Do You Take Things Too Literally
Spiritual seekers and budding entrepreneurs alike are faced with a terrible dilemma, knowing the true meaning of what is really being said.
Be it a conversation or reading an inspirational or apparently humorous story, knowing the real meaning determines the value gained and the outcome. If you try to find a hidden meaning to everything, then you will get lost in your imagination and create ideas that have little relation to the reality of the situation. This will keep you living in illusions and banging your head on the wall far too often trying to find out where you went wrong.
If you take everything literally, you will miss the true value and meaning. There are times when taking things literally is the correct method while a profound insight beyond the surface is equally as often the only way to true comprehension.
Mystical stories, or even apparently mundane events may offer so much more than their surface words convey. You will not understand the spiritual realms in the literal meaning of words. However, how else can the teachings be conveyed but by words, this is the dilemma. The first lesson is in learning how to read and hear what is really being said.
The skill of the intuitive person who can ‘know’ the hidden meaning of all situations is one that anyone can develop. The first step is to know that there are many levels of understanding to all stories.
If your interest is in spiritual growth and you have studied many ancient or great texts, yet wisdom still evades you, the reason is that you have read and thought you understood intellectually, but really only literally. Your literal understanding is not necessarily your taking the words at face value, it could be your personal subjective interpretation which is fully in your imagination. People often confuse intuition with imagination.
The great block that must be overcome before intuitive understanding can be developed is that when you think you understand or already know something that you are currently being presented with, either in a conversation or reading, to sincerely accept that you do not understand or know it at all.
Doubting your knowledge is not the same as self-doubt of your abilities. The former opens your mind to be one which learns at all times, and the latter destroys self-esteem. The trick is to know the difference and cultivate the beneficial rather than the destructive.
The practical application is that when you think you know something already, you must fight the mind and ego and allow yourself to be present and listen with the mind of the curious child. Perhaps you will be proven correct in your knowledge, or perhaps you will hear one or two words which make a big difference.
Thinking you know something is the worst thing that can happen to you as it closes your mind from learning. Consider this for a moment. Have you ever been told how to do something that you thought you already knew how to do, yet you discovered something new about it?
Having an open mind, doubting your knowledge, which is just the information that you have previously encountered (which in all humility you cannot deny is never the absolute totality of all knowledge available), to the point that you are open to add to what you know, may give you that missing key. It is similar to the inventor who is stuck on a problem that he cannot find the answer to, then the six year old child makes a suggestion and the answer is discovered. If the inventor thought that the child would never be able to know anything that he did not know, then he would not hear the child’s words and miss the solution. It is a matter of having an open mind that does not discount any source of information.
Have you ever read something and it made no sense to you at all? Then you re-read it and found that it makes perfect sense because on first read you missed one important word. The difference between ‘do’ and ‘do not’ is three letters which point you in totally opposite directions. When reading the instructions to disarm a bomb, cut the blue wire, after you cut the red wire. Overlooking the ‘after’ will put you in the afterlife!
Once you have cultivated an open mind, which is tantamount to humility, you have accomplished the first step to spiritual and personal growth, which then leads to lasting worldly success. Now we can proceed with the exercise on how to build up the intuitive mind which can see between the lines. This is critical in mystical or spiritual growth as the name clearly states. The very word, ‘mysticism’ describes ‘hidden mysteries’. They would not be hidden if they are clearly laid out in a book printed by the millions, and so defeat the title of mysticism.
There is a reason that the mysteries are hidden, because in order to have value to the seeker, they must be discovered inside the heart and mind of the seeker personally and directly. If they are placed in the intellect and presented so simply that anyone could understand, they would have no value because they came to easily and have only reached the surface level.
In order for spiritual knowledge to have value, it must effect and reach the spirit of the person, hence the need for the truth to be discovered personally, internally, through thought, meditation, pondering and contemplation, integrated with the experience of discovery. The idea that you could be touched on your forehead and become enlightened is ridiculous because if it was that easy, we would all be enlightened. Besides that, why would a person who became enlightened after decades of efforts and hardships just go around touching people on the head and giving them instantly the same thing that took a lifetime to acquire? It makes no sense at all. This is something that hopeful seekers have misinterpreted from the stories they have heard.
A good and simple principle to avoid wasting life chasing after stories that have been taken literally is to question if there is any logic to the story. As one of my teachers said, “God gave you a logical mind for a reason, use it!”
