Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Truth-Seeker: A Journey

I always believed there was a Truth.
And I knew I didn’t have it.
It was out there somewhere. Distant. Elusive. Illusory.
But I could never quite grasp it. Just when I felt I had it close enough so I could reach out and apprehend it, it mysteriously moved, shifted, kind of slipped away, beyond me... and my grasp... again.
For lack of a better term, I defined Truth as God. Much of my culture did that, so that fit my parameters too: distant... elusive... illusory... God. Didn’t matter: big ‘G’ or little ‘g’.
And Truth for me was definitely removed and remote, up there somewhere, above the clouds of confusion and ignorance and unknowing, but...
I figured, if I could just find that one first truth, one I could simply count on as absolute truth, then...
like building with stones, that first truth would lead me to a second, and then connect with a third, and... as I fit them together, building layer upon layer, they would not only stand, but eventually one day reach up and lift me above those hindersome clouds to where I would finally and triumphantly proclaim, ‘I made it, God! Aren’t you proud of me?’
All the while, however, I was oblivious to that still gaping gulf between us; not the vertical gulf, for in my mind I had already bridged that, but the horizontal one, the chasm my self had created, the one still looming between G(g)od and me. So intent on realizing my own personal truth, I had unwittingly created my own personal god: ME!

It’s hard to be god, especially all the time! You’ve got to be perfect and for humans, that demands a lot of work and striving to: meet impossible standards, realize impossible dreams, and self-fulfill your own prophecies.
I tried for a lot of years. Tried real hard. I suspected truth realization might have something to do with character, so I tried all the harder. But some days, after I had purposefully turned over a new leaf just that very morning, no one noticed by noon just what a great guy I had instantly become! That was hard to take! People can be so disappointing!

Don’t know why I was wired this way exactly, but all my pictures in elementary school had mountains in them and I don’t think it was just because I lived in British Columbia. I think it had more to do with trying to ‘Climb every mountain; ford every stream!’
Something like The Sound of Music meets Mission Impossible in my blood, urging me ever onward and upward to make the impossible possible.
Reach the unreachable; attain the unattainable.
Deceptive idealism.
Much of my spiritual journey seemed to end up with me often falling into creeks by that name. They were not only messy, slippery experiences, but most of all, embarrassing.
Self has to keep up appearances for a lot of ego and it doesn’t like to apologize for what it is not.
Unfortunately, I still seem to encounter some of these same waters at times and when you stay too long and wallow, they become, as for all pilgrims of truth, Sloughs of Despond.
And I really did fashion myself a pilgrim, or maybe even a Don Quixote on some formidable quest, forsaking the familiar, turning my back on the status quo to deliberately seek out the exotic unknown, that which could not + would not be nailed down and put in a a coffin.

Or more to my way of thinking, I fancied myself a traveler. Never a tourist.
God forbid! (now who was my god again?) I would never be as crass, lame, nor unforgivably stupid as those tourists: you know, the ones who rent the taxis or go on city tours in double-decker buses with the driver-guide cracking the same old tired jokes he/she’s worked over every trip for the last twenty years?
Same old, same old.
Routine, routine, rut rut routine.
I prided myself that I was able to smell them a mile away and run even further in the opposite direction.
Tourists were not truth-seekers. Tourists never truly know where they are or where they’ve been. I used to ridicule them as poring over their cache of vaguely familiar photos when they got home, the ones they snapped through streaked bus windows while still driving.
‘Funny? why do all these pictures have that same dirt smudge in them!?’
I remember when I was once in Lisbon, Portugal, ‘traveling’ through the Alfama: the former Arab section of the city and oldest district not destroyed by the devastating 18th Century earthquake. Original buildings from over 600 years ago; a still working-class fishermen neighbourhood among narrow, twisting streets and alleys barely wide enough for donkeys to pass.
Sounded interesting... so I went to see it for myself.
While exploring its maze of old shops, houses and marketplaces, I heard a sudden commotion up the street ahead of me and looked up just in time to see one of Lisbon’s unique green-and-black taxis screech to an abrupt stop. Its rear passenger window rolled down.
A camera poked its eye out like a spying U-Boat's periscope, intruding on the medieval scene below.
Then one ‘Click!’ and the interloper receded, back into the anonymous black hole from where it had come. And just as quickly as it had arrived, the taxi then sped off again, its window still rolling up with its human cargo anxiously anticipating their next exciting destination.
I stood there, taken aback by the superficiality of what I had just witnessed.
I imagined what bland existence lurked behind that camera incognito.
And then a humorous scenario occurred to me:
Fast Forward to possibly 1 week later, back home in America, where I pictured ‘Fred + Martha’ looking over the photos of their recent quickie European tour.
‘So where’s this one from, Martha? I can’t remember where this was? Looks like some kind of fish market. Disgusting! Look at the way they just lay them out on the street! Probably France. Or was that Spain? They both looked the same. Or... wasn’t there another country in there too? What was it called? Something like.... Portyoucall? Do you remember? Were we there?...
Are you even sure these are our pictures?’
Some people spend their lives like they tour countries: ‘If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium!
And then, after they’ve returned home and they’re left only with memories, they have no clear recollection of where they’ve been and how it relates to their present picture.

In retrospect, however, I was more like that very tourist I mocked than I ever realized.
Essentially, I was a tourist in my own life: looking for truth, but rolling down my window only enough to poke my opinion out, ignorantly taking the moment’s snapshot, and then withdrawing once again into my self-centred darkness; anticipating the later joy of more photographs of places, people and experiences, but never able to appreciate their moments of truth while I was actually there.
And so I kept seeking and stumbling.
One day I stumbled over these lines from T.S. Eliot, a fellow truth-seeker:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’ (Little Gidding)

But.... I wondered,
Where is that place, that first place, the first knowledge, that first stone I can count on....
the truth?’