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What Does That Mean? Exploring Mind, Meaning, and Mysteries
By Eldon Taylor
HAY HOUSE, INC. Copyright © 2010 Eldon Taylor
All right reserved.
Chapter One WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
"The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth." - Chinese proverb
One night as I drifted off to sleep, I reflected on unexplained events in my life and wondered, What does that mean? The next morning as I dressed, I heard someone on the television in the next room saying, "It's amazing. The window washer fell 500 feet, and he lived. That story and more, next." I asked myself, What does that mean? What does it mean to the window washer?
That day as I drove home from the grocery store, I noticed a young man and his child. The weather was finally springlike, and this fellow was working in a tiny garden. He appeared to be breaking up some small clods by repeated blows with a hoe. I thought back to my first home and garden. Such pride, such ambition-and such is the great American dream. In the United States, most of us plan on owning our own little piece of heaven; after all, a man's home is his castle. As young people, we plan to buy our first vehicle, and the consumption cycle begins. (Oh, we're consuming prior to that, but for mostof us it's limited to what the family provides, and because my point has nothing to do with when or how the consumption habit begins, I'll just leave it at that.)
So we make our plans, our dreams, and begin to live them out to the best of our ability. Our clothes, automobiles, homes, furniture, group memberships, and so on are all a part of our dreams. The food we eat, the stops at Starbucks for a fancy latte, the cell phones we carry, and on and on are also part of our dreams. I could go on, but let's consider another way to look at this dream. Are we consuming, or are we being consumed?
Is there a "now" moment where the heart is not just beating, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says:
And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave.
Life has many twists and turns, and seldom do we find the road to be straight and narrow. The same can be said for the choices we have to make as well. We are sometimes tossed about like leaves in a windstorm, bouncing from one event to the next, and-despite our efforts to take control-unable to shut down the prevailing winds. In the midst of all of this, we can find ourselves experiencing the seemingly impossible. Why? How does that happen? And what does it mean?
The Train Accident
When I was just 17 years old, I was driving a car that stalled on a set of railroad tracks. My side of the vehicle was facing an oncoming train traveling approximately 100 miles per hour and pulling more than 100 cars. The young lady who was with me, her hand on my leg, watched while I tried to start the car so that I could drive it off the tracks. But in what seemed no time at all, the train struck the car. The driver's side was crushed under the cowcatcher (the slanted piece on the lower front of the engine) as the train dragged the car down the tracks and finally threw the wreckage into a weedy field next to the tracks.
My friend Connie was cut from the car with a welder's torch. She asked about me while they worked to get her free, but they told her nothing. Bless her heart, she also worried that her new nylon stockings might have been damaged. Shock often has a disorienting effect such as that.
As for me, I found myself standing a few hundred feet away in the field. Suddenly, as if dropped there and awakened, I looked around to see all kinds of emergency vehicles, other automobiles, and a crowd of onlookers. I hurried toward the ambulance but was stopped by emergency crew members. They wanted to know who I was, since from my location and appearance, I clearly couldn't have been involved in the accident.
This experience affected my life in many ways. One of those, and perhaps the most meaningful, is the spiritual element. Either a miracle had occurred or I was dead. Connie knew I was in the car when it was struck. How did I live?
I told this story in my earlier book Choices and Illusions. Readers have written to tell me of similar events in their lives. Here is one of them (used by permission):
Last night I read in your book the story about the train wreck and how you found yourself feet away from the accident site. I had a similar experience in Southern California. I was on the on-ramp to the freeway. At this particular entrance, cars also came off the freeway, and I had to look to my right to ensure I had room and that a vehicle wasn't coming at me. In front of me was a big truck, and I was driving a small, subcompact car. In an instant, the truck in front of me hit his brakes. I had nowhere to go and should have ended up under the truck. Yet through some strange turn of events, I found myself in a lane on the freeway, driving 60 miles an hour. There was no way I could have done that!
I was totally shaken over the episode and thankful that I'd received the help of whatever or whoever put me in a safe place. It almost felt as if time and space were shifted to have me where I needed to be, out of harm's way. In that moment, I knew there are laws and explanations we don't seem to have if we only see ourselves as one-dimensional limited beings.
Thank you for letting me share this story. I'd never heard of someone having a similar experience until I read your book Choices and Illusions.
