February 2013: There’s Always “Something Bigger”

by Brad on February 1, 2013

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” 
— Seneca

Since the dawn of humanity, we’ve been searching for truth, for answers to life’s (and our world’s) great mysteries. As a species, we’re programmed for curiosity and wonder, to find “something bigger” in our existence. It’s a trait that distinguishes us from all other species. Humanity’s advancements – fire, agriculture, industry, technology, and many more – arose from insatiable curiosity. One of my favorite examples is Galileo, who, just over 400 years ago, discovered four moons circling Jupiter. His discovery proved beyond [intellectual] doubt that not everything revolved around the earth.

But inventions and discoveries tell only half the story. As much as we are drawn to expand our sense of truth, we’re held back from the very truth we seek. The major constraining force, as I see it, is that we fear the crumbling of what we previously knew as truth. While we “know” that our world is uncertain by nature, in practice we cling to the perception of its certainty, as if it formed the very earth on which we walk (which isn’t very certain, either, it turns out). Galileo was no stranger to this phenomenon, for his discovery had impact far beyond the astronomical. He knew his findings would bring to its knees the prevailing worldview, a biblical cosmology held as “truth” for centuries. That worldview did not tumble with ease or grace. As a matter of fact, it is alive and well to this day, some 400 years later.

17150056While biologically we’re wired to search for truth, it seems culturally we’re wired to deny what we find. Whether by going along with the thinking and opinions of others, or steadfastly holding on to outdated beliefs and old “truths,” we miss the potential offered by personal experience, new ideas and larger truths. From a recent New York Times article: “Galileo’s achievement was the end of geocentrism, but it was hardly the end of ignorance and magical thinking. When obstinacy places reason under siege, as it does to this day — when fundamentalism defames biological science in the classroom, or the politics of denial prevent action to deal with a changing climate, it helps to recall our debt to a man who set a different example more than 400 years ago. It took just a wooden tube and some polished lenses, a critical and inquisitive mind, and four points of light that didn’t behave the way they were supposed to.”

What does it take to be a modern Galileo? Although the journey will not appeal to everyone, its prerequisites include inquisitiveness and courage – inquisitiveness to open to life’s mystery and the uncertain journey it invites, and courage, to stand strong in the midst of the inevitable small-mindedness of those offended that you’d asked.

Exercise #1: Toward inquiry. Take a look at your “inquisitiveness quotient.” Ask yourself how you arrived at what you know as truth today. This isn’t about what you see as truth, but about the process by which you came to “know” it. At one end, your “truth” may have come from an ever-growing spiral of passionate curiosity. At the other, it may be what’s left over after an intransigent refusal to look. With some pondering, see if you can then draw a relationship between “how you know” and how much possibility your life holds. Clue: they’re intimately intertwined, woven together by your tolerance for uncertainty and change. If you dislike what you learn, you’re free to change your mind.

Exercise #2: Toward courage. I’ll offer a (my) simple definition of courage here. A courageous person is one whose belief and trust in his/her own heart exceeds (even by an ounce) his/her need for approval from others. That’s what opens you to take action on new ideas. You don’t “learn” courage. You don’t “try” to be courageous. As was true for Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, courage has always lived inside you; you discover it, by getting to know yourself very, very well. You might think of the ‘work’ here as a process of inquisitiveness (as above) directed inward. By adopting a personal practice of quiet reflection, the essence of your own truth starts to glow. (It was always there, it’s just that now you notice.) As you become aware of your thinking, the glow of your truth becomes a flame, eventually igniting the passion that is your unique creative genius. It’s pretty difficult for the darkness of other people’s opinions to have much power when illuminated by your self-trust. When the search for truth lights your way, you’re unstoppable.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

Yogi Berra said, “You can learn a lot by just watching.” Known for the paradox in his statements, Berra nevertheless was quite wise. You can in fact learn a lot by just watching. That’s exactly how Galileo discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter. It’s how builders of ancient stone circles and medicine wheels came to know the workings of the sun, moon, planets, stars and seasons. It’s how Darwin postulated his findings about evolution. It’s how Einstein formulated his ideas on relativity. Patient observation. Yet it wasn’t just the noticing. That had to be coupled with a willingness to be surprised, to encounter a result so unexpected and so out of the ordinary that it made their heads shake … and then go right back to the noticing, not once “checking out” in fear of the unknown, or in fear of the havoc to be raised when the world found out what had been discovered.

The image to the right is a reproduction of Galileo’s notes over the course of several nights in January 1610. Agalileo_ma1064 larger version of the image is here if you’re interested. The New York Times article I mentioned earlier suggested that in reading his notes, “one can sense a great mind puzzling out a perplexing story.” I find that statement fascinating; maybe it’s because of the curiosity and wonder that have so driven my life.

What’s the point? For some, I suppose it could be an opening to the next great discovery. For most, however, it’s perhaps an invitation to let go of all the searching and “knowing” of the discoveries of others, and to turn our gaze inward instead, to get to know who we truly are. Therein lies our own unique potential, our gift to the world. While our gift may not go down in history the same way as Galileo’s, it will nevertheless create the energy to light our way in the world, to know that we have lived our own truth. From the 17th century Japanese poet Basho, “Seek not the masters; seek what the masters sought.”



Openings to New Possibility

My book: A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom – This ebook offers a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life, and helps you to reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it as a series of blog articles to which you can subscribe at no cost. About 2/3 of the book is now out there on my blog; to be continued.

11 Years: 2012 concluded 11 years of monthly newsletters from The Road Not Taken. If you’d like the full set, (132 issues), it’s available for purchase on my website here as a single pdf file. I’m deeply grateful to those who have been readers for much or all of this time.

Gift ideas: In my spare time, I lead nature tours to some of the world’s special places. I’ve selected a few images from my travels and make them available here on a variety of fun products, from note cards to coffee mugs.

Join The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription offering giving you an opportunity to stay connected, interact, be challenged, learn. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.  

An invitation to bold possibility: Big ideas have big potential. They become your ideas with personal felt experience of them. Gaining personal experience is often difficult because, on our own, we use the same thinking that got us here to take us forward. If you’d like to consider a “guide for the unexplored territory” of your future, contact me, I’ll meet you wherever you may be on your path, and together we’ll chart a course into your potential.  

Book of the month Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chodron. All her work has beauty, depth and practicality. In her latest, Pema Chodron advocates living more fully with uncertainty, and not, as she puts it, from less-than-satisfying, habitual, fear-based clinging to the shore. She offers three practices to help create a personal felt experience of the journey from shore, leaving you wanting more.  …  And, if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


Download February 2013 pdf

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