The concluding section in Oprah’s magazine is (or used to be) titled “What I Know for Sure.” It usually has a strong, honest, authentic ring to it, and addresses spiritual realities she seems to have settled for herself, within herself.
Your Settled Issues will be different from hers and mine, of course, but I hope you’re doing this work, too. We all have do it sooner or later, and sooner is better than later.
A client concluded our session together with the statement, “I knew better, but I did it anyway.”
A few hours later, another person confided to me, “Once I finally understood it, I stopped doing it.”
These two people had just about opposite understandings about Knowing.
The Tale Wagged
Which is closer to your understanding of “knowing”?
Here’s an exercise. Imagine a man who loves his wife and children, enjoys his work (and supports his family well at it), is active in his church, serving others sacrificially.
Periodically, he stops at a bar on Friday nights, and drinks until he passes out or is picked up by the police, driving dangerously.
Careful, now; don’t judge him or categorize him or counter‑transfer. Let him sink in as a person, not a problem. You can call him Al; pretend he’s our brother. Pretend he commits suicide one day.
Here’s the question: did Al “know better”? Or was there something he never knew (“got”)?
I’m not a trained philosopher. I’m not framing an intellectual debate here about epistemology, or theories of human development or models of pathology. Pretend he’s our brother. What could have saved him and his family? What was missing?
Applying the question to ourselves, maybe we ask: am I growing up? Am I “getting better?” Deep down inside, have I settled some major issues, giving me access to the Safe Place? If so, it’s nice to share my tips with soul‑friends. But if the Deep Place doesn’t feel so safe, can I ask for help anywhere, from anyone or anything reliable? Is my understanding (my deep “knowing”) broken or are some pieces missing? Must I go a little deeper?
Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?
With your permission, I’ll make a specific suggestion, just to get things rolling. (You may already know an exercise that will work better for you.)
One of the “echoes” in the link below is a stanza from Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese. Write it out (the complete poem, if you prefer, is easy to find on the internet) in your own handwriting, then read your copy, at least once a day, for a week. See if it helps you recall that you have a place in the family of things, and don’t have to do anything at all to earn it.
Once this sinks in, other certainties often rise to the surface. What we’re after are intuitions deeper than intellectual “beliefs,” deeper than mere hopes or feelings. They are within us already, but must be re-appropriated by each individual in a mysteriously unique process. It’s crucial to sink a little lower (or higher?) than thoughts, feelings, aspirations. It’s in there, I promise, but if you’ve been gone for a long time, it may seem foreign.
You need this.