J. Randall Stewart
13 - The Autonomous Self and Surrender - Part 1
Updated: May 23, 2020
If you’re just checking in with me for the first time, you may feel a bit out of the loop as you begin to read, and for good reason. I’ve just spent the last twelve posts establishing the ground work for much of how I plan to approach everything else, by attempting to briefly define the Knowing/Being centers. These will continue to both inform and be further explored in many of our continuing topics. So, it bears repeating, that you might want to go back and spend some time in those first twelve posts in order to track well with all that comes after. One of the apparent conflicts created by the Knowing/Being model is the idea that we need God's help understanding ourselves, and life. This can fly in the face of our rugged, Western individualism and the idea of free will. Are we free agents, able to carve our own path in life, or are we more dependent on an outside, Divine source to help guide us? I’ve at least attempted to show, through the Knowing/Being model that there is, in fact, the need for an outside source to help us interpret and understand all the data of life that comes through our thoughts, emotions, and body. You can call that source God, Divine energy, Cosmic Guide, or whatever name you feel most comfortable with. Regardless how you name this God character, I don’t believe the need for Divine guidance is how we tend to view life and how we work. We don’t see the need to reference any other source for understanding ourselves and the world but ourselves. At times that may mean we do need to look outside ourselves, individually, to the collective wisdom of human culture, but even then, we still tend to draw all the data back to ourselves in order to create a self-referential system of truth. In other words, we love to be the center and source of truth for ourselves. This is a direct need of the ego-self, which is always about creating, preserving, and protecting its own rightness in the world. As humans, we tend towards a self-centered position. This is my body, my mind, my truth, my house, my car, my town, my country, and so on. It reinforces a “me-you” “us-them” dualism. The ego self is always about distinction for the purpose of separation, and separation for the purpose of denigration. What I believe about myself, my world, and my truth is the best way to believe, and I know this because I believe it. It is a purely self-referential and circular system of truth, no matter how we attempt to underpin it with facts, data, and “science.” And it is all centered on the idea that we are capable of thinking and knowing things for ourselves. But is that true? The answer is a small “yes,” and a very big “no.” Let me explain.
Lets begin with a simple statement. There is truth. There is such a thing as reality. The question isn’t, can we know truth, or reality, but can we know these for ourselves, by ourselves. Can truth be known self-referentially? Are we enough, individually, even collectively as humans, to properly understand reality as it is? The answer, I believe, is no. But I also don’t think we believe that. We think we are capable of generating a correct view of reality, and for good reason. We do have the ability to create our own view of things. The problem is that we don’t understand that our view is from a particular vantage point. It’s not hard to prove this. Unless you can view all possible data, from all possible vantage points, throughout all time, then you can never say you have an unbiased, unfiltered view of reality. You were born at a certain time, in a certain place, with a certain culture, and even a certain way of understanding things. We are all capable at the most basic level to look back in history and see things that were once believed which we now know are partially or entirely untrue. That’s because we have a better vantage point historically than every person who lived before us. So, we can easily see how limited others perspectives were in the past, about so many things, including science, phycology, even religion and spirituality. Yet, we seem somehow incapable of granting to ourselves the same limiting bias. We need to lean much harder into Einstein’s Theory of Relativity which states that we see reality through a set of filters. I would add that we have way more filters than we imagine, and they are much more skewed than we think. Even where we might admit that we do have bias, we do not give it enough credit. Not enough to propel us towards the idea that we need a better vantage point than ourselves for seeing reality. That is the essence of the Contemplative life, that we cannot know reality from our limited perspective, and that we then need a better view from somewhere outside ourselves. We actually need much more than a better view. We need a view which is completely unbiased. The only cavate to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is that there is someone who does not see the world through filters, and that we can actually come in contact with that person and live through their limitless perspective instead of our own. The word most often used for that person is God. God is the cosmic energy that enlivens all things with his/her eternal presence which has unlimited access to all reality throughout all time. In other words, God has always been here, and always been fully present to every moment in every place from every vantage point possible. As the Christian text puts it, God is in all things and through all things, and in God all things move, breath, and have their being. God is fully present at the micro and macro level of the physical world, and fully present in every level of the spiritual world as well. From the atom to the whale, from the speck of sand to the mountain, from the microbe to the human, God is in, around, and surrounds all things. God permeates all life to the core in ways the defy and confound anything we can understand. God is both natural, and supernatural, present in the physical and metaphysical world. That makes God, not just the container of all truth, but the container and the contents. God is ultimate reality!! But what does that mean?
