Knowing that you don’t know

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

The mythic journey begins with the hero in a familiar place. After going on an adventure, the innocent child returns as a wiser adult. This is what is represented by the tarot card called “The Fool”. In “The Holistic Tarot”, Benebell Wen interprets the upright Fool as someone who has a clear conscience in the beginning of something. The Fool is also dressed in fanciful clothes. Wen warns that this implies that the seeker has a tendency to be somewhat superficial. In other words, they may have a shallow sense of self-worth. This could be enough to inspire them to take the first step on a spiritual journey, but if this facade is shattered, it will be revealed that there is nothing within.

Some people begin their spiritual journey with preconceived notions and expectations. These beliefs are usually assumptions of things seen at face value. A question that must be asked is: where did these beliefs come from? It’s important to reflect on what we think is true, in the context of our own personal history and the spirit of the times. It’s not enough to skim a chapter or watch a video essay. We might admit to not knowing everything, but we have to pay attention to our feelings when we are challenged or doubted. Do we get angry? If so, why? Where is this anger coming from?

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when people with novice ability greatly overestimate their knowledge or skills. It also happens when people with high ability underestimate their skills. In other words, some people who don’t know much might insist that they do. Yes, it’s good to share what you know, so that people can also understand your context and maybe even join you in your journey. But when we look at truly wise, truly spiritual people, we might learn a few things. They aren’t loud, they’re calm and consistent. They know what they believe in, but they don’t force their beliefs. In fact, they try to find the meeting place between differing spiritualities. They try to speak in the language of the people they are talking to, instead of trying to teach others how to talk their way. This, I think, is what the gift of “speaking in tongues” means.

Faith seeks understanding. If it doesn’t, then it’s just a personal interpretation without context. In other words, if all we have is faith, with all the symbols and images that come with it, then it’s just an aesthetic. We must live out our faith and find ways to deepen it. There may be those who are so convinced that their beliefs are the only truth. After all, a person wouldn’t believe in something they didn’t think was true. Different people believe in different things-even those who are factually wrong wouldn’t believe in something if it didn’t sound true to them. It might be a waste of our time to try and convince them otherwise, but we can challenge ourselves to see whether we might also be factually wrong. If we are to seek the Truth, with a capital “T”, then we must align with the facts of the world. This might mean considering that we may have been misinterpreting reality. Reflecting and going deeper might help us fill that inner emptiness that is hungry for divine wisdom.

I like the security of knowing that what I’m saying had been said before. I like quoting books and philosophers because then at least it wouldn’t be me who’s saying these things. I’m always afraid of saying something wrong. But in the end, I’m only writing about the writings of other people, who were only writing about the writings of other people, and so on. What’s ridiculous is that, in spirituality, everyone seems to be saying the same thing. Trust. You are the essence of the universe. Meet the divine through other people. But it’s one thing to know, it’s another thing to actually understand. And in the case of spirituality, it’s mostly about doing and being. I can say that I’ve read a lot of books. I can talk about theories and ideas from relevant texts. I can echo the wisdom of sages. But none of this wisdom really comes from me because I haven’t actually experienced these things. It’s like I’m trying to tell someone the taste of a meal based on what’s written in the recipe book. That is my limitation, but it’s also a challenge to myself. I can drown myself in pages and pages of Lao Tzu, Alan Watts, and C.S. Lewis, but that’s just me reading the instruction manual over and over and over again.

Originally published on January 3, 2022.



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