Continued from Part 1.
Mystery is that terrain of the unseen. Faith allows us inquiry into the unseen spiritual physics and dynamics of things, because everything that matters is really intangible. Love, anger, disappointment… those things are not seeable. We see the manifestation of them though, just like we see the wind by the movement of the trees.
I don’t think we can understand or see some of those spiritual physics if we don’t have gratitude, because gratitude opens the door to mystery that’s larger than our surface understanding and that lets the light come through.
MM: There’s another great quote in the book that I'd like to mention. “When we cease to shed what’s dead in us in order to soothe the fears of others, we remain partial.” That says to me that unless we are true to who we are and grateful for who we are, we can’t be whole.
MN: Absolutely. And this is one of the challenges of being human because we live in the midst of an essential paradox between solitude and community. We learn about mystery and life mostly in solitude. We have an experience and are so enlivened or confused or troubled by that, we want to say to others, “Did you experience that?” or “Is this crazy?” or “Isn’t this beautiful?”
We have to trust our firsthand experience but if all we trust is what we know, we know very little. We need to learn from others, without giving up who we are. That puts us in the realm and shadow of community. In order to belong we give ourselves away.
What we’re talking about here is one of the great metaphors of all time, Plato’s allegory of the cave. To sum it up, nobody knows how everybody lives in this cave, out of the light, but it’s a tradition. They’re all fastened to a rock underground, and there are shadows on the wall from a fire that they don’t see, so their priest, or whoever is the high leader of the group, interprets the shadows on the wall.
None of the people know what freedom is but one person’s chains wore down; they crumbled and he was suddenly freed. He wandered out to the mouth of the cave where the fire was that was casting these shadows. Now to get into his direct experience of life, he has to run through the flames. So he does that and he gets a little burned but he’s not hurt, and now he’s stunned by the miracle of life. There are creatures that fly in the sky, and clear liquid that’s flowing where he can see himself and can wash himself, and there’s light, and there’s grass, and he’s just blown away.
He goes through a crisis wondering if he was dreaming but he’s so excited about the life he’s discovered. Then he remembers those he left behind so he goes back through the fire because he loves these people. He tells them, “Hey, you are not going to believe what I’ve found! Come, this is amazing!”
And of course they say, “You’re interrupting the high priest, you’re being disrespectful. Sit down and shut up.”
He says, “No, no, you don’t understand. This is unbelievable!”
And the priest doesn’t do anything to dissuade them but they are so frightened of [the naysayer] that sadly, they stone him to death.
There’s another version to this story, which is where they say, “Oh my god, you saw something. Take me out there, let me see it. Thank you!” This is another act of faith. And even today, we face this. This is not just political and religious fundamentalism, this is personal fundamentalism, where we’re ready to stone someone who sees something we can’t.
MM: It reminds me of the Bodhisattva path—coming back through the fire to draw people toward awareness and then being punished for it.
MN: The beauty of the Bodhisattva archetype in my interpretation, is freedom to leave the realm of suffering, but as they approach that liberation, they say, “I’m not gonna go until everybody can come with me.” But I believe the Bodhisattva actually knows that not everybody’s gonna make it. I don’t know if strict Buddhists would interpret it this way but in essence, the Bodhisattva is accepting heaven here on earth and keeping people company to minimize suffering.
MM: That alone is a beautiful thing.