Recently on my Facebook page I've been involved in some highly intelligent and stimulating discussions around whether it's more important to understand how a thing works or to learn by experience how to use a thing.
I've been noticing that this seems to be the same question behind the underlying tension that exists between science and religion. Scientists are most interested in explaining exactly HOW a thing like human consciousness works. They want to explore the mechanics of the body, the brain, evolution, mathematics, quantum physics - all the fascinating components and moving parts - that make up the larger mystery we call life. Meanwhile spiritualists - particularly those who have been exploring the depths and capacities of human consciousnesses for many, many years - believe they already know the meaning of life. They've figured out how to use their minds by asking why life exists, and then following that question to a destination that revealed to them a truth. They're not really interested (or only mildly interested) in grasping the mechanics and learning how they work. Their passion is to support others in taking the journey into inner revelation, so they too can know WHY we've got these tools we've been gifted.
What seems to be happening then, is that scientifically oriented individuals find themselves defending their line of inquiry against what seems on occasion to be an almost condescending attitude from those who already consider themselves experts on the meaning and purpose of life. Likewise, spiritualists are often condescended to by modern scientists, who can't imagine that someone who doesn't understand the mechanical workings of a tool could really understand how best to use it.
That's because explaining where a thing came from and how it works isn't the same as developing an expertise around knowing when to use it and why it exists at all. Scientists - who ironically are using the subjective nature of their own consciousnesses to the best of their abilities when they make their inquiries into life's objective form and function - don't attempt to explain why consciousness exists so much as to explain precisely how the vehicle that has allowed for its existence creates opportunities for it to self-express. Spiritualists, who ironically are activating the highly mechanical objective structures and technical operations that the scientists are so busily defining, don't attempt to explain how the mechanics of consciousness works so much as why it's important to use it, and for what purpose.
We all know that to be able to put together and take apart a television set tells us nothing about the ins and outs of network broadcasting. Even so, it helps to understand as much as possible about how a TV set actually works before we start fiddling with the buttons on the machine. For help with that we don't turn to the experts who create our TV programming. They may hold wonderfully deep wisdom around the broadcasting feed that flows into our sets, but if our TV breaks they can't tell us how to repair it. Likewise, TV repair people may be very good at fixing a broken set, but they have no idea how broadcasting works or which channels we can access from our location.
I therefore believe that if we are to honor the form (not to mention the absolute brilliance!) of this living universe that has created, contains and activates us all, we need to immerse ourselves in both being life and in applying ourselves to understanding more completely who/what we are and why we're here.
If we stubbornly claim we don't need to understand all the buttons and functions on a home power tool in order to skillfully use it, we're bound to miss realizing some of its potential. At the very least it may take us an entire lifetime to become an expert with a particular tool and discover all its hidden capacities. Likewise, if we don't turn on a power tool and diligently practice using it in a safe and controlled environment, the odds increase that the more we assume we know about it because we've studied a manual, the more arrogant we'll be about using it in a way that damages our surroundings or causes injury to others - or to ourselves.
To refuse to more fully explore the tool of human consciousness because our ancestors passed down to us an ancient manual written for a similar tool they used a couple of thousand years ago leaves us reliant on faith that we truly know what we're doing. That's a self-limiting approach, because the human mind - like all other complex technological systems that have developed over time - has made enormous strides in capacity and function. If we fearfully cling to the comfort zone of what we've been told to believe about older, outmoded versions of ourselves, we risk missing out on the greatest advances in human evolution. Science, by shining a light on the mind's physical evolution and mechanical complexity, is helping us recognize that human consciousness - like a modern electric chainsaw - has vastly improved from the time of our great, great, great grandfather's flint axe. Still, as spiritualists so often remind us, oohing and aahing over the "coolness" of new technology, or studying a manual so we gain a better understanding of the chainsaw's many capacities is NOT the same thing as hitting the "on" switch and figuring out how best to cut down a tree.