So what does all this mean? What does it signify when life hands us the unexplained? What about when the wisdom of our culture crashes down on broken promises and failed dreams? What does it mean when our spiritual or scientific models collapse under the weight of real-life observation and experience? Is any of this really possible, or is it just a point of view, a place of perspective, an expectation self-fulfilled?
Approaching the Many-Worlds Argument
I have a very bright son-more than one, actually-but the one I'm referring to has changed his colors many times as he has grown into his teenage years. He is named after my dear friend Roy Bey, whom I shall tell you more about during the course of this book, but who has passed on. My son Roy adopted Catholicism last year and he pushed us to attend the Catholic church. This year, however, he's agnostic to atheist. He likes to think of himself as a six on the scale of the renowned atheist Richard Dawkins, and that means he is agnostic, for he doesn't believe there is a God, and he lives his life according to that belief. He also thinks it isn't possible to be sure about the divine either way, so he can't say with absolute certainty that there is no God, and as such he can't claim to be atheist!
Our recent conversations have often been focused on Freud, particularly his psychosexual development theories, and Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion. When Roy gets an idea in his head, it's imperative that he both share it and convince others of its worthiness. So if you're not inclined toward his kind of agnosticism, then it's his challenge to convince you of your error.
There have been many of what I'd call "miracles" in my life, and my agnostic son, Roy, knows of most of them. I brought up this topic, saying: "If there are no miracles in the world, then perhaps there's no evidence that can't be explained away by science. If there are miracles in the world, however, then perhaps you should rethink your position. For example, how would you explain the train wreck when I was a teenager?"
His answer, in brief, was: "Simple, Dad. It was a quantum jump."
We know about electron jumps-like them, my train-wreck experience was just a function of natural law that we have yet to understand. It all has to do with the many-worlds argument and dimensions.
The Garden in the Jungle
The many-worlds argument, quantum jumps, yet-to-be-discovered natural laws-all are reminiscent to me of an old Antony Flew analogy. Flew, a philosopher intellectual, suggested what's generally referred to as "the gardener story," or "the falsification debate." Loosely and admittedly with some exaggeration, the story goes like this: Imagine that two fellows happen upon a garden in the middle of a jungle. The plot appears to be very well kept: Corn, squash, carrots, peas, and so forth grow in straight rows. There are no weeds. The compost windrows are not only straight, but appear to be groomed.
Now, our two gentlemen have different views about this garden. The first man (I'll call him Believer, or "B" for short) says, "What a nice garden. I wonder where the gardener is."
The second (I'll call him Doubter, or just "D") says, "There is no gardener. This is a natural part of the world. Like so many other perfect relationships in nature, this is a wonder, but it's totally natural."
Here are two opposing views of the same thing. B replies, "You have to be kidding. Look at the crops in the garden: they all grow in straight rows. Look at the weeds: there simply are none. Look at the compost windrows: you can see where they've recently been groomed with a rake."
D answers, "It's just like you to anthropomorphize everything. I suppose someone placed the stars in the sky in exactly the right way to create the Big and the Little Dippers. Look-everything in this natural area you call a garden is no more than a special type of oasis in the midst of a jungle. You wouldn't peer over a giant sand dune in the desert and argue that the oasis below was created by an oasis builder-or would you?"
B, speaking in a rather annoyed tone, says, "All right. Let's wait and see. I'll show you that there's a gardener. We'll hide; and when the gardener comes back, you'll have your proof. How's that?"
D, just as annoyed, replies, "Fine. That's just fine, but what if he doesn't ever appear? Then will you admit there's no gardener?"
No gardener ever comes. B argues that perhaps the person is invisible, so D installs an electric fence and takes guard dogs to the premises, but no one shows up. The crops still grow in straight lines, no weeds sprout, and the windrows continue to appear to be tended. All this, yet still no gardener.
B continues to believe, and finally D asks the big (and baited) question: "What would it take to convince you that there's no gardener?"
B answers, "There must be one. Just because we haven't seen or touched him, the dogs haven't smelled him, and so forth, doesn't mean he doesn't exist!"
D presents the argument of the empiricist, and the belief of B is ridiculed in light of the lack of observable evidence. However, the argument works the other way as well. Take my son Roy, whom I asked: "Are there miracles in the world?" If everything is only a matter of an as-yet-undiscovered natural law, then there are no miracles, and nothing can prove otherwise. The definition contains the subject and the predicate for all intents and purposes. In other words, it's a tautology (a circular argument) to define miracles as just those events that are explainable by undiscovered natural laws, for there's always room for the unknown to loom.
