Monday, July 15, 2013

Beyond "Either/Or”

Part I

Years ago, Rabbi Moshe Schatz taught me that it is preferable not to get stuck in the mire of “either/or” thinking. It really can compromise the search for truth by blocking off viable possibilities.

Very often ideas alive in the minds of spiritual seekers are spiritual “downloads”. The reason why this makes sense to me is because the Talmud teaches, “Those who come to purify are assisted.” It would seem to me that a very basic form of such assistance would be to give a seeker thoughts in the right direction.  

However, because the Creator wants people to grow by interacting with others, He tends to give a seeker a tantalizing piece(s) of the puzzle, but, not the full picture. This way other seekers will yearn for what s/he can share and s/he’ll yearn for what others can share.

A serious pitfall happens when a seeker’s ego takes over and s/he imagines that the piece of the puzzle that s/he has been given represents a fuller picture than anyone else can offer. A cult can be the result of a person stuck in such a head space. Followers may flock because the leader’s piece of the puzzle is tantalizingly large, luminous, unique and comprehensible. However, the piece has been isolated to the point that it rarely communicates with the rest of the picture; making the situation unsatisfying over the long run.

The lesson to take away is let’s not make ourselves into “little cults”. Let’s share our ideas freely with fellow seekers. Let’s gift them the opportunity to share their ideas with us. Sharing ideas leads to sharing hearts, which brings along warmth, connection, love and friendships.

Part II

The following is an excerpt from a personal prayer inspired by the above mini-essay:

Thank You for helping me respond to people whose views I don’t easily relate to with love and friendship. Maybe in some way they are onto something that was revealed to them first. Maybe, I need a bit of time and patience to integrate what they already know with what I already know. Maybe, with Your help, I need to build a mental bridge so I can cross over to their perspective and they can cross over to mine. The bridge itself is an act of growth. It’s a line that connects two dots. The line itself can be more mentally significant than the dots.

For example, in geometry a dot is zero dimensional, while a line is one dimensional. It’s also possible to arrange a series of lines into a three dimensional shape. So the dot is merely a point a reference, not a destination.

The same pattern can be applied to ideas. An idea can be one point. Another idea can be another point. The thought between them, bridging them, is a line. Then there can be yet a third idea, which can serve as an additional point. Thought bridges between this third idea and the other two earlier ideas, can make a triangular two dimensional plane. These three thought points now contain a lot of thought area, not only along the original three lines, but, also covering the whole surface of the plane.

Now if a more abstract or more practical idea is added to these three ideas and new connecting lines are drawn, suddenly there’s an outline of a three dimensional thought, i.e. the thought equivalent of something three dimensional. The thought area has now vastly expanded to contain so much more than before, when the thought structure was merely a line or a plane. Not only has the surface increased, but, a new dimension of depth was added.

So as I converse with people whose views are different, please help me see it as an encounter that will help everyone’s growth. If an idea has become a slave to a person’s vested interest, it might be difficult to move the person beyond the idea, as moving the person beyond the idea might need to be addressed on the psychological level. However, it is always possible to grow our perspectives beyond what they were and conversation with thinking people is a great way to do it. It’s one main highway to get there.


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