Living Understanding

How does one live an understanding?

Let’s say that to understand something means that we a) are familiar with it, b) are confident in our familiarity and c) are able to extend, or contextualize, that familiarity into other domains.

On this view, understanding is basically relational, and affords an overview, or meta-perception, of those elements that are in relation.

So, for example, one might say that they understand a particular spiritual tradition – A Course in Miracles, say. In this case, that would imply that they are familiar with the elements comprising the course a Text, a Workbook, and a Manual for Teachers. It would also mean that they are familiar with its core concepts such as forgiveness, atonement and so forth. They see how all these elements and concepts both imply and inform one another, and are confident in their seeing, such they are able to “practice” – or extend – ACIM in and into their lives (through the lessons, study groups, study of secondary materials, working with a teacher and so forth).

Note that in this sense “understanding” is not related to “right” or “wrong!” Those concepts tend to enter our thinking in conjunction with other human beings whose “understanding” differs from our own to varying degrees.

It is an unfortunate aspect of our humanness that we perceive these differences as dangerous and in need of redressing (through attack and defense – i.e., “I am right and you are wrong,” “no – I am right and you are wrong) rather than mutual confirmation of our perceptual and cognitive structure, the subtle variety that structure entails, and the epistemic humility it necessitates.

How does this conceptual act of understanding relate to or inform our living? What is its nature in relation to experience?

Note that in asking this question, I am not suggesting that we are obligated to do something with understanding! Rather, I am suggesting that we give attention to – that we notice – the way that understanding is already informing and appearing in experience.

Is that clear? We don’t have an understanding that we then apply to experience. Understanding and experience are already conjoined. The suggestion here is to discover and realize the already-extant nature of the conjoining.

This is a nontrivial distinction. Experience happens. Observation of the experience happens. Contextualization of “observation of the experience” as observer and observed happens. Descriptions of contextualization happen.

The opportunity we have as human beings is to be aware that we are aware of experience as it happens, which awareness includes awareness that awareness is not separate from experience as it happens (even though it tends to feel as if it is).

The nonduality to which many folks point is simply a sustainable experience of this recursive awareness. It runs the gamut from “oh this?” to the heady thrills of a full-on acid trip. The self as such drops out; distinctions altogether drop out; and briefly one glimpses . . . well, what exactly?

The no-thing-ness out of which all things arise? The Face of the Living God? Christ? Nirvana?

Or perhaps nothing so fancy as love, understood in a way mostly consonant with Humberto Maturana and Gerda Verden-Zöller in their book The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love.

Love . . . is the domain of those behaviors through which an other arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself. Love means or entails mutual trust in total body acceptance with no manipulation or instrumentalization of the relations . . . Manipulation and instrumentalization of another are attempts to control the behavior of the other by illegitimate means; they are manners of aggression and denial of the other and thus entail a different emotion than love.

My understanding of their understanding allows that the falling-out of self that underlies our experience of recursive awareness facilitates the ongoingness of love as a mutually specifying and recursive domain of distinctions encompassing self, other and world, the one spilling into other. Less river flowing from point A to B and more fountain arising out of and falling back into itself, thus endlessly creating itself.

Really, I am suggesting that experience itself is love – that it is a series of distinction made in order to make love tangible, understandable, and that the distinctions (which are other people, places, things, events and so forth) are merely expressions of love. They are creations, not separations (to borrow and perhaps bastardize the language of ACIM).

So to live an understanding is to notice love as the ground of experience – it is that from which we arise and to which we return in order to arise again. On this view, form is much less essential than process, and process is much less essential than relation.

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