Quantum physics tells us that nothing that is observed is unaffected by the observer. That statement, from science, holds an enormous and powerful insight. It means that everyone sees a different truth because everyone is creating what they see.
–Neale Donald Walsch
I had a friend in college named Kathy, who came straight from a Kansas farm. She very quickly became a "hippie" (This was the early 70s.), which worried her loving parents no end. I don't remember when I realized that Kathy was cutting most of her classes, and although I knew there were some bona fide hippies hanging around the fringes of the campus, most students were not so tuned out or turned on that they stopped attending classes altogether.
Kathy would walk around barefoot in her hippie attire, going from room to room in the dorm, asking, "What is beauty? What is truth?" She didn't really want an answer. What she wanted was a discussion. But I didn't understand that, and I attempted to give her an answer, which turned out to be an exercise in exasperation for me, because nothing I said really answered her question.
Eventually, Kathy would be frustrated at her inability to generate a philosophical discussion, and she would move down the hall, trying to raise consciousness wherever she could. Meanwhile, my roommate and I would get back to our reading assignments, blissfully or not so blissfully ignorant of the rabbit hole Kathy had fallen into. (Think Alice in Wonderland.)
Like a lot of people, I assumed, when I was young, that there must be an ultimate source of truth, if I could only find it. I assumed, as well, that all my questions would someday be answered, that there was one and only one right answer for every question. I wasn't really looking for "truth" so much as I was looking for "the Truth," meaning answers to my questions. It never occurred to me to think that the nature of truth, itself, might affect the answers that I would get.
Fast forward several decades. My own path has been very different from Kathy's, and yet I finally had some of my own experiences with that same rabbit hole. I just stumbled into it at a very different place in my life. I've met a lot of people along the way who have been on their own search for truth, and I've been privileged to have a number of philosophical discussions, the like of which Kathy would have been thrilled to participate in.
I didn't really begin my search for truth in earnest until my mid-thirties, but I realize now that I had a lot of experiences before that time which prepared me for my search. I had the chance to encounter people of other faiths, such as Buddhism, Shintoism, and Zoroastrianism, and get to know their personal philosophies on an individual basis. I also did a great deal of reading in the science fiction genre, which opened my eyes to a lot of concepts that were mind-blowing at the time, but which are much more comfortable for me, now. I was exposed to a great deal of so-called "New Age" books that described multiple ways of finding truth. There was the good, the bad, and the ugly among them, and I became much more discriminating. Finally, I found a spiritual path that resonated with me, called Eckankar, a path that I have been on for nearly 20 years.
I've known for a while that each individual experiences truth in a different fashion, but until I saw the quote above by Neale Donald Walsch, I didn't have any idea of the mechanism by which this happens. In order for Walsch's quote to make sense, you have to have a little background.
First of all, it's important to understand that thoughts create reality in the sense that your thoughts inform your intentions, which in turn inform your words and actions. Your reality results, at least in part, from your words and actions, which create the situation you live in: your reality.
Walsh's idea adds to this concept with the information that when we look at the world, what we see or witness is affected by our simply being there. What physicists are discovering is that things exist because we are here to recognize them. Things happen because we are here to witness them. When physicists look for particles of light, they find them. When physicists look for waves of light, behold! They find those, too. We find what we're looking for.
There are still a lot of people in the world who believe that there is one Universal Truth, and some of them have discovered what they believe to be this Truth. My own experience has taught me differently.
I remember being struck by the story, "The Blind Men and the Elephant," a parable that originated in India. The American poet John Godfrey Saxe created a version of it as a poem in English, which became well-known in Europe and the United States. There are several versions of the story, however.
The story goes that a group of blind men were allowed to touch an elephant to see what it was like. Each man touched only one part of the elephant, and made an assumption about what the elephant was like based on his limited information, plus his prior knowledge. The man who touched the trunk thought the elephant was like a snake. The one who touched the tusks said it was like a spear. The one whose hand found the elephant's ears, thought it was like a fan. The person who grabbed the elephant's leg thought it was like a tree trunk. The guy who grabbed the tail, thought it was like a rope. The one who bumped up against the elephant's side thought it was like a wall.
The men argued about it, and in some versions of the story, they began to listen to each other to get a more complete picture of the animal. The story teaches that each of us necessarily has a limited experience of life, and that if we base our conclusions solely on our experience without listening to the ideas of others, we will not get the whole picture. Each person's experience of life was true, but it couldn't possibly encompass the totality of the "truth" of what an elephant is like.
Another idea that I have come across is one given out by Sri Harold Klemp, the spiritual leader of Eckankar, in one of his seminar talks. "Your state of consciousness is your state of acceptance," said Sri Harold. It has taken me a number of years to figure that one out, and like a lot of truths, it can be understood on a number of different levels. Basically, it has to do with your ability to accept things that happen in your life as lessons, or chances to learn something about life, about other people, or about ourselves. Our daily experiences are also opportunities to manifest some qualities that exist within us, but that we haven't learned to manifest outwardly, such as patience, tolerance, discrimination, humility, or perseverance. When we accept what life has to offer as a gift, rather than a burden, we can put aside the victim consciousness and become proactive participants in life.
Our state of acceptance also relates to the ideas and opinions expressed by other people, especially when they don't agree with our own. As illustrated by "The Blind Men and the Elephant," each person could have a better picture of the whole animal if he had listened to his friends, rather than arguing with them. Similarly, our ideas about God, about Creation, and about our purpose in life are the result of our own limited experience, and we can always benefit from the experience and wisdom of people who follow other spiritual paths.
Last summer, I had a chance to participate in a discussion among friends about finding Truth, and it became apparent to me that I am no longer looking for one Universal Truth, because I have seen other people do this. When they find what they consider to be Truth, they totally stop looking any farther. Fortunately, my path doesn't present "the Truth," but instead teaches that there is always a plus element to life. As our consciousness of life expands, we can accept more and more truth. I am no longer looking for "the Truth," but rather, I am searching for "more truth," realizing that as my own experience expands, so does the truth that I am capable of comprehending and applying to my life. This is why I make it a point to listen to others' ideas and try to entertain their ideas in order to come to some understanding of them, rather than dismiss them out of hand because they are not like my ideas.
Oh, Kathy, wherever you are... what a discussion we could have now! :-)