How we learn is a very interesting topic in itself. For those who are mechanically inclined by nature to work with their hands, picking up a tool and playing with it seems the most efficient way to learn how to use it. They may glance at the manual now and again if a question or two arises; but they learn by subjecting themselves to the physical experience of practice, not by reading or listening to lectures about the process. This path to higher learning is the one taken by all the great sages who have ever lived in our world - those who have fearlessly wielded the tool of Mind to explore the innermost reaches of themselves. These are the early Jewish prophets who - despite their fears - asked searing questions of God; and who received answers that spoke to humanity at its level of understanding at that time. They then shared those answers with the many millions who didn't yet know they had the power to create their own subjective experience of God. This describes Jesus, who - because he sensed the ancient manuals referred to an outmoded version of who and what he believed he had the capacity to become - stepped beyond those texts and plunged into the abyss of the unknown, on a wondrous journey of self-discovery. This also describes the radical subjectivity of Muhammad, the Shamans, the Pagan High Priestesses, Buddha, Krishna, the Vedics, the Sufi mystics.
For others of us, following objective lines of rational inquiry is the way we prefer to learn. Many of us thrive by applying our external senses to what we observe and by determining how a given system functions. These are the great scholars of the world, the scientists and mathematicians who work tirelessly to bring greater clarity to the history, structural evolution and present day workings and functions of this amazing tool of life we've all been gifted. They dissect, explore and reveal the inner workings of the atom and the farthest reaches of accessible space, using tools they've created to expand the limitations of our bodily senses. This describes Socrates, Pythagoras, Euclid, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, along with countless others who have made their contribution to our storehouse of knowledge.
What I believe we're just now collectively coming to realize is that the subjective and the objective are not separate realities at all, nor are they innately hostile modes of realization. They are, in fact, highly complementary ways for us to get at our deepest truths. Our eternally ongoing subjective experience, synthesized with our infinitely expanding objective knowledge, advances the total wisdom of the whole being.
Why, you may be wondering, am I so excited by this line of inquiry? Perhaps it's because I was VERY slow to set out on my own journey of self-discovery. Perhaps I'm not quite as intelligent as some or perhaps I'm a bit more fearful; almost certainly I'd been religiously indoctrinated into believing that I risked entering hell if I left behind the comfort zone of faith into which I'd been birthed. For me to make the journey then, to actually hit the "on" button and begin my self-exploration, I needed to both study the manuals and test the methods that had been espoused by the first Jews and early Christians. I also studied the teachings and explored the practices of Wicca, Shamanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, theoretical physics, biology, evolutionary theory, quantum physics, mathematics, philosophy and so forth. Continually I merged all that information with my personal experiences and explorations, so that along the way I could feel confident I was moving in the right direction. For many years I stumbled about, traversing first this side then that side of the mountain of self-realization, wandering from ancient path to modern path and back across again, until one day (today perhaps!) I suddenly realized I'd created my very OWN path - the perfect trail that has led me to be the beautiful, grateful and loving being I am at this very moment.
Along the way, whenever I felt lost or afraid or beset upon by the demons of my own imaginings, I regularly consulted whichever manuals or sages spoke loudest to me at that particular stage of my inner journey. Eventually I discovered that virtually all the manuals and all the sages - both the ancients and the modern day versions - pointed to the same thing, only from different social, cultural, historical, experiential and rational perspectives. What I especially love about my own journey is that because I have flailed about in ways that have caused me to literally stumble on all of these paths in my struggles up the mountain, I can honor them all for having been there to provide me with a much-needed boost of courage and support whenever I felt too dispirited to continue.
I therefore salute ALL the manual designers and sages from every era and walk of life. It seems to me that - rather than continue to argue over who's produced the most up to date manual or which sage got it "more right" than all the others - we ought not to throw away any of the fruits of all our human efforts. We never know when some poor, lost soul may find something we personally don't feel is important to be exactly what he or she needs to get back on course. May we instead begin to more fully honor our own evolutionary progress by thoughtfully updating our ancient manuals with grace, instead of worshiping them or the tools they describe as the apex of human advancement. May we continue to broaden our trails, to groom and light the many paths that lead the way to human self-realization. May we also begin to more compassionately - instead of through judgment, intimidation or impatience - kindly and lovingly take the hands of those who feel ready to make the journey alongside us. May we also develop the wisdom to redirect those who don't feel called to our path toward other paths that may speak more clearly to their own way of learning.
In this fashion it will continue to get easier for each of us to continue our quest to understand and explore the infinite nature of the eternal "I AM," and to bring back our personal wisdom in greater service to the highest good.