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Getting and Becoming Real: What is Truth and Why is it Important?


A pendulum centered on a map

In a world filled with increasingly contentious claims about what is true and what is not, how is one to know the actual truth of anything? And why is knowing the truth important anyway? Here Gail Fillion writes about the essentiality of truth—why to seek it, what can stand in the way of seeing it, and how to begin to discover it for oneself.

These days we often hear (and perhaps use) terms such as “my truth” or “your truth”—and in fact each of us does view the world through the filters of our own unique experiences. Even people growing up in the same family will sometimes have vastly differing perspectives and remembrances of the same shared circumstances. This factor can be even more magnified for those born into diverse cultures, religions, political ideologies, imposed class systems, economies, etc. The more varied the experience, the greater the gap in perceived truths there may be.


We are, each of us, greatly influenced by the circumstances and groupings into which we are born and in which we are raised, especially during our youngest and most impressionable years. Children are like sponges, naturally and wonderfully open to life and with a rate of absorption that’s truly astonishing­—yet much of what we absorb from our surroundings as children causes us to develop views of the world, of others, and even ourselves that are biased, rather than seeing things for what they really are at core (the word “biased” here to mean inclined towards or away from something).


Thus “my truth” or “your truth” are necessarily subjective truths and can only be fragments of a much bigger picture best perceived from a more neutral (unbiased) point of view.

 

Seeing is Believing - Or is it?


Add to the equation in these times, misleading and “fake” news, manipulative social media algorithms and artificial intelligence that can clone people’s voices and images, and it’s easy to see (or is it?) that what appears to be real is not always the case. All of this, and more, has introduced unnecessary confusion into our lives that we now have to deal with, sort through and decide upon, making it increasingly challenging to differentiate between what is true and what is not. 

 

Outwitting Our Biases


It is important to emphasize here that everyone has certain biases, leanings and predispositions, for the very reasons stated above. It’s inescapable. These are not necessarily bad or good in themselves—gender and astrological influences, for instance, are natural filters through which we view life. And we all have likes and dislikes (inconsequential leanings) that fall under the category of preferences such as favorite colors, kinds of music or flavors of ice cream. There may also be areas in which we are in fact indifferent—for instance, if I have absolutely no interest in baseball then I am unlikely to be “for” or “against” either team playing in the World Series. (Unless one of them happens to be my hometown team, in which case another of my leanings might come into play.)


It is in the bigger scheme of life and consequences that biases can be truly problematic, if they bar us from ever perceiving beyond them, even in the light of new knowledge or experience that would otherwise lead us closer to the actual truth of something. The key to moving forward in spite of our biases lies in the realization that whatever we may think we know about any subject, circumstance or person (including ourselves), there will always be more to know and to understand. And because there is always more to know, final judgements are necessarily premature. This realization alone can help to keep the door of one’s mind open, when it would otherwise be closed.


We may still have our biases, but they do not need to have us.



Real Truth is Objective

 

Balanced Scales

Truth itself is both objective and universal in its application. It consists of what the case actually is rather than what we may have learned it is, decided it is or even wish it to be. When our mental scales are not tipped in one direction or another by preconceived notions and assumptions, we are better able to discern and weigh the facts at hand to arrive at a fair assessment rather than a premature judgment or foregone conclusion.

 

 

Truth is based in fact, not fantasy.

 

For instance:


  • I can call myself a cat, but that does not make me a cat. (If I had to catch a mouse for dinner, I would undoubtedly go hungry.)

 

  • I can decide that I can fly, and I can flap my arms all day long, but I am never going to get off the ground without benefit of an airplane, a hot air balloon or some other aeronautical aid.

 

  • I can believe that I am likeable, and that everyone I know or meet in life will like me, but really what are the chances of this being true? To believe so is to delude myself. (The 15th century English poet and monk John Lydgate recognized this when he observed that “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.)


Why Seek the Truth?


A silhouette of a woman looking up at the night sky

Throughout history, people who have set themselves upon a spiritual path of one kind or another have been known as “seekers of truth.” Discontented with answers of convenience or dogma that they may have encountered thus far concerning life and its purposes, they have set out in one way or another to search for answers to such significant questions as “What is the meaning of Life?”, “Why am I here?”, What is the purpose of being Human?”, “What is my purpose and how can I fulfill it?” and more.


But why seek truth?


It is sometimes said that “Truth hurts.” (Curiously, if you rearrange the letters of IS TRUTH you get the anagram IT HURTS.) Well, yes, it can on some levels. For instance, realizing an unfortunate aspect about oneself (on one’s own or by having it pointed out by someone else) may hurt one’s ego or one’s feelings. It may burst the fantasy bubble of who and what we may think we are. It may cause us to feel embarrassed or lesser than others.


