Truth, Sturdy Tree   Leave a comment

In English (and other Germanic languages) there’s a cluster of words related etymologically in “deep time” and beginning with tr-: true, troth, trust, tree. The meanings they convey branch outward — the metaphor is no accident — in other European languages, with similar connected meanings. In some Indo-European languages it’s specifically the oak that’s the quintessential tree, its hard wood most reliably “true”, able to hold its shape, resist warp and rot, or honor the gods like the oaks at the Greek oracle at Dodona, sacred to Zeus. Druids aspire to be “people of the trees”.

wisdomtree

It’s no surprise then that speakers of these languages tend to think of truth in similar terms. Languages offer such networks of related meanings, idioms and imagery that shape and direct our thoughts and our cultures in both subtle and pervasive ways. The resource of words, like any resource, can be spent well or ill. We can draw on it to nourish and enrich human lives, or abuse it to twist, enervate, and destroy. We are, as older culture put it, only as good as our word.

In the archaic “troth, betroth, plight one’s troth”, we encounter truth in another sense, as a promise, something time will help fulfill, yes, but primarily a human action dependent on fidelity and effort. To betroth is to promise “by one’s truth“. Here, truth doesn’t just happen. It’s an outcome of a commitment. We enact truth. We say of something that it “holds true” — it meets the tests of time and other forces colliding with it. If this intrigues you, start a list of other expressions like it, and work with it in meditation.

So we have two related senses of truth: a quality often inherent in experience, and a human way of perceiving, choosing and acting. But in both cases, when something is true, it exhibits a quality similar to a good carpenter’s labor — the pieces fit, align, work together harmoniously, possessing strength and beauty and utility. Hence our sense of truth as something that is often beautiful as well. English idiom also gives us the lovely image of things that “ring true”. Truth, then, also “sounds right”. While a true thing may not exhibit all these qualities every time, it frequently does in surprising ways.

So I offer this as another subject for meditation: in how many ways does a truth appeal to the senses and offer its qualities through numerous images and metaphors in making itself  accessible to human consciousness?

I’m always looking for techniques, for strategies and methods. My pragmatic streak longs for good ways to do things. (That’s not to say my lazy and selfish streaks don’t play their parts all too well. What’s new there? We all deal with limits worth exploring and working with creatively.)

freevector-tree-world

These two related senses of truth offer what I’m looking for in the form of three challenge-questions I can ask: (1) Does my experience of a person, thing, idea or course of action offer these qualities of harmony, fit, rightness, alignment? (2) If I enact a commitment in my own life based on these qualities as indications of its truth, do I achieve results with similar qualities? (3) Does a possibly true thing “hold true”? That is, do its qualities persist over time?

Apply these observations at will to your own choices, commitments, beliefs and the actions of others. Do they hold true for you?

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Images: Wisdom Tree; Tree World.

 

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