Brief Thoughts on Thinking

I will first throw out some little-known big words, then we’ll talk about them.

Ketaphatic thinking comes natural to humans and is the way the dualistic mind operates. However, the contemplative mind thinks apophatically and God has to interrupt the former to shortcircuit it when putting someone on a crash course of reprogramming. This is what God did by blinding Paul and replacing his way of “seeing” over the next 14 years between his experience on the road to Damascus and when his Apostolic ministry began. OK, this is deep- stuff, so let’s unpack it and take away the headache I’ve already given you…

First, definitions: to think dualistically is to split everything we encounter into good and bad. Ketaphatic thinking is to look at and define something by what it is. We mostly know what something is by examination, but we also know what it is and conduct that examination by ruling out what it isn’t and framing what something is by what it isn’t. So, dualistic thinking enables ketaphatic thinking and they go hand-in-hand as two sides of the same coin. They belong to the ego, the false self, or sinful fallen nature.

In contrast, nondual thinking doesn’t automatically split things because it doesn’t look at, it looks through. It’s important to note that nondual thinking isn’t over-and-against dualistic thinking, but builds on it. It embraces analysis and the fact that some things are split – but it doesn’t assume it. Before it looks at, it looks through. It sees the big picture first, then looks at the subject matter in a more narrow fashion, whereas dualistic thinking only knows the narrow view and only looks at instead of through.

Apophatic thinking defines things by what they aren’t. Instead of looking at and analyzing, it takes a broader view and gets a sense about what something is, but does not define it directly. The closest it comes to doing so is to define what peripheral things are and rule them out. For example, theology distinguishes between God’s essence and God’s energies. We say a lot of things about God, such as “God is omnipresent,” “God is transcendent and imminent” and “God is omniscient.” Picture a circle – these things we say about God are each partial descriptions and form a circumference while we speak not of the center, or essence of God, so as to define that which, ultimately, is mystery. Apophatic thinking acknowledges and respects that divine mystery. These two also go hand-in-hand, forming two sides of the same coin. In the deepest and oldest of the Christian tradition, this is called the contemplative mind.


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