The Illusion of Knowledge

The Illusion of Knowledge

The Illusion of Knowledge: March 15, 2018

Some insidious combination of sloth, gluttony, and perimenopause conspired to bestow 15 pounds and several inches upon me over the past year or so. It was stealthy.

In mid-January I buckled down to try to combat this change of metabolism. I had to admit that the way I’d been doing things no longer worked. My normal has changed.

Recently, Jack insisted that I read the book A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. Here’s my favorite part:

Giving up and letting go are two very different things, Lily. Giving up is admitting you’re beat and walking away. Letting go means you’re setting something free. You’re releasing something that’s been keeping you stuck. That takes faith and more than a little courage.

I wasn’t going to give up on claiming responsibility for my body and my health, but I did have to let go of old notions of eating and exercise that just no longer worked for me. I was stuck. And changing habits does take both courage and stamina.

I came across a program I can do at home without too much equipment, and without too much time, so I committed to myself to exercise in the mornings after Mark and Jack leave for school and before I need to take Emma.

I don’t love it. Okay, I kinda hate it. But I am always proud of myself, and that’s a pretty good way to start the day.

Here’s an unexpected bonus to exercising in the morning—I make better choices throughout the rest day. I eat better and less. My attitude is better. I drink less and sleep better. I think I’m nicer. Maybe a little nicer.

So the point is that one better decision creates a positive spiral of better decisions.  Letting go in one area of ‘that’s the way I always do it’ gave me room to create a new normal. This makes it easier to get back on the good spiral even after a misstep, like over-reacting to kids being kids or saying yes to that wee dram at the end of the evening.

Achieving better alignment in one part of life often helps create a positive feedback loop that makes other alignment easier.

Some of you very kindly responded to my blog preview with what you need to give up or to let go…where you need faith and courage.

We need to give up tribalism and national myths… I need faith in the triumph of good over evil… I need courage to stand up to evil…I thought about the need to align across several dimensions of our being—spheres within spheres...

My friend, Michael, responded about alignment with this beautiful poem: A Meditation in Time of War.

For one throb of the artery, 
While on that old grey stone I sat 
Under the old wind-broken tree, 
I knew that One is animate 
Mankind inanimate phantasy.
— William Butler Yeats

Our alignment is in the One.

Alongside much of the world I am lamenting the death of Stephen Hawking. I just liked knowing he was there in the world, alive, and playfully running over people’s feet with his wheelchair when he disagreed with them.

As I wrote in This Probably Doesn't Count, I had the privilege of studying one summer at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where Professor Hawking was a Fellow for more than 50 years.  Here is my favorite thing he said: The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

That illusion of knowledge gets in our way when we think the world is the way we think the world is.  Did you follow that? 

We come at life from our own experiences and our own emotions. Then we project that view onto the entire world—the world is the way I think the world is. But it’s not. What I consider normal is not everyone’s normal. Nor should it be. And if I’m not willing to listen to someone else’s experience, then I can’t learn anything new. That might seem safe, but it’s also boring.  Not to mention wrong.

When we strive for safe, life ceases to be amazing.  It becomes, well, normal. And we forget to do another of Professor Hawking’s directives: Be Curious.

About this time last year, my father started having a lot of back pain. It eventually got so bad that he couldn’t walk, and then there was another week before he had an MRI that determined a large infection in his spinal column. Surgery, rehab, learning how to walk again—all of this consumed a large part of our consciousness.  Our worlds condensed into focused priorities before it widened again into periodic maintenance doctor visits.

On one of those visits, I got to see Dad’s heart in an EKG. I saw my father’s heart! The technician was helpful, methodical, competent, kind. It was amazing to watch the valves so faithfully opening and closing, the oxygen-rich red and the oxygen-poor blue blood squishing around and through those chambers. I was in awe.

As Dad was putting his shirt back on the technician said, “Have y’all tried these things?” She was holding up silver travel mug: a Yeti knock-off she got on sale at Walmart. “They’re amazing.  I put ice in it Sunday and there was still ice 24 hours later!”  Dad riffed on our favorite family joke about the thermos keeping hot things hot and cold things cold (how do it know?).  We all laughed and left the exam room.

And I thought—here is a woman who watches the complex workings of the human heart, measures heartbeats and blood flow, probes the inner, hidden parts of human bodies all day and she’s amazed by a thermos?

What has amazed you today? What do you take for granted, take for normal, that might amaze someone experiencing it for the first time? Pay attention. Let go of something that is holding you back. Revel in the everyday amazement.

We need faith and courage to do this brave work. We can be proud of ourselves for small victories and we can encourage each other. We can give up tribalism; work collaboratively, seek true knowledge; be curious.

I believe that One is animate and that we all are part of that One. Our illusion of separateness is not the true knowledge. The true knowledge is that we are part of the One. Every once in awhile I feel that alignment, and I know that I am a beloved part of the One.

Forget your thermos. Pay attention to your heart.

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