If the light spectrum were represented as a musical keyboard, all we can see would be just one octave. * (correction: see below)
There are all types of light energy all around us that we haven’t evolved the ability to perceive. If we saw the world through the eyes of a snake, however, we’d notice infrared rays. If we could take flight as a bumblebee, we’d see the world through the radiant magic of ultraviolet.
This is just one example of how the more you investigate life, the more you realize just how limited you are.
And yet, I’ve found that I often take the discovery of this limitation as a way of something to hold onto. Instead of floating freely in the waters of ignorance, knowing there is nothing to grasp, I seize upon the realization of our ignorance and hold it up as a kind of special knowledge. As Socrates knew, truly knowing that you know nothing means knowing that even your knowledge that you know nothing is nothing.
Something I continually struggle with is feeling like there’s a moral urgency to spread this knowledge of ignorance. As I described in my reflections on beachhead, the discovery of meditation was such a joyous event for me that I couldn’t help but want to share it with others. Once you have gained a glimpse of the reality that you are more than who you think you are, it can be tempting to go out and proselytize. I wanted to walk up to people and say, hey! If you sit with yourself for long enough, you can undo your knots of neurosis! You’ll be a better person, more free and happier than before! You’ll discover that your purpose here is not to indulge in selfishness that amounts to nothing, but to allow consciousness to shine through you as much as possible.
What I didn’t consider was that others might not be interested in this path, or even interested in talk of higher consciousness at all.
I also didn’t realize that wanting other people to “wake up” was actually a way of deflecting attention away from all the ways in which I am still unawakened. The desire to enlighten others only arises from the standpoint of the unenlightened mind.
If I truly allowed myself to be transformed by the knowledge of my ignorance, then I would see that I have no justification for putting my own understanding on a pedestal and using it to categorize others.
Who am I to know what constitutes awakening and ignorance? Am I the sole human with a privileged enough perspective to see how everything fits together?
I always come back to the Zen expression “Do not seek enlightenment, simply cease to cherish your opinions.” Why? Because if we can say anything about enlightenment at, we could say that the enlightened mind sees the world as it it. And opinions of right and wrong, pleasant and unpleasant, enlightened and unenlightened exist only in your mind, and not in the world. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as Hamlet said.
I often don’t realize that in the process of labeling and judging reality, all I’m actually doing is projecting my fears, inadequacies, and ignorance. When I condemn or judge others according to my standards, it makes me feel powerful. I work under the presumption that I have a privileged view of the world that allows me to separate the damned from the saved, the ignorant from the enlightened. That feels good…for a time.
But because this type of thinking is not in line with Reality, it’s bound to fail. It’s just another temporary gratification, the same as any other strategy of running away.
This is why the Upanishads tell us that the path of liberation is a razor’s edge. There are just so many opportunities to go off the path.
If others don’t wish to reflect on their lives, to see that everything is a gift, that is none of my concern. I have no idea how they fit into this vast web of consciousness, how what appears to me as willful ignorance could actually be something else entirely. If someone doesn’t wish to investigate the larger questions of themselves, that doesn’t mean that they are any less of a reflection the Source. Dzogchen, Advaita, and other non-dualistic paths remind us that everything is God, including ignorance.
The light spectrum reminds me how much is happening around me right now that I simply don’t perceive. I simply don’t have the tools to see the totality of light; realizing this limitation is what alerts me that the more aware I become, the more I see just how much I’m not aware of.The more I see things clearly, the more I realize that things will never be completely clear.
I am just a limited soul seeking to grow and learn, going along for the ride, without the faintest clue of where the next twist or turn will take me or anyone else. The task is to take that wisdom and let it penetrate to the deepest level of my heart, to let it inform my interactions with every manifestation of the boundless Mystery that we partake in simply by being.
* Correction: my brother (a musician) pointed out to me the following: