This thought experiment came to me while out sailing with a friend.
What if we discovered that our boat has a compass? What if we had no idea what it was, or how it worked? There it sat. And, at times we would notice certain apparent coincidences. Certain alignments with other things we were familiar with: the position of the sun, the direction towards home….
How would this unfold?
This is the position we are in regarding proprioception and an awareness of awareness. It shows us how difficult it is to attempt to talk about it with someone who has not recognized their compass – or even that such a thing might exist.
Take this as the extreme case, the archetype, played out in our obsession with technology. We want a GPS to tell us where to go. We’re not concerned with how it works: we believe in Progress!™ So we gain comfort from the aura of mystery we allow to settle over its workings. So accustomed to hearing an external voice declaiming what and where we should go we’ve lost all track of any other possibility. We cover our weakness with an identification with the power we ascribe to this external force: Technology, Modernity, Capitalism, Rationalism….
There is great fear and trepidation if we even consider turning the device off, “How will we keep from getting lost?”
The only thing that helps our resolve is a growing sense that we are already lost. We console ourselves, “What do I have to lose?”
Without turning off those external voices, and they are everywhere, we cannot carve the psychic space in which to discover any alternative. Every minor fear and trepidation finds an easy answer declared by voices clamoring for our attention.
There are countless roads back into normal.
If we can get this far we begin to see that this realization itself has brought something to light. Some connection is made. We feel a twinge – not of our customary dread – a twinge… could this be Joy! Whatever it is it connects with some internal pathway that draws us to recognize a source of strength we had not realized before. Each time we stumble upon this awareness we feel – not more certain. If anything our certainties are dissolving around us! We feel… some kind of connection… some kind of centered-ness… some kind of strength flowing through us. And we begin to recognize that – as mysterious as this turns out to be – it holds true.
We don’t need to know how a compass works to be guided by it. In fact, it may be better to hold its workings as a mystery than to develop reductive theories and explanations that lead to a false sense of certainty.
Not knowing how a GPS works – how any of the complex technologies we surround ourselves with work – is not the same thing. They are not mysterious. They are brutally mundane. They work “like clockwork.” Everything about their functioning is known – by someone – and its powers are limited by the finite-ness of their binary foundations. We attempt to add a gloss of belief to give them an aura they do not deserve. We set them up as idols.
When we confront mystery, as in the mystery of our internal compass, we are approaching a true mystery. We are holding its workings in awe because it shows us a glimpse of the infinite. The unlimited.
The difference between these two experiences can be seen in our responses. The ersatz belief in Technology brings us into a weak position of wishing to be wrapped up in something outside ourselves we want to believe is powerful: We want to feel strength by association. When we approach a mystery like our internal compass we find in our every contact with it that we grow stronger in our selves as we recognize how interconnected we are. We find ourselves at this point of distinction between strength and power.