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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Our Experience as Metaphor

Here's a recent insight I had in my meditation practice: everything we say, think, and perceive is actually a metaphor for the truth.

I had been reading Hafiz, the Sufi poet, and I realized that poets use metaphor to help us experience truth. The value of the metaphor is that it helps us break the habits of our thinking. Most importantly, we break the habit of literal interpretation of what we read, think or perceive. The metaphor is clearly not to be interpreted literally. Yet, it points us to a truth that is beyond the comprehension of rational thought.

Of course, everything us beyond the comprehension of rational thought. All that is comes from a divine source, which is beyond our capacity to understand with thought. Even our own awareness is beyond the limits of thought. If all that we experience comes from a source that is beyond our understanding, then anything we see, hear, perceive, think or say comes from incomplete comprehension. Everything we experience is a metaphor for the truth. Problems only arise when we interpret our experience literally.

Recently, I was listening to an audio recording of Dr. Deepak Chopra, whom I consider to be one of the great spiritual teachers of our day. In it, he was describing what science tells us about the physical body. At the atomic level, the physical body is in a constant, dynamic exchange with objects in the environment. According to Dr. Chopra, in two years every atom of your body has been replaced by one from the environment. "The body you have right now," he says, "is not the same body you had two years ago." The corollary to this insight is that everything in the environment is also exchanging atoms with our bodies, and with everything else. What's more, physicists tell us that there is no real separation between physical objects in the environment, and that the solid objects we see are not solid at all, but mostly empty space. Our perceptions of our bodies as physical, unchanging objects, according to Dr. Chopra, is simply not true.

It is not untrue, either. Its just incomplete. Our perception of solid objects in the environment is a useful metaphor for the truth. Useful? Well, seeing objects as solid helps us to avoid bumping into things as we move around. Newtonian physics is known to be an incomplete understanding, yet it still applies to the macro world. So, when we are driving or moving around a room, our perceptions of our bodies and the objects as solid help us to avoid embarrassing or painful incidents. We can use the perceptions, and still accept the limitations of our understanding.

This acceptance is a liberating experience. When we recognize that what we think, say and experience is actually metaphor, we realize that the truth is far more wondrous than anything we can describe. When we accept the limits of our perception, we begin to glimpse the divine presence in ourselves and the world around us.

A couple days ago, I finished shoveling snow from the driveway, and I stood for a few minutes and watched. The air was cold and crisp, the trees were covered with snow, and there was a profound calmness to the world around me. I let go of trying to describe what I was seeing, and allowed the moment to simply be. I began to sense - in a sense beyond the senses - a dynamic flow of grace expressed within the stillness of the moment. Even now, I feel handicapped to describe the experience, for what I know about that moment is beyond words. I was experiencing the beauty and love of the divine source.

It is possible to experience divine love and grace in every moment, but only if we accept the limits of our own perceptions. By accepting our perceptions as metaphor for the truth, we open ourselves to an ever-expanding experience of the infinite.


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