Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Subtlety of Truth

When I was a child, I worked intently at developing my intuition. I had a feeling (an intuition!) that amid my generally anxious, confused mental activity there was solid stuff. The rub was distinguishing signal from noise. So I worked at that.

Here's what I discovered: real intuition - i.e. "truth" - speaks softly, and does not repeat itself. Here's the glib billboard-ready version: "The Devil shouts, but God whispers." If you have a "feeling" about something, and it's beating you over the head, it's surely just a projection of your fears and hopes. Quiet knowing is easy to miss amid louder, flashier mental activity, but it's always the solid stuff.

I wrote, a year ago:
...a brief explanation of intuition. People often confuse it with hunches - i.e. random guesses we make about the state of something. But while hunches make you think, or worry, real intuition makes you act. The brain does not intermediate. You don't feel a suspicion of something, you feel the actual thing.

If I slow down my car while passing a restaurant and remark that it looks good, it probably is good. A good hunch! But if my car suddenly screeches to the curb and stops and I find myself getting out, without actual thinking, then the restaurant will be great. It's always great. It's never not great.

If you've never found yourself simply acting in some circumstance, without thinking, then you've never experienced true intuition. It most often occurs under great duress, when a deeper, calmer awareness seizes control for a moment. You can easily miss it when it happens. The deeper awareness doesn't call attention to itself. It doesn't change the flavor of things. It quietly steps forward and acts. It does what needs to be done, and then it fades. It's not at all remarkable.
I wrote here about a friend who suffered from crippling muscle bruises. I asked him if he'd tried stretching, and he told me, sure, he does that all the time. He stretches each muscle to the point of pain....and then he stretches it a bunch more. I stared at him, waiting for the sound of his own voice to penetrate. It did not. So I stated the obvious. And he grew angry at me (click the link for the full story).

When I was a young man, I'd holler and harangue to make people see their own folly. It did not go well. After years of meditation, I've turned the volume down and down, until, at this point, I say it very quietly (almost intentionally letting it be missed), and I don't repeat. Sometimes it's heard and it helps, but mostly it's missed. But I no longer feel a sputtering sense of anxiety. It's okay that it's missed. It's okay for people to make themselves needlessly miserable, and it's okay to listen to their complaints and tales of sorrow. At some level they want this - it's the movie they've selected for themselves. Who am I to insist?

Once you've let go of the steering wheel, and dropped the baggage, you find yourself playing for a different team. Instead of awaiting the quiet intuitive voice, you discover that you've given yourself over to it. Your voice speaks that intuition. And it speaks quietly.

Every word of this is horribly counterintuitive for most people. It certainly was for me. Shouldn't truth be loud and brash and all-consuming? Wouldn't the shouting devil tend to win out over a whispering God? It's an important question, seldom-asked.

Take a look around you. Whatever process put these stupendously beautiful trees all over this planet for our delight never bellows from the skies, cajoling us to look up at them more often. "Creation" is the most modest act of creation ever. We are absolutely free to miss beauty, to choose misery, to focus on whatever obsession we please, and, having narrowed our focus, to bitterly decry the world's dreary narrowness. We enjoy the ultimate free-play explorative video game. No card's forced. Humans act in a plethora of ways, many of them bat-shit insane, and that diversity seems to be the beauty of it all. Yet the truth - the solid stuff - pervades, as a silent whisper, far too subtle for most ears (Atlas brushes off the truth-telling because he's so occupied with holding up the universe). It tilts our conviction and will alter our perspective if we make ourselves even the least bit responsive. It's so small. It's so almost-nothing.

But it's inextinguishable. That .00001% tilt of the playing field will, over time, pull in all players. Bold, showy forces frequently seize our attention, but the unwavering truth will eventually prevail.

But how does this apply to Donald Trump, you ask? Strangely, that actually is where I'm headed. Everyone is, understandably, freaking out about our devolution into a post-factual society. With so much falsehood screaming, how can the truth find any foothold? Has connection with the truth been lost?

The quiet answer: humanity is finding yet another knot to tie itself up in. These big, bold moves - up and down, side-to-side - are the game we make for ourselves. It's cyclical (comedy/drama/comedy/drama etc), and it's for our own entertainment (to ponder: why do humans love rollercoasters?). But this tempestuous entertainment plays out on a slightly tilted table.

So don't worry about the truth. With the distinct advantage of being true, it pervades, always, however quietly. It may not grab, but it always tugs - even when we get riled up and ignore those subtle tugs in the midst of bigger bigness. The Devil shouts, but God whispers. As the show gets tempestuous - as the devil shouts louder and we grok the Chinese warning about "living in interesting times" - stay responsive to subtlety. Don't expect God to shout back. That's just not how it works. Nietzsche was wrong; it's not that He's given up.

Every link is essential. They spare me from having to write ponderous 10,000 word essays, rather than ponderous 1000 word ones! My problem in life is that my thoughts hang on a jenga tower of opaque, sadly unique assumptions and conclusions. Only here in my Slog can I refer directly to those building blocks. This is, essentially, my only possible means of expression. If blogging hadn't been invented, I'd be forever trapped in banal smalltalk and manic food enthusing.


Display Name said...

Wow. Thanks for the early Christmas present Jim. Still want to hear the details on your car though. I have a beloved older car and I really do care. Merry Christmas.

Jim Leff said...

There was a gigantic hole in the exhaust. The unusual size of it (which is what affected the pick-up so strongly), plus its unusual location toward the front of the car, made me not suspect an exhaust problem. But all is well post-repair.

The starter should actually have failed 50,000 miles sooner. And I do remember bottoming out the car, so the exhaust was absolutely my fault. But it's funny you mention this. My friend John (who was mentioned in that tale; he's the one who went to the Toots concert with me that night, just today texted me the following:

fbj said...


I enjoy your writing so much, but this post really sums up why I/we need your voice.

You have ever advocated for trying new things, risking failure, and striking out alone. You bring back epic tales of the unexpected awesome, and withering-but-focused-self-criticism.

We are all of us both great and small. The dignity and awesomeness of every individual person must needs be tempered by the knowledge that you, the royal you, are also just *one individual person*

You combine dignity with humility, but it's the JOY you feel and communicate that is the real special talent you have.

Merry Xmas, my e-friend,


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