If you take what you read or hear literally, then it only reaches the surface and shallow aspect of your intellect. It may be a pleasant story, but aside from making you feel good, or be inspired for a brief period of time, it will have no lasting or profound effect at all. That is the problem with weekend workshops. They are very uplifting but then the hot air quickly cools and you return back to the same state flat on the ground.
Enlightenment comes when you begin to hear with your soul, not only your intellect. Enlightenment is not an intellectual experience, it is the awaking of your soul. You may have a soul, but it is in a deep sleep. This is proven constantly if you review your day to find that you have acted with far less wisdom than the events called for.
There are several exercises to develop the ability to see the hidden meaning of all things, and many levels of understanding within that, but we can begin with this one. Remember this, all things have levels or degrees. Your understanding is always at your level and those below. There is always a higher and more profound level beyond that. As a ladder cannot be climbed in one leap, we must take each step one by one. You can see what is on the rungs below you, but not on those above.
This first exercise on your path is most effective only after you have truly accepted that you do not know anything fully and have truly opened your mind at all times. Do not wait for that to happen, start now and they may develop together.
Use different words. This exercise must and can only be done with one or more people who are also in the same line of thought as you and willing to take on this exercise as well. To develop the ability to understand the meaning of things rather than their literal expression, use different words in your activities.
For example, if you would like your friend to refill your cup of tea, you could say, ‘Would you please put a rock in my shoe.” Your actions may indicate what you mean and the other person will simply do what you want because they will ‘know’ what you mean.
That knowing comes from exercising an ability to know what the real meaning is and not the literal words alone. We actually do this quite often. How often does someone say something and you know what they mean even though the words are wrong.
Now we will do this consciously and as often as possible. Make up new words for things spontaneously, change the words around, but do this randomly without any preparation. It serves no purpose if you both agree that from now on a tea cup will be called a shoe. The goal is to force you to think beyond the capacity of the intellect alone. This will force you to develop or at least increase your intuitive abilities, opening the door to what is referred to as the sixth sense.
You probably already know you can read minds, having done this from time to time in random situations, knowing what a person meant or was about to say. That was brushed off as a coincidence or rather strange, but then forgotten.
I am suggesting that you can gain this ability as a more common part of your life. Once you have this ability awakened, you may be surprised how many things you just know.
This is not a course in becoming a stage performer or egotistical guru showing off your great powers, or being able to pick the right number the roulette wheel will fall on, but rather it will be a subtle intuition occurring randomly, or what is commonly referred to as a hunch. It will come more often and in many ways. It may be knowing what a person will say or which way to turn at the intersection, or what business ventures to undertake or avoid.
This is the skill of highly successful people and is available to most humans, if only you will subdue your ego and put in the effort to develop it by practice and association with others who are similarly devoted.
If you believe in spiritual beings of some sort, you are also developing the ability to communicate and hear them because they do not speak with words that you hear with your intellect, they can only speak to your soul or essence, and in order to hear them, you must develop your sixth sense.
Your intellect is a great asset however, like all things in the material realm, everything has an equal potential of benefit or harm. The best way to control someone is to let them think they are developing an asset while in fact they are developing a limitation. Who is tricking you to develop your intellect in a way that limits rather than increases your potential? Your parents? the government? the devil? You can have all sorts of ideas in your imagination that will do you no benefit to dwell on. The answer will illude you until you have conquered this limitation and developed your latent natural abilities to be able to truly know with certainty.
Meanwhile, practice this exercise and always remember that the intellect your prize may not be as helpful as you think for your ultimate potential.
I will leave you with a very common conflict that taking words in spiritual teachings literally can cause. The answer to the battle between the creationists, Bible believers of the creation of the world, and the Evolutionists. The book of Genesis, copied below, very clearly states each step as a day. However, reading, you will find that there is no 24 hour day specified. In fact, reading about each day, the concept of a day as we call it may have only begun to come up after the fourth day in Genesis.
A very knowledgeable Talmudic and Kabbalist scholar told me that there is no definition of how many hours a day was in the Old Testament. A day could very well have been millions of years. If we accept this and toss the literal interpretation of creating the world in six days, there is no longer a major dispute about how long it took for the world to be created. It may have taken God the same time frame modern scientists claim it took for the earth to form, and that is following the bible religiously!
Genesis 1 (New International Version)
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image, ? in the image of God he created him; ? male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
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