But the hurt is only temporary unless we decide to hold on to it. For those who have committed to a journey of self (elected) development to better align themselves to what is true, the sting is short-lived and well worth the price. Because not knowing the truth can hurt us far more. When we realize something unfortunate about ourselves that we now see to be true, we can accept it and absorb it. If we choose, we can decide to do something about it, knowing that no one is perfect, and we are all in a process of refining. Remaining ignorant means that we remain stuck in place, missing the opportunity to move beyond our shortcomings and into the next opportunity.


Runs of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi

The words “Know Thyself” were among those once inscribed above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece (seat of the high priestess Pythia, better known as the Oracle of Delphi). As the ancients knew, the more we know ourselves, the better we can manage ourselves and our imperfections—thus the freer from them we can be. We will never be perfect, we will always be works in progress, but we can improve. Not overnight perhaps, but over time. It’s an ongoing journey.


Sun rising gradually over an open field

Truth has many levels within it and does not come all at once (although there can be significant flashes of it). And there is a real kindness in this. Even the morning sun does not appear instantly and fully out of the darkness. Imagine how blinding and disorienting that would be. Like the sun, truth appears incrementally, allowing us to grow accustomed to it over time and not be overwhelmed by the full force of it. And in the light of that dawning truth, we can see more of what is real. Each day that we live, there is more to be revealed. With more to come, tomorrow. Thus is built a solid foundation of truth, layer upon layer, upon which a life can stand with certainty within a world that seems to grow more uncertain with each passing day.

 

What Does Truth Call For?


It calls not only for wanting it, but needing it, longing for it. Desiring to know what’s true even when it makes one uncomfortable or bursts one’s bubble or stings a bit.


It also calls for (among other things):


  • An open mind

  • A willingness to move beyond one’s preconceived notions and biases

  • Learning to take things less personally

  • The ability to let things go that no longer fit

  • Forgiveness – of self and of others

  • Strength and perseverance to keep going

  • Knowing that one doesn’t “arrive” at truth, one continues to follow it

 

 

Finding Truth: Where to Begin?

 

Throughout the ages (and from many points of view) much has been written and passed down concerning what is true and what is not. This of course continues to the present day.


But even what might have begun as a pure understanding of truth can get lost in translation as it passes from person to person and from generation to generation. Consider the “whisper game” in which one person whispers to another a word or phrase, who in turn whispers it to another, and so on down the line. By the time it gets to the last person, it is often not what was originally said, and can sometimes be strikingly different.


If there is only a slight divergence from what is true at some point along the way (intentional or not), over time it can become a substantial deviation.  This can be further demonstrated by the simple graphic below:

diagram showing divergence of two points over time

This is not to say that there is no value in researching what has come before, as there certainly can be. (To paraphrase the old proverb, “Where there’s smoke, there may be fire.”) It’s simply to say that it’s helpful to keep in mind that what has been handed down might not be the actual or complete truth of something.  The recommendation here is simply to question first rather than blindly accepting (or denying).


As it happens, this writer began her search for the higher truths of life by attempting to compare verses in a Christian Bible (Old and New Testaments), Hindu Bhagavad Gita and Islamic Quran. The reasoning was that if a spiritual concept appeared in all three very different writings, there might actually be some truth to it. It seemed logical at the time, but in the end proved too time-consuming and challenging to continue. Still, it was a beginning.


A much more direct and reliable way to begin to look for what’s true in life, however, is by simply observing it for oneself. “Cutting out the middleman”, if you will, and going straight to the source.

 

Objective Observation: Looking to Nature and Natural Laws


A good place to start is by observing the workings of the natural worlds around us, which were not created by us, thus are not tainted by our personal biases or misinterpretations. This method is sometimes called “objective observation” or “the scientific method”.


There is much to be said on this subject (much more than can be captured in this one writing, certainly) but here are some first-step suggestions:


1. Begin by looking around and collecting facts and noting them, writing them down, grouping them into categories if it makes sense.


2. Then look at all the facts collected and try to work out what they may be “saying” (demonstrating or implying) about natural laws, i.e. how things work, without any prejudgment on your part.


3. Once you find a connective thread of what the facts appear to be saying, move on to considering what that may then say about the truth of life (which includes your own existence) and how one might better work in harmony with that living truth, if one chooses. This is applicable truth.

