The closer you look, the less you see. If you want to understand the Pacific Ocean, you’d hardly look at a tiny drop of water flowing into it from a river – you’d need to back up and see the thing in context, see the whole picture.
How much damage is done in business, politics, and relationships by folks who charge into something with a “solution” or a “change” that causes greater damage because the situation or the problem wasn’t understood well or fully? How many times have we each been embarrassed by actions we took or words we spoke that clearly didn’t have the wisdom of good understanding behind them?
To understand something, you have to be able to see the context.
Great sages have talked about this throughout history as it relates to our ability to walk the path of a Faith Journey. In different ways, with different words, in all languages, they’ve described that moving further toward G-d in this life requires that we release our human requirement to understand everything about G-d.
One of the greatest favors bestowed on the soul transiently in this life is to enable it to see so distinctly and feel so profoundly that it cannot comprehend God at all. …They who know God most perfectly perceive that God is infinitely incomprehensible.
Those who have less clear vision do not perceive so clearly how greatly God transcends their vision.
St John of the Cross
This is tough for us in our western world, where we’ve constructed a universe in our mind that we know and fundamentally understand. Our addiction to knowing and understanding are the very things that keep us from moving toward G-d.
Walk outside on a dark night. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Try see something clearly in the dark by looking directly at it. You’ll find that if you look a little to the side, instead of directly at the thing, you’ll be able to see it much more clearly. You won’t see color and detail, but you’ll see shape and movement. While there are physiological reasons for this, it demonstrates the point well.
There are things for which we have no context for understanding. If we take our natural human approach – if we look directly at them – we won’t be able to see them. But if we accept that we can’t try and see the thing in the same way we’re accustomed to seeing things, the shape might start to appear.
Try it next time you find yourself out on a dark night. Each time I use this trick, it reminds me of the humility I need to nurture in order to have a chance to glimpse a shape now and then that might be the edge of G-d.