Fill in the dots, those wonderful empty ellipses… One or two words, that's all it takes. For me, it's bullshit. For you, it could be anything. Including bullshit.
"God's revelation." "Delusional." "Our salvation." "Worthless."
The point is, each of us has an intuitive understanding of religion – which I take to include all sorts of spiritual, mystical, and meditational practices. You could say, we grok it.
I've just starting reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink." Subtitle: "The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." Appropriately, I'm going to intuit the message of the whole book after perusing just 40 pages.
It's fascinating. Consider the tale of the marble statue of a nude male youth, a kouros, that supposedly dated from the sixth century BC. An art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, offered it to the Getty Museum for $10 million.
Experts poured over it. A geologist spent two days analyzing the stone to determine how old and authentic it was. Documents verifying a trail of ownership were closely studied by the legal department. After fourteen months of study the Getty decided to buy the statue.
Then Evelyn Harrison took a look at it.
She was one of the world's foremost experts on Greek sculpture, and she was in Los Angeles visiting the Getty just before the museum finalized the deal with Becchina. "Arthur Houghton, who was then the curator, took us down to see it," Harrison remembers.
"He just swished a cloth off the top of it and said, "Well, it isn't ours yet, but it will be in a couple of weeks." And I said, "I'm sorry to hear that." What did Harrison see? She didn't know. In that very first moment, when Houghton swished off the cloth, all Harrison had was a hunch, an instinctive sense that something was amiss.
Keep in mind, though, that Harrison was an art expert. You or I could have gotten a glimpse of the statue and our hunch regarding the authenticity of the sculpture wouldn't have meant anything. We'd just have been guessing.
So there is informed and uninformed intuition. At least, I'm intuiting that there is. When I get to the end of Gladwell's book, I'll know more about this.
Just like now I know a lot more about the mystic-religious faith that I followed assiduously for over thirty years, compared to my first thought of "Oh, yeah, Sant Mat is for me."
I remember reading the first page of the first Sant Mat book I ever picked up, Sawan Singh's "Philosophy of the Masters, vol. 1." It spoke to me. It seemed absolutely right.
And then, decades later, it didn't. Was I wrong to trust my initial intuition? Maybe.
Our unconscious is a powerful force. But it's fallible. It's not the case that our internal computer always shines through, instantly decoding the "truth" of a situation. It can be thrown off, distracted, and disabled. Our instinctive reactions often have to compete with all kinds of other interests and emotions and sentiments…It is possible to learn when to listen to that powerful onboard computer and when to be wary of it.
Again, I don't know what Gladwell is going to advise on the "listen or be wary?" question. But here's my own advice, based on my own experience.
The more you know about something, the better able you are to grasp it in a blink! You've got a lot of inputs going into that unconscious onboard computer Gladwell talks about. It has plenty of facts to work with.
Now, this seemingly is at odds with a conclusion that I've come across in my first 40 pages. Namely, that a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
However, I just jumped ahead to page 272, because I had an intuition that in a later chapter I'd find a quote to support my point of view. And here it is, in the context of assessing the performance of basketball players.
What set Michael Jordan apart from his peers was his attitude and motivation. And those qualities can't be measured with formal tests and statistics. They can be measured only be exercising judgment, by an expert with long years of experience, drawing on that big database in his or her unconscious and concluding, yes, they have it ,or no, they don't.
So I say, put more trust in your snap judgment about a religion or spiritual path that snaps after years or decades of experience, than in your initial intuitive perception of it.
In short, don't be afraid to change your mind. Keep looking at your chosen (or unchosen) religiosity freshly. Listen to that small still voice that speaks in single words.
A few months later, Houghton took Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, down to the Getty's conservation studio to see the statue as well. Hoving always makes a note of the first word that goes through his head when he sees something new, and he'll never forget what that was when he first saw the kouros.
"It was 'fresh' – 'fresh,'" Hoving recalls. And "fresh" was not the right reaction to have to a two-thousand year old statue.
The Getty's catalogue now has this notation next to a picture of the kouros: "About 530 BC, or modern forgery."
Fresh. Not the right reaction to ancient art. But it's the way we should try to blink! at life's every moment, including our religiously inclined (or disinclined) ones. I liked these lines from an Amazon reader review of Gladwell's book.
Less is more only when less is more. However, Gladwell's book does a universal service in alerting us that this is in fact what we are prone to do whether we know it or not. Good mindfulness is being tuned in to our pattern recognizing processors, but also knowing when to feed it and when to starve it, realistically confronting it when called for and then immediately resetting it so it stands as a linchpin. It stands as the stake that tethers the generous leash of our doggie Buddha Brains, giving us some slack but then snapping us back, always reminding us it's there, the Now that cradles the past and imagines the future.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.