 



For Example:

 

1. One can begin by observing the ocean, and eventually note that there are tides that come in and tides that go out twice each day. This is what the ocean says is true (at least for the ocean).


One can then observe the moon, and eventually note that it goes through cycles of becoming and being full, then becoming and being “new” (which marks the beginning of a new cycle). This is what the moon says is true (at least for the moon).


Continuing in this way, one can observe the sun and note that it both rises and sets each day. This is what the sun says is true (at least for the sun).


2. Now adding up what the ocean, the moon and the sun are each saying is true, one might begin to see that there is one natural law that governs all. From the point of view of the ocean, one could call it “The Law of Ebbings and Flowings”. From the point of view of the moon, one could call it “The Law of Waxings and Wanings”. From the point of view of the sun, one could call it “The Law of Risings and Settings”. But when you look at all three together, you might then realize that they all fall under “The Law of Repetitive Comings and Goings” or, to put it more simply, “The Law of Natural Cycles”.

 

3. One could then further the research by asking oneself questions such as “Are there natural cycles elsewhere in life?” and “Do I see natural cycles in my own life? In the lives of others?”

 

The initial applicable truth here might then be that no matter what is going on in one’s life (be it good or not so good), it is but a point within a cycle that will eventually give way to another; that there are always beginnings and endings to everything; and that everything changes over time. From this one might decide to learn to become more flexible, to not hold on to things that need to be let go, to better bear uncomfortability or even pain for a time, or to find hope in what appears at the moment to be a hopeless situation. One might also see that even though life is always changing in some way, the very fact that there are cycles demonstrates that beyond change there is also constancy—the constancy of recurrence and continuance.


The Power of Truth


An ostriich looking directly ahead

One cannot change the objective truth of anything. One can, however, allow oneself to be changed by the truth. This is the power and the glory of it. It’s a matter of choice, really. One can be like the fabled ostrich that buries its head in the sand to hide from the truth, or one can seek it and face it and welcome it when it comes, knowing that it can only bring growth and refinement and a clearer understanding of oneself and of others— and of the Universe in which we live, through which all truth emanates.


As humans we cannot know all there is to know, for we live within a great mystery. Life itself is an enigma. The Universe continues to evolve and expand. Thus, we will always be heading into the unknown, the not yet realized.


Yet the more we are open to the truth as it is revealed to us through our ongoing determined search, the more we can be guided by it, the sounder and more intelligent our choices can be, and the more aligned to what is real we ourselves can be.


Knowing what is true (and what is not) offers us stability by helping us know where we stand in relation to ourselves, others and ultimately the Universe itself.


Truth, in fact, is one of life’s greatest gifts and purest joys.

 

The "X" Factor 


One can sometimes come across something in life (hear it, read it, see it, experience it in one way or another) that simply “feels right”. It’s like an inner knowing (be it instinct, intuition or other natural sense). You can’t necessarily say why it feels right at the time, it just “rings true” within you. This is not to be discounted. Humans are innately designed to resonate to and respond to what is real. It’s like having an inner tuning fork that vibrates to the frequency of Truth.  Although it can be muffled by the weight of all the unnecessary confusion, misinformation, deception, etc. in which we are often forced to live, the tuning fork is always there, it’s been built in. The more we believe in and listen for it, the better we can detect and be guided by it as we continue to seek and discover what is real, and discard what is not.

 

Truth for Truth's Sake


A ship at sea at night guided by North Star

If we choose to, we can love the truth simply because it exists. For however departed from it we may be at any given moment, truth is always there to be found, that we may be found. Like a beacon in the dark that does not flicker, truth lights the way ahead. It is the North Star by which we can set and steer our course in life. Without truth, all would be lost, and we would be left to drift forever on the sea of our ignorance.


Truth is not only an option for those who wish to become true themselves, it is a necessity.


As with everything in life, the choice is ours to make.



A Self-Questioning Locating Exercise

 

Ask yourself the following questions. Give yourself time to consider each one and be honest with yourself—this is just between you and you and is but one of many ways of getting to know yourself.

 

  • Do I want to live in a fantasy world, or do I want to live in reality, even if it’s uncomfortable at times?


  • Do I want to live in a way that is aligned to the passing trends and shifting sands of current conventions (which may or may not be based in reality) or do I want to align myself to what is constant and true—and thus to the Universe in which I exist?


  • Do I want to learn about myself now while I still have the chance and the choice to improve and develop from what I may discover; or do I want to wait for another day, another time, perhaps until the end of my life, for any revelations that may then appear?  


 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to read the previous posts Beyond Wishful Thinking: The Power of Hope and What Does It Mean To Be Human?.



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