Truth. We all think (or like to think) that we’re seeking it. Yet why isn’t there a single truth that we can all recognise? Surely someone has found ‘the truth’ by now? The reality is that you can never see more than one step ahead of your current perception of the truth.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig went searching for the truth. It’s the story of a 1968 motorcycle road trip/quest for metaphysical knowledge. Pirsig wrote: “The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth’, and so it goes away.”

Why is that?

There are two possibilities. The first is that you’re not really looking for the truth.

One step ahead

The second, as I wrote above, is that you can never see more than one step ahead of your current perception. The reason for that is also twofold.

Firstly, it wouldn’t make any sense. We need the truth that’s one step ahead to understand the truth that’s two steps ahead. The truth at the end of the line is simply unfathomable.

We need the truth that’s one step ahead to understand the truth that’s two steps ahead. The truth at the end of the line is simply unfathomable.

Secondly, we don’t know the truths that we don’t know because they’re painful. Uncomfortable. Inconvenient. They show us parts of ourselves and of our world we’d prefer not to see. We cannot discover truth ‘out there’ without discovering it ‘in here’.

And so we cling to our current truth, which includes a measure of falsehood.

Advantageous geometry

Here’s Pirsig again: “One geometry cannot be more true than another; it can only be more convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.”

We cling to our current iteration of the truth because it’s advantageous in some way. Perhaps it helps us get some of the things we feel we need—like love, sex, attention or money. It forms part of our identity or our social media presence.

Or perhaps we’re in denial about a problem. No one likes to admit they may have inherited some generational trauma, or that their own childhood was in any way imperfect. Such truths lie buried under unconscious shame. They cannot be accepted without inviting in pain.

I once read that you should never ask a question unless you’re willing to consider any possible answer.

As Laura Knight-Jadczyk writes in Debugging the Universe, “the answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.” [My italics.] The unwillingness to look at these undesirable aspects of our own selves is what keeps us stuck at the not really looking stage.

Feedback loops

If the only way to greater truth is a single step, how do we identify it?

In Our lives are constant feedback loops, I wrote that our current truth is constantly mirrored back to us through the things that consume, annoy and enrage us—‘trigger us’ is the technical term.

The truth that—quite literally—drove Robert Pirsig insane is knocking on our doors all the time. It’s waiting for us to slow down, look for the one single step that’s right before us, and pay attention.

Regardless of what path you’re on—like healing generational trauma, or the quest for men’s sexual health I call The journey from the genitals to the heart—the truth will only come one fragment at a time. Admittedly, some fragments can be pretty chunky.

For our own protection, life only lets us move ahead one step at a time. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Martin Luther King said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.”

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

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MICHAEL H HALLETT

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