Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Many Lenses of Truth

"Oasis on a Wilderness Trail"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Every day, after I post an article on my blog, I look forward to the comments people make in response - most are positive, some raise questions, from time to time some may argue with me, but the other day a guy went ballistic on me - something I said managed to really "get under his skin." 

I had written  an article about finding happiness by living mindfully, awake and alert in the present moment - something I often write about.  So maybe that's why I was so surprised by the vehemence and the stridency of the response I got: " I am so sick of hearing this kind of hippie guru spirituality - happiness and deeper peace.  The only thing I will ever pay attention to are stone-cold facts and rigorous scientific research."  

Yesterday as I drove my car listening  to a TED talk on our local NPR station, I thought  about this man's angry response to me.  The program focused on what was referred to as "cutting edge" research into what makes human beings happy.

I was especially interested in the research results of one Harvard-eductaed scientist who has been conducting several extensive long-range "happiness" studies over the past few years.  His conclusion:

People are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering than when they're focused on the moment no matter what they're doing. For example, people don't really like commuting to work very much, it's one of their least enjoyable activities;  and yet they are substantially happier when they're focused only on their commute than when they're mind is going off to something else.  

The professor went on to explain:

When our minds wander, we often think abut unpleasant things - our worries, anxieties, regrets. So when people find that their mind is straying, they should train themselves to bring back their attention to whatever they're doing, and do this repeatedly throughout the day, so that they might be fully engaged in the moment.

At the end of the interview this scientist was asked if he thought his research was ultimately providing people with a "formula for happiness?" The professor answered:

I think we are at the start of a long but really exciting journey toward understanding a lot more about the causes of happiness.

As I heard this I actually laughed out loud, "that journey began 2500 years ago when the Buddha taught his disciples about mindfulness and happiness. In fact all the exciting findings of this "cutting edge" research were almost exactly what the Buddha said (using almost exactly the same words) when he taught his disciples about mindful living:  Be "fully engaged in the moment," present in the now without focus on the past or craving for the future.  The Buddha taught:

Tame the mind. This is the greatest challenge before you.
It rushes here and there, swifter than the wind more slippery than the water.
If you can arrest the flights of the mind, happiness will be assured to you.

This sure sounds like a "formula for happiness" to me - ancient wisdom from many centuries ago.

As I see it, there are many lenses we can put on in exploring truth and walking a path of wisdom. The scientific method and scientific research is indeed one of those lenses, "theological reflection" is another lens, along with ancient spiritual wisdom.  Poetry, myth, music, art, and of course "silence" are all different ways of trying to "get at" deeper truth and greater meaning as we make our way through life. 

Instead of seeing those who wear the different lenses as being each other's enemy, we should see one another as collaborators and colleagues exploring together on the journey of wisdom. When scientists theologians, philosophers and poets, believers, atheists, agnostics, and even "hippie gurus" can sit together at the table of dialogue, it's amazing what truth may emerge.  

1 comment:

  1. That is exactly right Paul. I had the same thought the other day myself and am glad to hear someone affirm it. Eventually all knowledge should converge. Christ is the sum of wisdom and knowledge the NT says, the wisdom of God. Since God created reality all knowledge of reality is in some way knowledge about God.

    Some have made them distinct and some have made them opposites. I don't see how it can be. I remember as a kid being told that nature was God's second book. Of course those telling me this quickly said the Bible was his first book.

    The way I see it, if God made it then in some way it is a reflection of his image. In some way there is knowledge of the maker in his creation. And for people who cannot believe in a churchy God they may be able to believe in the creator as a result of coming to know his creation.