I urge you to read both Antony Flew's original parable and also his newest book, There Is a God. This legendary British philosopher and devout atheist garnered worldwide headlines when he turned theist. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that I thought of Flew in respect to my son's quantum jumps; perhaps it's something else, for Flew is also considered one of the world's leading authorities on miracles. You decide. What does it all mean? Does it need to mean anything at all?
Chapter Two YOU'RE RIGHT WHERE YOU'RE SUPPOSED To BE
"Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer's daughter."
- Julius Comroe, Jr.
A popular notion nowadays flatly states: "You're exactly where you're supposed to be." That's an interesting idea. What does it mean?
Life-after-death research, typically examining past-life cases and near-death experiences, offers perhaps the best evidence of an individual essence (spirit, soul, your term of choice) as having a place of origin other than as a zygote (the early cell cluster before the embryo stage). It seems to support a destiny outside of becoming just another bit of landfill, eventually to share atoms with the bark of a tree, the scales of a fish, an outcropping of granite, and so forth.
If the afterlife research is to be believed, then each of us will experience both birth and death and perhaps rebirth. This scheme suggests a purpose or reason for life itself and, further, for what each of us is meant to do with our lives. Okay, you may be thinking, so what's new? I've heard all this before.
Doing and Knowing
I like to think of it this way: Say I use a computer to study pole-vaulting. I know the exact angle at which the pole must be set down relative to my height, weight, and speed; and I also know the velocity I must attain for maximum thrust. I know how many steps I must take, and so I know the point from which I should begin my approach. I've studied the position of the body throughout the jump, so I know when and where I should change my angle relative to the pole, where I want my body to be as I clear the bar, and so on. I've used advanced mathematics to do very precise calculations, and I've confirmed my knowledge by generating a computer simulation.
Does all of this mean that I can pole-vault? Do you think for one minute that anyone armed with all this "knowing" could simply go out for the first time and execute the action perfectly? No. Just because I understand the theoretical how doesn't mean I know the practical how.
I think of existence before our lives here-and-now-whatever else it may have been-to have been a state of consciousness. From that perspective, we all more or less know how and why we spend an incarnation or more on Earth, and I suggest that our purpose is as much to do with what we already know as it is anything else.
Doing and knowing aren't necessarily the same thing. Still, doing implies that this is a world of action, not inaction; of attention, not inattention; a world of purpose, not aimless wanderings, blind consumption, or an evolutionary arms race solely for the preservation of the species.
The phrase "exactly where I'm supposed to be" implies several things, none of which preclude the possibility of "getting the hell out of here." In other words, just because I'm in a certain place doesn't mean I'm supposed to remain there for any length of time, nor does it mean I'm to do nothing but accept that where I am is where I'm supposed to be.
The Face on the Wall
When I was six or seven years old, I sometimes saw a face appear on the wall as if to scare me or to share some unspoken truth. The face was stern. Its eyes were penetrating, its features were hard and sharp, and the neck was full and strong. The face never spoke, but it did frighten me. It appeared when I least expected it, and I never found any correlation between when and where it happened. As soon as it materialized, I vacated the room. Fortunately the face never came while I was in bed, although I experienced more than one terror-filled night, worrying that it would appear.
One day while I was visiting my grandmother in Lander, Wyoming, the face appeared out of nowhere on her living-room wall. I'd thought I was safe and had even looked forward to the visit because Wyoming wasn't my home state. Somehow I'd thought the face couldn't follow me there. (The thought patterns of childhood can be quite interesting upon later reflection.)
With strength and determination I didn't know was in me, I stopped, looked squarely at the face, and ordered it away: "Leave and do not return. You are not welcome! Begone now!" I then turned and left the room, and I've never seen the face since.
Why was it there? What was I supposed to do? Did I do the right thing? Should I have asked it a question? Was it where it was supposed to be? Was it real or was it a hallucination? If it was an illusion, it sure fooled me-not just then but still to this day.
Excerpted from What Does That Mean? by Eldon Taylor Copyright © 2010 by Eldon Taylor. Excerpted by permission.
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