“When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom.
When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love.
And between those two, my life turns.”
–Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’
Sometimes we have to look below the surface—even with traditional wisdom teachings—to discover the three strands of our human condition.
Captivated by Yin and Yang chasing one another through the corridors of space and time, we may forget that both are held within the circle of the Tao.
Encountering the Buddhist maxim: “Wisdom and Compassion are like the two wings of a bird,” we may forget that we ourselves are the bird and will not be able to fly until we reconcile emptiness and fullness in our lives.
It is a daunting task, but probably a first step is to realize that the nest in which we live is poised between swaying tree branches and open sky.
The “Law of Three” (which George Gurdjieff articulated as the Active, Passive, and Reconciling forces he asserted are present in every manifestation) is sometimes explicitly stated—as in “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”, “body, mind, and spirit”, or “Time, Space, and Knowledge”–and sometimes less so–as in the examples from Taoism and Buddhism cited above.
We all know what it feels like to be stuck in a world of polar opposites: liberal/conservative, self/other, subject/object, evolution/creationism, us and them, etc.
Dueling certainties assailing one another from afar cry out for a rope bridge to be slung across their uncompromising chasms. Acts of communication, of open-hearted listening, reconciliation, forgiveness, collaboration–in fact any willingness to repair a bridge, open a door, patch a highway—are rare these days.
What can we do to make whole again the shattered mirror of our world?
How can we sweep up all the polar opposites into their original oneness?
Perhaps one way is to search for the third piece that has been lost in breaking apart all that is naturally complete and whole.
The other morning, while talking with my son about how thinking and emotionality are both outcroppings from the bed rock of inherent awareness, I noticed that one of my “ocular migraines” had arrived.
I’m very fortunate that these periodic migraines are of a kind that merely creates painless, jagged, triangular patterns dancing across my field of vision. These patterns are surprising similar to Acoma Pueblo pottery, which makes me suspect that those pueblo designs come from an Elder who also experienced ocular migraines. In my case, they merely require me to discount the evidence of my eyes for a while: as when I’m driving in winter and I have to peer through a small patch in the windshield until the defroster has melted a wider view of the world outside.
Just as we don’t mistake the frosty inside of the windshield for the moving roadway outside, we are able to routinely “see through” most optical illusions.
So that morning when I noticed that one of my ocular migraines had kicked in (like a shimmering veil of inconsequential, decorative lighting), it occurred to me to wonder why those patterns stand out from all the visual pictures which my eyes report to my brain as “reality”.
This pueblo light show–hovering across the field of my living room floor, across my son’s face, and obscuring the morning light that illuminated trees standing sentinel in the wide world beyond—was not perceived as belonging in the picture of “reality” which I assemble every day. I treated it as a kind of interference to the “real” picture. And just as static is not interpreted as coming from the concert hall in which a piece of music was recorded, we routinely edit out any “imperfections” that don’t seem to fit with what we expect.
Yet if we pause for a moment and catch this editing process in the act, perhaps we will find another message coexisting with the one with which we so deeply identify–that we are at the center of a substantial world which exists whether we are looking or not—a message so firmly established that we often don’t bother to actually look.
Van Gogh’s swirling vision of the French countryside taught us to look at the night sky with new eyes. Perhaps we can reimagine our own personal worlds in a new way also. Perhaps we too are free to resurrect a middle way where reconciliation and mystery have always made their home.
Why would we want to do that? Because the wing-clipped certainties that weigh down public discourse obscure the sacred ground where human beings have always met to collaborate and celebrate the possibilities of life.