Recently, I’ve been wondering about the quandary of what we perceive to be literal. You know – the exact, the precise, the certain. It might be more accurate to say that I’ve been pondering the literal since literal leaves little room for wonder. I must confess that when you start to literally wonder about the literal, it takes you on quite a vague journey.
Figuratively speaking, some things may literally be literal. For instance, you need to literally stop at a red traffic light. Yet, at the same time, the sun doesn’t literally “rise” and “set” each and every day. It just seems like it does. But then again, on a cloudy day, it seems like it doesn’t. While the red light is literal, our experience of the sun is metaphorical. The sun isn’t rising or setting – it simply is brilliantly shining.
At times, in trying to prove a point, we may conveniently use literal, possibly overuse it or sometimes even abuse it. Our ego makes a lovely home for all our literal certainty. As do our emotions – after all, it feels so good to be right. Right? The illusion of the predictable feels pretty good too.
That which we perceive to be literal has a relational impact as well. It tends to draw those with your same literal certainty. It would seem that literal consensus lays the foundation for relational connection. After all, communities and tribes are sometimes formed by such.
Yet, then again, so are cults.
What if our illusion of literal be held accountable to the possible walls of bias, prejudice, exclusion and judgement? The limits of the literal may be one of the great prices we pay to feed a “healthy” ego. I wish I could get a refund for each of the times I thought I had something (or someone) literally figured-out. Maybe you do too. Yet, I have rarely traced it to the trap of knowingly or unknowingly trying to be too literal.
I’m not so sure we literally believe all that we claim to be literal. We just think we do. Literal makes a wonderful salve to nurture our fears and related illusion of control. Sometimes we construct the literal in our natural longing for truth. And in doing so, we confuse the two.
Literal and truth are not the same thing.
When the metaphorical evolves to a perception of literal it can move us from a light frost to a deep-frozen state of mind. While it may bring the comfort of a momentary sense of clarity, it can also bring a halt to creation. On the other hand, it seems that truth is born in stillness and moves into a flow – continuing to creatively show-up in many places in a number of ways. Rather than a finish line, truth continually offers a fresh new beginning — unlatching the leash that the literal holds around us. As we are searching for the literal, the truth is searching for us. In so many ways, the literal blinds us to the truth ever present around us. While the literal is experienced in just one way — truth shows-up in a variety of ways.
Our perception of the literal can take us through a field of illusion marching us toward our desired conclusion. On the other hand, truth invites us to the unfamiliar and the unknown – delightfully lifting us to a state of wonder. While the literal makes us feel smarter – the truth invites us to be wiser. In so many ways, metaphors lead us to truth, while our perception of the literal leads us away from truth.
If we let go of our love of the literal, truth could teach us to love.
When you really think about it, at any single given point in time, one person’s sunrise is another person’s sunset. This is true anywhere, at any time, and always. At the same time, neither the sunrise nor the sunset is actually literal. Yet, as an experience, both are true. Very true. While I know this analysis may seem oversimplified, amazing things could happen if we only realized how this truth played-out in so many other day-to-day real-life scenarios. Just imagine what depths of understanding could be built around a planet, throughout a nation, across a boardroom table, between the silos of the departments of an organization. within a family, and right into the depths of our own core.
What sunrise or sunset are you holding too literally? As always, I would love to hear your insights below!