The Greek thinker and mathematician Archimedes wanted to measure the volume of uneven objects; but how? One day when he got into the bath he noticed his body displaced the water. The story goes he jumped out of the bath and ran naked through the streets of Athens shouting, “eureka,” I have found it.
A similar story is told of Einstein who’d been pondering the nature of the universe. He was looking for a simple equation that would encapsulate what he’d intuited; it eluded him. One day when not thinking about it, the equation occurred to him. When asked about it later he reportedly said, “the equation came from outside.”
Understanding is a kind of gestalt, when key ingredients fall into place and a more comprehensive awareness takes hold. It would appear it cannot be made to happen, it happens in its own time and in its own way; and as Einstein mentioned it enters the mind from elsewhere.
At one time it was believed that the earth was flat. It was obvious to almost everyone. It was this belief that kept the early European mariners in sight of land. They were afraid that if they sailed beyond the horizon they would fall over the edge of the world.
Once it was understood, however, that the world was not flat, but a sphere, sailors disappeared over the horizon and not one of them fell over the edge. In fact, it was only with this understanding that the European voyages of discovery took place.
The Spanish philosopher George Santayana who died in 1952 posed the question. Do we learn from history? He answered it by saying, “those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” War, he could see, persisted.
There’s a problem with learning. Anyone who’s prepared for exams knows that what we learn we sometimes forget. It is also true that what we understand we do not forget. In fact it could be said that understanding is of a different order altogether. Learning can be acquired, understanding cannot.
Understanding, it would seem, makes its appearance when the mind realizes it doesn’t know. How does this come about? It comes about when beliefs, assumptions, theories and ideologies are no longer as important as the facts, the truth, whatever it may be. The state of not knowing is a very important state, it’s what the Zen masters refer to as an open or beginner’s mind.
The beginner’s mind is neither for nor against anything or anyone. It is an open impersonal awareness. It is also known as the stillpoint and it is from the stillpoint that understanding emerges.
How does this apply to the Palestinian Israeli conflict ?
Without understanding, real understanding, there can be no foundation for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. 70 years have passed and the final resolution seems as frustratingly close as the horizon and just as unreachable. Understanding, real understanding has not taken place. How do we know this?
When you have a problem with the transmission on your car you take it in to be repaired. If you get the car back along with a hefty bill for a rebuilt engine and the transmission still doesn’t work there is one thing for certain. The mechanic did not understand the problem.
For 70 years we’ve kept trying the same sort of things and war persists. How long will it take for us to realize that what we’ve tried doesn’t work?
It is time to clear the debris of past failures and approach the history and ongoing events from the stillpoint of not knowing. How is this going to get resolved? We don’t know. We’ll find out.
One thing is certain peace cannot be built on lies, ideology or religion. The foundation of peace is truth, the facts, and in this instance it requires all sides to the conflict be present, and that includes us, as together we comprise the whole truth of the situation.
What do we have to do with it?
We’ve taken sides, we’ve not understood. We support one position over the other, one group of people over the other. By doing this we continue to support injustice toward the Palestinians.