 'why not me'.
    Thank you.
    Sadly on lots of levels I still set myself to higher standards than I require of anyone else. Which is a form of arrogance I am trying to discard.

  10. That is an interesting perspective, EC, about how holding ourselves to a higher standard is a form of arrogance. I never thought about it like that. Along those same lines, I read that self improvement programs are a form of self abuse. Sort of the other side of the coin.

    Your reaction to your MS diagnosis is a model for all of us. Thank you.

  11. NOW, my head hurts! If truth cannot be defined then how do we recognize it? If we cannot strive for or seek truth then how do we know when either it has found us or we have stumbled upon it? If we drop our beliefs/barriers, essentially all that composes our discernment, how will be recognize that truth has resented itself to us (me)? In fact, "recognizing" is only fulfilled when our personal perception tools evaluate our awareness. Without somehow "defining" essential elements of "truth" how in the world can we know when we have encountered truth? Please rest assured, Galen, that I am not questioning your reasoning rather I am attempting to describe what your reasoning has inspired me to ask myself. The fish cannot describe "water" but certainly recognizes when it is not in it. Make sense?

  12. I bet your head DOES hurt with all those questions, CD! I think you hit on something by saying that you are not questioning my reasoning, but perhaps that's the point — that reasoning will not lead to truth. So I have none to offer.

    I don't think that means that we can't "recognize" truth. Can we be aware of something without going through an evaluation or a defining process? Is it possible to directly apprehend something like truth without going through an analysis?

    Exactly as you describe the fish in water — that makes perfect sense and was the analogy I was trying to make. A fish need not strive for or seek water. It doesn't have to believe in water. It doesn't even have to know what water is. Water is simply its natural and sustaining environment.

    Please likewise rest assured that I'm not challenging your reflections here. Just continuing to contemplate the questions. Now MY head hurts — ha!

    As an aside, your initial question reminded me of Justice Potter's statement that while he couldn't adequately define obscenity, he knew it when he saw it.

  13. Perhaps sadly, this is how my mind works: Justice Potter "knew" obscenity when he saw it, understanding that his knowing is based upon his culture, experience, spirituality, etc. In my mind, another person, in a different but sane "world", may not know that what Potter saw is obscenity. In other words, we know something based upon what we, well, already "know."

    This being said, could it be that the "apprehended something", if apprehended by two of us, may cause a different awareness in each of us? If that happens then what was the truth of that awareness? Could this mean that "truth" is not simply some universally (undefined) guideline, but rather a truth for/to that individual in that present moment?

    "In the beginning was the Word" and the Word is truth. Does that make sense?

    I don't seem to have a proverbial paddle while sailing this creek…

  14. Perhaps truth is not a guideline, but simply what is. Truth is eternal and unchangeable, while our perceptions of and thoughts about truth are impermanent and always in motion. In that sense, our perceptions can be individual, but truth is universal.

    The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching says "The way that can be understood is not the eternal Way. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name." Adyashanti says that when we are trying to talk about something that is beyond thoughts and words, the best we can hope for is to "fail well."

    Perhaps, CD, that is what you and I are doing — failing well!

  15. You could be right, failing well. What a dilemma…attempting to learn about something beyond thoughts, words or understanding. Some people might wonder, "Why bother?" For me its back to the "cushion."

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