The Way of Understanding
Do you remember the last time you chose to look down on a person, place, situation or thing? What were you thinking? Did you sense a certain superiority or self justification? Were your understandings punitive or indignant? Did you feel a certain inflation or indifference in the situation and maybe even some antagonism? Because we’ve all been conditioned, we’ve all had these thoughts and feelings and we’ve all had the sense that we throughly understood the situations. We didn’t. We ‘overstood’ them.
Years ago I attended a Buddhist/Christian dialog on meditation in Boulder, Colorado. In dialog on the stage was an English Benedictine Monk and a Tibetan Buddhist Roshi. While the Roshi was making a point on the similarities and difference between the two traditions, the Monk interrupted to correct the Roshi’s interpretations. He claimed the Roshi didn’t understand and proceeded with his understandings.The Roshi patiently let the Monk speak until his containment broke and he started laughing uncontrollably.
“On my brother,” he said again and again. Finally containing his laughter yet smiling widely he went on: “You Westerners say repeatedly how you understand and you don’t understand, you overstand. You think in rational terms and call it understanding when it’s always overstanding, linear, intellectual, not understanding. In understanding all things come together in sacred unity. Do you understand?” “No.” responded the Monk. The whole audience broke out in laughter while the brother sat sadly in confusion.
Imagine looking down upon someone or something and looking up to someone or something. The language itself speaks directionally and emotionally. When we look up there’s a kind of respect, even a veneration. To look down there’s a kind of denigration, even a disrespect. To understand is to grasp the meaning of, see the wisdom of, move with reason into abstraction to find the height, depth and breadth of a subject. It’s going into it in a way that puts everything on a shelf for enlightenment and plausibility.
Understanding is also an exploration into the mystery of the known and unknown that seeks ever greater comprehension, significance and inference. It implies a certain grasp of the significance of someone or something. It’s inherently harmonious and friendly while cultivating a relationship of mutuality. It’s reasonable, tolerant and open to ongoing dialogue, growth and change. It’s a move from separateness to unity and from wonder to a wisdom that discovers meaning in ways that even children can understand. . . .
In my search to discover ‘The Way of Understanding’ I’ve had to let go of most all the intellectual overstandings I worked decades to obtain and own. What I discovered was that when we engage the so called rational, linear, calculative side of the brain, we lose the mystery and expansiveness of the intuitive, unitive, transrational and multi-sensory parts. The awareness of ‘not knowing‘ is essential for a wholistic approach to understanding as it transcends and includes the objective, subjective and mysterious.
The necessity for greater understanding was brought home to me while having talks with my grandson. From the time he was four years old we would have conversations about the mysteries of life. He helped shift my limited overstandings into understandings we could both grasp. His unfiltered open thinking continually forced me to drop the definitive language of overstanding to a more experiential language of surprise and delight. Discovery then came unexpectedly and rarely with reason.
The Way of Understanding is also a way of meaning and wisdom. The meaning comes from our very immediate and physical interaction with what we’re working, playing and engaging. Lost in the experience we don’t label or categorize, we simply participate and become one with the moment. The wisdom comes from a felt experience of wonder, surprise and delight and there’s no need or possibility of explaining it. How do you explain giving birth or falling in love or climbing a mountain or sailing in the fog or?
So the next time you hear yourself say or think that you ‘understand’, pause and drop deeply into your Inner Being and see if it’s true. Do you really understand or are you once again overstanding, just passing over what’s experienced in your depths and not giving it any attention? True understanding, is a whole new way of Being in the world.
- Give yourself the opportunity to play with the concepts in this essay. Sit with how you overstand and understand. Note how you relate to yourself and others within each of these two polarities. Notice also how they might be able to work together. . . .
- Along with the above exercise, use your journal to note your experiences of these ways of being over the next weeks. Which feel the most authentic? Which bring more awareness? Which allow you to be more of the Who that’s Truly You?
- In your prayer/meditation time this week, feel where you’re overstanding resides and what kinds of emotion it directs you to. Feel where your understanding resides and how you feel when you sit within this space. Allow these insights to direct you into new ways of being and doing, loving and learning. . . .