I Think Therefore
By Jenn Weinshenker
In my early years I remember thinking that if I was smart enough and applied myself sincerely enough to knowing the truth, one day, I would be able to sort it all out. I read great books and asked lots of questions and thought it was only a matter of time before the light would go on and I would understand the true meaning of life. I used to say to my Grandma, I wish I could pour all of the things you have learned into my head. And she would say, I wish you could too, baby.
I remember enjoying thought provoking discussions with a very dear friend in Boulder. He used to ask me the most interesting questions. Not because I had any answers — about the only thing I knew back then was how much I didnt know — but because he had an amazing, genuinely inclusive curiosity about every thing. We used to talk about freedom and discipline and meditation and study, and of course, the meaning of life. During one such conversation he said something to me that hit me like a shock wave reverberating through my thick skull. He told me that there were some questions that were unanswerable. I couldnt begin to grasp what he was saying. I was incapable of accepting that the questions I had been asking all of my life; didnt have answers to them out there somewhere. I couldnt appreciate the hard realizations he had lived through which gave him the ability to respond to my angst with such peace. Unanswerable questions? How could that be?
Throughout my life I had similar discussions with rabbis and priests and ministers and philosophers and all led me to two options. The ideology of some, were mystical while others were more pragmatic but all had a common thread of reason. The first being that there were some things we were never going to understand. And the second being that we needed to have faith that there was a God and that God only knew what these illusive answers were.
When I was interviewing people who had survived WWII and I studied history and wars and genocide I began to understand that humans have an intense need to make sense of suffering. We want to secure certain outcomes. Whether it is through prayer or meditation or civic duty on the surface, doesnt matter so long as we formulate the right process to get the right result. It gave me some comfort to meet others who were grappling with similar questions. Knowing I wasnt alone in my quest for knowledge and tranquility did give me some sense of belonging. But whenever I was struggling over a practical question of ethics; which conflicted with something I wanted to do, it gave me little comfort.
Profoundly interesting truths about life often stem from the raw earthiness of an ordinary moment. I used to paint houses. Maybe its because Im an artist, Im not sure, but the ladders, the prep, the skillful line and sway of the brush was something I loved doing. In the early days some one told me, The difference between a house painter and a professional house painter takes place when you step back from your work and look at it in a different light. No matter how good you are; there will always be an area you need to touch up before the job is finished properly. I cant tell you how many times in life I have applied this very statement to an idea or situation. Taking a step back from my initial ideas about how to live and really thinking about my actions and motivations and choosing to live differently has all been rooted in that very principle.
Usually, in the midst of a chaotic situation or while questioning a belief system, I often tell myself, Dont be afraid to step outside of your experience and rationales to explore the possibility that may lead you to an original thought. It is great to be well informed and to consider a variety of sources when we are trying to sort some thing out. But developing the discipline to take a moment to rethink the cause for our own response to a well-written passage or to a particular experience is the true epicenter of wisdom.
Eliminating the extraneous words from our inner-dialog and choosing to ask more questions and taking the time to explore the answers is a fascinating way to experience life. Preaching our own point of view and defensively protecting it, as though we alone are capable of understanding the whole truth and nothing but the truth, prevents us from conceptualizing the obsolete absolute. I have found that the more I have experienced and observed and sought to understand, the more my acceptance of the status quo has been challenged. Accepting and recognizing that there are a variety of vantage points to any given issue or belief or way of life ultimately connects us to a relative knowledge that enriches our lives.
Historically, we have seen political and religious holocausts occur on every continent. People have been tortured into submitting to belief systems that turned out to be flawed. The Earth isnt flat. Earth isnt the center of the universe. The sun does not revolve around the Earth. We are one of several planets that orbit around the sun. What goes up doesnt necessarily come down. Storms and earthquakes are not caused by the gods. The Fates do not determine our lives. We are not predestined to some sentence in a life filled with misery and loss. And no one god answers only the prayers of one people. Regardless of the efforts of the few or the many who have tried to prevent the evolution of relative knowledge from occurring, it has always been realized. The most profound truth, in my book, is that we dont and we wont ever know everything. Not even a contrived divinity or prophet is capable of spoon-feeding us enough spirituality to help us become a bloomin know-it-all.
Does this mean then that there are questions that are unanswerable? Well, yes kind of.
The freedom I have now,
the freedom I was seeking all of my life,
I could not have imaged.
The epiphanies that have released me from being
tied to dogmas or delusional thinking
have also been completely
Some of the most exciting life lessons I have realized, often in spite of myself, have been the most difficult to assimilate. Thats for sure. Being able to wake up in the morning and appreciate the reality of it has been a life-long acquired skill. Being able to see the freakin difference between hope and delusion and get what is really going on, has been an incredible challenge. Learning how to grow and open my eyes to understand life from more than one point of view has made a monumental difference in large part because of every step and misstep I have taken.
I remember a time when I believed that if a person was good, only good would come into their life. It was a real shocker when I found out this wasnt true. I had no idea that some people saw kindness and compassion and honesty as a weakness they could exploit in order to manipulate someone they supposedly loved.
I remember hearing arrogant preachers telling people they would get whatever they wanted if they believed and had faith and they claimed it in the name of God. I remember seeing a devastated couple coming out of the emergency room after one such preacher couldnt revive their child from death. And I remember how irrevocably they were shaken when the only conclusion they were left with was that if they had had more faith, they would have had their miracle.
I have read that nothing exists but that our thinking makes it so and I have tried to reconcile what Ive seen and read and experienced with some kind of working ideology that is true.
And then I began to consider that maybe we have a need to create these gods and holy places because we need to feel safe. We dont understand the way things work and we need to feel that somehow, when we suffer, it makes a difference and that the innocent will always be vindicated, if not in this life than in the next one. We need to explain the inexplicable. We need to feel that when we need it, help and comfort will always be there. And then I stepped back and started to reflect on these ideas in a different light.
I started turning things upside down. Instead of thinking that the world would be a better place if people were more respectful of each others differences; I decided to choose to be respectful. The importance of being respected first was nullified. In fact, I decided the whole ‘me first’ perspective was completely inaccurate because in life everything was connected and always evolving and nothing was separated or first. So I decided not to wait to be loved but to love. Not to wait to understand what the meaning of life was but instead to walk in a way that gave life meaning. And that is when the tone of the unanswerable questions began to change. The only ‘me first’ principle I adhered to was that when I noticed something that needed to change in society or in life, I took the initiative to change that something in the way I lived.
Would this change the way I perceived the world?
Would it actually change the little bit of this life I was experiencing?
Would developing the skills and discipline to face reality with clarity turn out to be the key to answering the questions I had been seeking all along?
The answer turned out to be yes. The subsequent level of getting the humanity, and even more significantly, the universality of all of it, has been an amazingly inspirational way to take each breath. Living an examined life, now thats the real dealeo.
Contact the author at JWeinshenker@LTSaloon.org
2009 Jenn Weinshenker. All Rights Reserved.