You may not believe in God. That is, you may not believe in this eternal, limitless life-sustaining energy force that constitutes true reality without any filter. And even if you do, you may not view this God character even remotely the same as I do, and that’s okay. You may not believe in God, but you can’t believe in our ability to know reality apart from such a source, whether you believe that source to be fictitious or real. Either there is a God, who constitutes true reality, or true reality cannot be known. There is no alternative reality which can be somehow known by limited, finite beings. Any alternative to reality is not true reality. That is what we could call partial reality. And that’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with our view of a relative, partial reality. So we don't see all of reality as a whole. No big deal. The problem is when we think our limited view is the whole. Either there is no God, and we have no good access to true reality, or there is a God by which we may reach towards true reality. There is no third box to check here, where we can still maintain an effective handle on reality without God. We simply cannot. But we certainly struggle to believe that. The problem with our limited view, as I see it, is that we simply do not accept relativity when it comes to our truth. We rarely frame our individual truth in relative terms. We think we know what is true, and we hold ourselves and others to it. We quite frequently and comfortably use terms like "right" and "wrong", "good" and "evil", "better" or "worse"; terms which do not exist except in a system where reality is truly accessible. We cannot use such terms and simultaneously claim that truth is relative. What we usually do is refer to our truth in these absolute terms, while reserving the right to call others truth relative, effectively talking about truth out of both sides of our mouth. We like to claim that truth is relative when we don’t want to be told we’re wrong, but that our truth is "right" when we don't like someone else's. We have our truth, everyone else has their opinion. But who is right? Who has the right to claim that their truth is right. Is anything even truth if it is not true all the time, for everyone. I know we don't like to hear this, but the answer is that our truth is always relative, and God’s is always true. Don't think that I'm getting religious here, and about to call a bunch of people sinners for not accepting Jesus, or the ten commandments. Even religious people, and religion itself is still self-referential, small truth. What I believe about God and religion is still trapped in my small, limited reference point. It's not religion, or belief in God that is absolute reality, but God him/herself. That brings every person down to the same humble plane, concerning truth. We cannot know truth on our own, but we can know God. What that means, concerning our individual view of truth, is that we assume a stance of self-autonomy at the cost of reality.
Can we think for ourselves? As I said before, the answer is a small “yes” and a big “No.” We certainly can think for ourselves, but when we do we lose our grip on reality. We can form our own ideas, opinions, and views about anything and everything, but in saying “yes” to our own formation of reality, we say “no” to God’s. That "no" cuts us off from the best and truest view of what is real. God created the world. God created the world to be a certain thing and work a certain way. God also created us like him/her, to be creative in much the same way. But God did not create us to do anything in isolation from him/her. God always intended us to live and view life through a deep kind of God-connectedness that would inform everything about us and our world. We could say that God designed us to view the world by looking through him/her. What we see by looking through God is a unified world of connection, where everything and everyone is drawn together as a whole in God. This is important, because it grounds us in the greatest reality. It allows us to see that we are part of something much bigger, part of the whole universe, because we are so deeply and intimately connected to the life force of the entire universe. So, when we see all things through the lens of God, we understand that interconnectedness, which in turn helps us live out of that space in a way which honors the connectedness of all things to God. When we live as autonomous individuals, who can think, act, do, and be whatever we, then we break that God-connectivity and begin doing what seems good for us, regardless whether it is good for anyone else. It is our view as independent actors, disconnected from the universe, that creates what is broken and dysfunctional in the world. Does that make sense? This is what the Christian religion calls "sin" or "fallenness", ideas which can get distorted and twisted when we do not rightly understand the purpose of this connectedness. The purpose is not to appease a self-absorbed, petty God who demands obedience for the sake of obedience, but who desires surrender for the sake of wholeness. I’ve pretty much abandoned the term “sin”, because it has been so misused and misunderstood, and prefer the terms healthy or unhealthy. What God desires is for us to be healthy. The Christian term “sin”, in every sense of the word, is simply the whole of what is unhealthy for us, which is anything that disconnects us from reality, which can be called God. And the bulk of what is unhealthy for us can be defined as self-autonomy grounded in self-referential truth. So, the better question, then, isn’t, “can we think for ourselves,” but “should we think for ourselves.” And the answer, again, is no.
