Article Justice

A Quest for Truth as a Continuous Motion to Reconsider

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein

Wisdom is a living stream, not an icon preserved in a museum. Only when we find the spring of wisdom in our own life can it flow to future generations.” Thich Nhat Hanh

For six years as a young adult, I served as a trial judge. While a naïve, idealistic public servant, I cultivated an affinity for truth within a variety of cases. My path to truth was my oath of office. I swore in witnesses to tell the “whole truth” and became devoted to identifying what it was. Looking back, I see truth-seeking as an acquired orientation to life. Truth is not an achievement in which to take pride but a gift for which to be grateful. Ready receptivity to truth is a practice that leads to mastery through unity with the Source of Truth. Reflection, meditation, contemplation and communion are ever-deepening phases of the unifying process.  

Eventually I discovered my most intense devotion to truth within the emotional pressure cooker of contested child custody cases, where the standard “best interests of children” governs. What was the mysterious, elusive truth that would free me to make competent decisions on behalf of children? By what process was it discovered? Those questions mattered to me because the welfare of future generations matters to me.

My relationship to truth became not merely objective and intellectual. It became personal and passionate, a marriage of heart and mind. I had to set aside confining intellectualism to encounter truth on its freer terms. Through trials, risk-takings and errors, I mastered a process of listening deeply within myself for an inner voice that guides from a Source not “out there” but “in here.” Even now I write this essay with that voice’s guidance. What is in the “best interests” of my readers for me to write? How can I be most helpful in increasing our collective understanding of Truth and of the process of welcoming It to reveal Itself?

During my tenure as a judge, I learned not to judge but rather to discern. I learned that truth is not “mine” but “ours.” It is both objective and subjective, both in here and out there if we receive it fully and live it gracefully. It is rarely politically expedient or personally convenient. 

Allowing truth to be revealed to us is a collaborative process akin to the sensitive receptivity to signals from the Universe achieved by the Allen Telescope Array for SETI research. In his own investigation of truth, I suspect that Einstein considered rationally presented input of colleagues in his field as it invigorated the intuitive nature of his inquiries just as I learned to consider the input of professional colleagues as well as lay witnesses in bench trials as it invigorated my inquiries. Since contested child custody cases are tried without juries, the ultimate decision in each was mine. In arriving at my decisions, I did my best to not allow assumptions and previously formed beliefs (my own and those of others) to filter out the possibilities of what truth might turn out to be.  

In the process, I discovered that, if I were to consider my heart’s input helpful, I had to purify my heart of my own grievances and not allow issues from my past or concerns about my future to taint my intuitions. I had to be fully, innocently present in Truth’s eternal “now” and focus there for the children’s sake. Moreover, I had to risk announcing decisions publicly and later take into account feedback presented in motions to reconsider filed publicly by those who disagreed. To point out “truth,” I stuck my neck out.

These experiences taught me the vital importance of motivation and humility as qualities of truth-seeking. Were those offering input (memories, observations, opinions and arguments) motivated by self-interest or by service to others? Were we protecting our pride or protecting defenseless others? How humbling this grand quest turned out to be! Not necessarily what we expect it to be, Truth has a life of its own, gliding into our awareness on twin rails of honesty and tolerance resting on ties of trust. Truth is a continuous mystery towards which we can approach most nearly by setting aside our personal self-interests as we serve the interests of others.

If children were to experience justice, truth had to prevail. As resolutely as I could, I cultivated patience, listened attentively, took notes, heard all sides out fully, pondered and eventually, as the last one to speak, shared what I’d discerned as reasonedly as I could – while not necessarily being able to avoid wounding someone’s pride. Neither pride nor shame – mine or that of others – justified failing the children. Often my decisions did not make me popular – mostly because truth is not popular in our society, especially among those in power within the status quo. 

Truth upsets competitive social dynamics by which winners are sorted from losers because its non-dualistic nature thrives amid developments that may offer other options. It alters things just as growth alters things. It cannot be boxed within fixed, conformist parameters because its paradoxical nature defies boxes. Truth knows it’s possible for all of us to flourish.  

I discovered the theoretical and applied dynamic of Truth-receptivity by accident. Now I practice it intentionally. Because of my acquired taste for it, I enjoy it in solitude, often alone while yearning to share it. In solitude and Oneness with Truth’s Source, I sense within Nature (human nature, too!) evidence of its creativity, beauty, grace and love. I’ve come to trust Truth-receptivity as our most promising orientation, although currently it has the same unpopularity as other controversial orientations. 

Truth can be tentatively identified and honored as beneficially nearby and yet remain in the main a mystery. It emerges shyly from the Dark Forest of the perennial unknown, wary of aggressive trophy hunters. Fears – of the unknown and others – can cloud our vision of it. To serve future generations with a clarifying vision, we must overcome our fears and set aside our fear-formed egos. We must become sensitive and vulnerable, opening both our hearts and our minds to Truth, receiving it as a benevolent stranger who becomes our generous benefactor. 

In a conformist, dualistic culture, divergent orientations are resisted as intolerably aberrant. Humanity needs an alternative culture within which to root the societies and other networks of relationships we form. In that culture, Truth is our ally not our enemy. In that healthier culture, Truth is the soil amid which each Tree of Life draws nourishment, bears nutritious fruit and provides safe nesting places for all.  

Although I followed a serious path to encounter It, Truth is also joyful. It dances to a wide variety of music while celebrating the eternal presence of composers and lyricists within their compositions. It comforts us while we grieve and ultimately relieves our grief. Trusting it sets us free to enjoy being ourselves. Someday we will play host to Truth together while through every tender heart – into every open mind – wisdom’s counsel freely flows.

About Art Nicol

Art Nicol is a consultant, teacher, faith coach, and  author of forthcoming book “The ABCs of Love: Healing the Violence of Modern Society”. He lives in the Chicago area.

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