Be Who We Are with What We Know
Every year, I choose a 365-day book to read on my cushion in the mornings with the my hot water and lemon. This is the second year, I am reading, The Book of Awakening, Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, by poet and philosopher, Mark Nepo. I chose this book in December before I knew I was going to be on my own C-Adventure. Nepo went through his own cancer adventure [long and grueling] where he had two ribs removed, rounds of chemo, and continuous epiphanies from his experience.
I have reread this entry several times these past few weeks and each time I gather something different to ponder. Enjoy. :~]
Who We Are and What We Know
“To arrive at understanding from being one’s true self is called nature.
To arrive at being one’s true self from understanding is called culture.”
It seems we all learn in two ongoing ways: being who we are helps us know more about this life, and what we learn helps us be who we are. If we look at how much we move through our days, we can see that we are all made of different mixtures of nature and culture. As a boy, I burn my hand on a stove and understand the dangers of heat. When experience is the teacher, I am a child of nature. As a teenager, I listen to others about their failures in love and this knowing shapes how I try. Here, understanding is the teacher and in this moment I am a child of culture.
I must confess that encountering these definitions changed how I see myself. For instantly, I realized that though I prided myself on being deeply natural and experiential, I was, in fact, very cultural, mostly a watcher. It has since become clear that the danger for a natural learner is avoiding the need to turn one’s experience into understanding. At these times, we become the flighty one who never strings the hurts and joys together into a lesson—the one who repeats everything but never acts—the one who never engages anything. The danger for a cultural learner, however, is avoiding the need to turn one’s understanding into experience. At these times, we are the weighty one who considers everything but never acts—the one who never engages anything. Either way, when we falter in applying who we are to what we know, we experience lapse in being real. This is a chronic condition that I for one, have experienced often.
Indeed, as birds fly and molt, as spiders spin and trap, as snakes slither and shed, humans care and know. And as the bird can’t find much to do with its fallen feathers, as the spider spins and gets stuck in its webs, as the snake ignores its already forgotten skin, we are left with our knowledge, intent that it be useful. But the use, it seems, is in the caring.
Bold emphasis is by me, not the author.
May we all care a little more,
learn from our experiences
an apply who we are to what we know.
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