The jewel of the east is meditation
The jewel of the west is reason
If I was asked to summarize my approach to a peaceful inner life, it would be the two sentences above.
The fact is that every experience we have is processed by the mind. So understanding the way one’s mind is operating is important for understanding one’s experience. It is also important that each of us learns to observe our mental processes as they happen and get as clear a picture as possible about the relationship between what is happening outside us and how we interpret it. After all, if we simply react to external and internal events (I will discuss internal events in upcoming posts) without being able to step back and consciously examine them, we will constantly be at the mercy of our reactions.
I refer to meditation and reason as jewels because they are so valuable in providing me with the ability to cultivate a serene existence. Meditation is a more obvious component since it is the direct path to inner peace, being the act of resting in silence. Reason however, is not as obvious since it involves thought and this is not clearly a peaceful path. So I want to invest a little time in defining what I mean when using the word, reason.
What is “reason”?
Now this might seem like a most obvious question. Surely we all know exactly what reason is. The use of logical thought when attempting to understand something. Well yes, but that does not quite help us to understand what makes a thought process rational. In other words we are lacking a good definition. Having our terms defined is very important for clarity of thought and communication. We want to be sure we are talking about the same thing in order to have a meaningful conversation.
While it is true that rationality is the use of reason, which also involves the use of logic, there is more to it than that. For example, I can see a sunset and there is no need for thought and reason to be used to know that I am seeing this and enjoying the experience. Or I can experience a memory of something that happened in childhood and suddenly feel an emotion associated with that memory. This seems to happen without any prior thought. In other words there are experiences that do not rely on reason in order to be experienced. But, in order for them to become part of our knowledge they need to be added to the rest of what we know. And here is where the rational part comes in. We need to include these experiences without conflicting with previous information. It is the lack of contradiction that makes the inclusion process rational.
Contradictions are self-cancelling leaving us no further ahead in understanding something. If I say something is both a dog and a cat at the same time, you will be left with nothing but a feeling of being suspended in confusion, waiting for a resolution. If no resolution comes, your mind will simply cancel the conflict and turn away from the topic.
Not a “belief”
When we consider an idea, situation, belief, issue etc. we will always try to make sense of it in some way. This “making sense” is the use of reason. If we agree or disagree with the topic at hand and are asked to explain our view, we will usually provide the reasons we think what we do.
Even people who say they don’t “believe” in reason will say why that is the case. For example, I have often heard the statement “the rational world view is merely one belief among others. We can choose to believe anything we want because all views are equally valid”. Did you note the use of reason in that statement? The moment someone inserts “I think this because……..” one is using reason. Whether the reasoning is good or bad is another discussion. For now, I only want to illustrate its use. I hope this is making sense.
It is important to understand that reason is not a belief. Reason is a tool of understanding. It is part of our mental equipment with which we orient ourselves to the world. It is a process of assessing, validating, and organizing information into a structure that we use to understand our experiences.
I will explore this more in future posts. But for now, let’s settle on a working definition of reason so we know what it is and consequently, how to use it in our spiritual life.
Reason – a mental tool which internalizes ideas without conflicting with previous ones.