Some of my poems refer to ‘knowing’ in a sense that is more than accumulated knowledge or facts. I’ve only become consciously aware of this type of knowing over the past couple of years, but listening to an Eckhart Tolle podcast recently I’ve begun to realise I’ve always instinctively leaned into this kind of non-conceptual knowing.
I like visiting historical places. I enjoy castles, museums, churches, cathedrals; anywhere with beautiful architecture and a rich sense of history. I enjoy the feel of these places, the intricacy of their design, the feel of the history they carry with them.
Yet, if I’m honest, I don’t really enjoy reading the little knowledge filled plaques you so often find in these buildings. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this. Shouldn’t I want to know all about the history of our most beautiful buildings? Shouldn’t I be helping my children to learn and memorise all the facts? Won’t it stand them in good stead for life? If they’re interested, and they want to learn about it, then yes. But isn’t it also possible that they (and I) can enjoy a visit to a beautiful or historical place without having to learn anything about it? Is it possible that the beauty and the wonder and the sense of being in that place in the present moment is enough?
Eckhart talks of two different types of knowledge: conceptual and non-conceptual. Conceptual knowledge is the only kind of knowledge modern, western society seems to set any store by. Yet Eckhart tells us this knowledge on its own is not enough, both types are needed to thrive. He points out we have more knowledge than ever at our fingertips, yet is it helping? He talks of another dimension of knowledge, a non-conceptual knowing that arises through awareness, that we’ve been neglecting for too long. To me, his premise sounds similar to Iain McGilchrist’s take on the left brain/right brain, where he states we’ve become so entrenched in a certain way of rational thinking, that we’ve totally closed ourselves off from some of our more intuitive capabilities.
What capabilities you might ask? And herein lies the crux of the problem. We’re all looking for someone else to tell us the answer, but I’m not sure the answer can be told. We can hear bits and pieces that point us in the right direction, a phrase or a teaching that gives us an ‘aha’ moment, but perhaps it’s up to each person to discover their own non-conceptual knowledge and awareness. Our language is so rooted in the conceptual that we simply don’t have the language to describe these kinds of experiences, let alone teach others how to experience them, all we can do is try to feel our way down the path.
I’ve been looking for answers for a long time, but there’s also a part of me that’s been aware all this seeking is futile, because in looking for answers outside of myself I’m closing myself off from what I already know. On some level I can sense that everything is connected, yet I can’t explain to you how I ‘know’ this, though I came to the realisation a couple of years ago. I’ve seen the innate wisdom that lives in my own children, who on occasions can be wise beyond their years, where does this wisdom come from? Is it there from the beginning? (I’d recommend a movie called Mr Nobody if this line of questioning interests you).
So where to start finding our deeper sense of knowing? Eckhart would tell you right here, right now. Be fully present in this moment, feel the spaciousness and expansiveness of it. Now try to do it with the next moment, and take it from there.
We fill in all our empty spaces with factual knowledge or entertainment, until we forget there were ever any spaces to begin with. These spaces are – I believe – the windows to that deeper dimension of non-conceptual knowing. Perhaps one day humanity will ‘know’ so much, we’ll wonder how we ever spent so much time thinking.
What do you think? Or would a better question be, what do you feel?
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