Wind-Tossed Trees

 

“The moment we resolve to invite knowledge into our lives, we have already activated it. Do we wish to live a life rich in fulfillment? To liberate ourselves and others from suffering? To experience greater joy and well-being? Each heartfelt “Yes” is also a yes to knowledge. Once we realize that we are free to choose, yes builds on yes, and knowledge develops through its own dynamic.” Dynamics of Time and Space, page xlii

This is such a different way of viewing our relationship with knowledge than the one we have probably lived with all our life, where knowledge is more likely to be viewed as a citadel to climb or a private container to fill, than an ally in fulfilling our aspiration to live more fully for the benefit of ourselves and others. We may well wonder if ‘knowledge’ is really the right word for this quality of engagement with a cosmos in which we can feel at home.

The word ‘knowledge’ usually refers to a collection of observations and information from which we select whatever relates to our lives–provided we are willing to expend the effort needed to gain access. We may also covet items of ‘knowledge’ for which we have no actual use, but most of us would not claim that we ‘know’ the unread books we have on our shelves.

When the TSK vision talks about ‘knowledge’, it is describing something more fundamental than any particular set of skills, particular way of investigating phenomena, or any subject we might study. TSK ‘knowledge’ includes these as well as all possible ways of looking and understanding. Unlike the ways in which the word ‘knowledge’ is commonly used, this more fundamental kind of knowing cannot be owned. (How could we possess something that is intrinsic to every moment of our lives and every dimension of the cosmos in which we live?)

Perhaps the TSK books could have used a different word: something more evocative of the heart’s engagement in life and the body-mind-spirit’s sense of togetherness with all-and-everything? But it’s not just that single word which the vision finds problematic. The TSK vision—in its attempt to recapture a living connection with the fundamental availability of knowledge in everything that arises—is obliged to challenge many other words, whose common associations are inadequate for capturing the unprecedented in the midst of the expected.

It seems that we can’t avoid invoking linear time as soon as we use language, with its past, present, future tenses. Nor can we avoid invoking the self with its subjective facing off with the objective realm, or avoid placing ourselves at the center of a vastness that doesn’t actually have a center—the instant that we employ a first-person pronoun.

Similar distortions operate in our relationship with space and time. But perhaps our narrow view of knowledge is especially egregious. Whereas we embrace space as the deep and infinite medium which leaves room for everything, and time as the infinite dynamic that creates life and movement, we don’t seem to realize that–in the sheer fact of being alive and aware–we inhabit a realm of knowing that is everywhere and always.

Are we really prepared to go on living this half-life, which comes from turning our back on the intrinsic knowing in the midst of which we live?

If we have any doubt that we have forgotten something vital, we have only to look at our world and acknowledge the impoverished and distorted versions of knowledge that have taken up roost in public discourse. If we really let this awareness sink in, we will realize that there is no more important undertaking at this time in the life of the world than to resume our friendship with the knowing which would allow us to feel at one with others and with our world.

But how can we relate to the claim that there exists some unfamiliar kind of global knowing and realize its immense value to us; when our entire education has been couched in terms of the benefit we can individually reap in exchange for the effort required to acquire it? And given this kind of ‘knowledge’–as we have learned to think of it–are we likely to just relax and let knowing come to us, wagging its tail behind it? Does not the impulse to let ‘knowledge’ come to us, as if we are a parched field turning our face to a gentle spring rain, sound like a recipe for laziness and self-indulgence? And would we not also be denying the despair and desperation that afflict so many and for which our society recommends education and vocational training as the best remedy?

Our society has settled into a relationship with a form of ‘knowledge’ that could be called ‘technological knowledge’, based on the scientific approach which is vouched for by the undeniable accomplishments of technology. We are the envy of people living in less prosperous parts of the world, who are deeply impressed by the technological transformations that quickly and economically allow fields to be plowed, water purified, and illnesses cured. Except for the side effects that start appearing when this way of knowing replaces all other ways of knowing, science and technology confer tremendous benefits on human society.

What are these adverse side-effects?

Time accelerates to such an extent that we often feel like lemmings racing off a cliff face, unable to pause for the few moments it would take to realize that we’d rather be relaxing somewhere else, appreciating the opportunities that human life offers us. Space becomes crowded with items that we don’t really need and which don’t help us to feel present in the vast openness which makes everything possible; while we keep buying new models—imagining that we will enjoy them more than earlier models–and that they will help to open our potential for creative exploration and discovery. Meanwhile knowledge becomes increasingly difficult to acquire and less useful when we do. For those whom society treats as expendable, incapable of learning or unworthy of the expense required to equip schools and pay good teachers to teach there—education can seem an afterthought. And it’s not just a matter of unequal access to education. The quality of knowledge is getting thinner, because it is increasingly treated as a carrier for sound bites, a means to manipulate opinion, and as job training to be forgotten as soon as we get a job.

None of this is new. For years we have watched in horror as school curriculums eliminated art, music, physical activity, and appreciation for literature and creative expression. Now, if a school can’t quantify and test their educational outcomes, they have little impetus (and no financial incentive) to teach subjects that will not be on the tests.

It’s not just in school classrooms that the relationship between the human mind and knowledge is deformed and curtailed. Throughout our society—in government, places of employment, and communication among people and with Mother Earth—fear, alienation, despair, poverty, helplessness, and a sense of inadequacy are on the rise.

Surely it’s worth our time to look more closely at the state of knowledge in our world. Unless we recognize that we are in the midst of an epidemic–which is causing us to squander our precious birthright as beings capable of knowing, understanding, communicating, appreciating, and caring—things will only get worse.

When we live in a world made up of fixed viewpoints, we can only focus on the surfaces of frozen objects—locked in time, isolated from the openness of space, and unaware of the unknown depths beneath our superficial representations.

But trees moving in the wind tell a different story. They remind us that knowledge, like time and space, is infinite and vibrantly alive.

2 comments to “Wind-Tossed Trees”
  1. Particularly LOVED this Michael…
    “When we live in a world made up of fixed viewpoints, we can only focus on the surfaces of frozen objects—locked in time, isolated from the openness of space, and unaware of the unknown depths beneath our superficial representations.

    But trees moving in the wind tell a different story. They remind us that knowledge, like time and space, is infinite and vibrantly alive.”

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