As I’ve already said, we have the ability to think for ourselves. We were designed that way for a reason, but the reason wasn’t so that we would think for ourselves independently. We were designed to take in data, through the three Knowing Centers, collect that data in the Soul Being Center, and then let God help us understand that data through our Body and Spirit Centers. Without God, we default naturally to being our own meaning makers. We cannot help that, because we were created for meaning, and apart from God’s meaning we will create our own. But creating our own meaning creates all kinds of auxiliary problems, some of which I’ve already shown. The first and biggest is that it grounds us in a self-centered reality. If I make my own meaning, then I am the central actor in my own reality. Reality is literally centered on me. The second problem this creates is 7 billion centers of reality. We know this is a problem. It’s why we create truth sources, systems of authority by which we attempt to legitimate our own self-centered truth. Those systems of self-referential authority can be grounded in science, government, religion, or personal belief. But we can also see clearly the flaw of these systems, in that they produce and support conflicting truth. For example, Christians use the same science to prove God's existence which Atheists use to disprove that. And differing Christian denominations all use the same religious text to validate thousands of differing and conflicting religious truths and dogmas. The answer most often given by any group for this is that the “other” group is simply using the system incorrectly, but the truth is that we’re using the wrong system. We’re all actually using these systems exactly how they were meant to be used, to validate our own, self-referential truth, because we need truth to be true. But the fact that these systems can and are used to prove so many differing “truths” proves that these systems do not work. If they did, they would produce one unifying truth. Truth that is actually true brings us together. It does not pull us apart. That is also why any truth about God which divides isn’t God, because God’s reality is about that which draws us all together. Truth, in God’s view, isn't about ideas and beliefs, but about being. It is about the intimate inner-connectedness of all things by Divine Love. Love, it can be said, is the highest truth of the universe. Any system which reinforces our division produces hate, and any system which produces hate show itself to be disconnected from God. Sadly, religious systems can fall under the same deluded "truth" as any non-religious system. Any system grounded in humanity as its own meaning maker instead of God will naturally produce false truth, which will naturally produce division and hate. On the contrary, any system which reinforces the connectedness of all things under God will naturally lead to love. If we view the world through this lens, what we find is that most systems are self-referential, and not all that connected to the reality of God, even most religions.
It’s a sad state of affairs to say that most truth systems are actually more bent towards producing and preserving what is not true, because they are based on establishing and sustaining self-autonomy. Most truth systems are created to prove my truth and disprove yours, but in doing so they actually disprove all truth, because the truest reality of the world is the unification of all things under God. The very act of me trying to validate my own self-referential truth is what actually invalidates it, because there is no such thing is my truth. Truth and reality are a God who is in all things, who holds all things together, and who grounds all things in the connectedness of one unifying reality. This is ground-breaking truth. We are meant to operate as individuals within the larger context of the cosmos. This does not eradiate our individuality, but actually liberates us from its most extreme dysfunction, thinking of ourselves in terms too centric and limited. It emphasizes too great a separateness, which makes us feel isolated and alone. And the reality of that dysfunction is evidence in the result. We suffer from this isolation. We feel lonely, forgotten, even meaningless because we have lost the intended connectedness only found in God. But what about the last part of this topic. What about surrender as the solution to self-autonomy. Good question. We’ll keep pushing into that idea in the next post as we explore how to get out of these systems which have disconnected us from reality. I hope you can begin to see the truth in all this. I understand, much of this may be foreign to you. But this is why contemplation is so important, because it attempts to ground us in that greater reality, in order to bring us back to the fullness and wholeness for which we were created. So, hang with me, and keep trudging along as we expand and stretch our consciousness towards that goal.