Original photo by Chrissy Hall

I was speaking with my brother the other day, and he mentioned reading this blog.  He noticed something right away that I had thought was subtle. (Oh well.)  I never actually spell out exactly what I believe. Instead, I just put all these little posts out, some with an agenda, some without, but none with a declarative description of deity or a nice detailed list of rules. So, since I was apparently not so subtle, I think I will just address this head on.

The hard part of describing things is connecting with the “explainee”.  It is easy to dryly describe something in terms of shape, size, weight, texture, but hard to really impart knowledge.  For example, if I say “5 pounds”, that is an accurate description of weight, but it doesn’t give you true knowledge.  If I say “a 5 pound bag of sugar”, that might connect with knowledge you already have.  While “5 pounds” is sterile, “a 5 pound bag of sugar” may bring you the memory of the real heft of 5 pounds, the feeling of the bag of sugar in your hand, the crunchy, sandy feel of sugar that has leaked between the many thin paper layers of the bag, and the dusty feel of the bag itself, covered in the pulverized powder of sugar that has escaped.  And there is more, the sound, the smell, places and times you handle a bag of sugar like the store aisle and your kitchen counter, and it goes on and on.  I could never describe it enough to give you this knowledge if you didn’t already have it, because you have to experience the bag of sugar for yourself to really know it.  Without that experience, all these descriptions are still just that, dry descriptions that, with some imagination, can be built into a partial, and inevitably flawed, understanding of what a bag of sugar is really like.

So, if describing something as fundamentally simple and mundane as a bag of sugar is so difficult, imagine trying to describe a complex spiritual experience, an epiphany, a moment when through meditation, trauma or pharmacology you touch the divine, you inexplicably experience the ineffable.

We usually begin to describe it in terms of shared experience, which if you are describing a truly new experience that your listener does not share, leads to analogies, metaphors and similes. In fact, as soon as we begin trying to tell the story of an experience like that, I think we risk diminishing it. If we are not very careful, our experience will cease to be what it truly was in our own memories, over shadowed and eventually replaced by the story we tell to describe it.

So, I tell stories of my experiences, but they are only a shadow of the actual experience.  I share some of the fall out from my own experiences, how I apply the things I Know, even if I can’t share the actual knowledge.  If something I write resonates with something you Know, or even triggers a new experience for you, then I think that is very cool.  And the most important point?  It is your experience, not mine, that really matters in your life. 

One Reply to “What it Means to Know, or Gnosis is not a Spectator Sport”

  1. I appreciate the approach you take here. The analogy of the “bag of sugar” is a nice one. This point could also lead to other, broader, deeper considerations of things such as “reality,” “actuality,” and our perceptions of the universe in general.

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