In the middle of The Garden of Eden stood two trees: The Tree of Life and The Tree of The Knowledge of Right and Wrong. Mystics use these as symbols of the two fundamental aspects of humans: the logical and the spiritual. Each has great value and we are seriously limited when we lose one or the other of them. There are also important differences between the two, each does some things the other dos not. It’s like the differences in people between males and females. In many ways they are similar, but there are also some fundamental and very significant differences.
Logic and spirituality are both important and necessary, but each has limitations. Mystical teachers for eons have shared that one important difference is that logic, for all its many other gifts, does not, cannot, connect to the divine. Spirituality won’t balance your checkbook or shop for groceries, and logic won’t solve your problems with your sister or heal your emotional wounds. Nor can logic connect you to God. You need your spiritual side for that.
Philosophers and intellectuals have tried unsuccessfully for many years to explain the spiritual realm through logic, but this simply cannot be done. It has caused many of them to question the existence of the spiritual because it will not fit into their way of understanding the world. As a result, their responses have sometimes been dismissive.
Last month I wrote about the remarkable mystical text written in the 14th century, The Cloud of Unknowing. In that work, the author reiterated the ancient mystical theme that humans can only reach God from their spiritual side. On a more contemporary note, this theme is echoed in Richard Rohr’s marvelous book of mysticism, The Naked Now, published in 2009. What follows is from Chapter 8 of Rohr’s book:
“Yes, the mind is necessary, but it can’t do everything.
Yes, the mind is receptive, but reason is not our only antenna. We also need our bodies, our emotions, our hearts, our nose, our ears, our eyes, our taste, and our souls.
Yes, the mind can achieve great things, but through over control, it can also limit what we can know.
Yes, the mind can think great thoughts, but also bad and limiting ones. The mind can be a gift and a curse.
Yes, the mind can tell left from right, but it cannot perceive invisible things such as love, eternity, fear, wholeness, mystery, or the Divine.
Yes, the mind can discern consistency, logic, and fairness, but it seldom puts these into practice.
Yes, the mind and reason are necessary, but they must learn to distinguish between what lies beyond its reach: the prerational and the transrational.
Yes, the mind is brilliant, but the more we observe it, the more we see it is also obsessive and repetitive.
Yes, the mind seeks the truth, but it can also create lies.
Yes, the mind can connect us with others, but it can also keep us apart.
Yes, the mind is very useful, but when it does not recognize its own finite viewpoint it is useless.
Yes, the mind can serve the world, but in fact it largely serves itself.
Yes, the mind can make necessary distinctions, but it also divides in thought what is undivided in nature and in the concrete.
Yes, the mind is needed, but we also need other ways of knowing or we will not know well, fully, or freely.
Yes, the mind is good at thinking. But so much so that most humans, like Descartes, think they are their thinking.
Yes, the mind likes to think, but until it learns to listen to others, to the body, the heart, and all the senses, it also uses itself to block everything it does not like to do or to acknowledge.
Yes, the mind is our friend, but when we are obsessive or compulsive, it can also be our most dangerous foe.
Yes, the mind welcomes education, but it also needs to be uneducated, to learn how much of what it “knows” is actually mere conditioning and prejudice.
As a result, the great religions of the world found methods to compartmentalize, but not eliminate, the over-control of the thinking, rational mind through practices such as prayer, meditation, or contemplation. This was the “new mind” which allowed:
1. other parts of us to see
2. other things to be seen
3. the rational mind to be reintegrated, but now as a servant instead of the master.
The Western world is so tightly wrapped up in rational thought that many people, accustomed to living only from their rational minds, will be troubled by the above. But if you look around at the failures of a logic driven society that turns away from the poor and the infirm, warehouses criminals without trying to help them, relegates the mentally troubled to freeway underpasses, does everything in its power to enhance the rich while discarding the elderly and generally rules by force and intimidation, you begin to see the serious limitations of a society that refuses to honor its spiritual strengths or its own spiritual heritage.