What I Can Know

[The following is a lightly edited blog post that I published elsewhere in November of 2014.]

A little over seven years ago I began a long journey in acknowledging my ignorance.

Decency and decorum demand that I refrain from describing my circumstances. Let’s just say that I was in a horrible situation that lasted a good long while. After the situation had begun to resolve, I had a lot of healing to do. During the healing process, I developed a willingness to admit that there was a lot that I don’t know.

My ability to admit my know-nothingness also makes me a hell of a lot more teachable and receptive to new knowledge. I’m now comfortable acknowledging my ignorance and am increasingly open to different ideas and experiences.

Earlier this year I found myself in a perplexing situation. I took action, necessary action. Still, I found myself in free-fall. My discomfort grew by the day.

(I don’t know if the situation will ever resolve. Closure is a rare gift.)

I continued to struggle for months after I took action. I also began to wonder if I’d ever get over the situation. Even worse, I began to think that I was regressing. I kept on replaying the scenario in my head, to no good end. My anxiety and stress increased by the day.

I became incredibly confused. I thought I’d got over this sort of self-torture. I thought I’d got to the point where I could accept that there were things that I could not know and situations that I could not control. But now I afflicted myself with these ugly old habits of mind and heart. I had to stop this. But I didn’t know how.

Finally, after some struggle, I began to reflect on a pivotal interaction in the situation. I had a choice to make. A painful choice. I chose, I acted, and then dealt with the consequences.

In the midst of a horrific anxiety attack, I replayed the situation in my mind once again. But this time I asked myself a question:

Did I do the right thing?

After some consideration, I answered Yes.

Then I asked myself another question:

Do I know that I did the right thing?

Suddenly, the answer came: Yes, I made the right choice. I acted rightly.

My answer wasn’t an opinion. I knew the answer. I knew I’d done the right thing. I knew it just as I am sure of my bedroom floor beneath my feet. Yes, I can parse out the logic of my decision. I can cite the ethical principles involved and demonstrate my knowledge of practical psychology. But at that moment when I knew that I’d done the right thing, logic, ethics, and appropriate relational boundaries seemed quite distant. I’d never felt knowledge that deeply before. It permeated the core of my being instead of just flooding my brain.

At that point, much of my angst evaporated. I was able to step away from the unresolved situation. While I can’t know or understand the entirety of the circumstances that gave me such pain, I eventually learned what I could know.

I also know what it feels like to know what I can know.

And for now, this is enough.

Image Credit
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons



My personal blog on the Gurdjieff Work is now online. My first post is a review of On a Spaceship with Beelzebub: By a Grandson of Gurdjieff by David Kherdian. A linked excerpt is below:

As a reader of these tales, I am also reminded of my lack of unity. At times I found myself cheering the Kherdians when they identified and walked away from inappropriate behavior on the part of Foundation leadership, on other occasions I rolled my eyes at David Kherdian’s sensitivity at having his “corns” pressed by Lord Pentland and others. It occurs to me, however, that my own reactions may likewise be inconsistent. I’m reminded once again of Mr. Gurdjieff’s seemingly paradoxical aphorisms that at once suggest the necessity of a “critical mind” even while being aware of one’s nothingness.


The Quality of the Judge — Life’s Little Lessons

Note: This post is the second in a series. Each one describes a short lesson taught to me by friends, family members, acquaintances, and others.

Many years ago, I spent some time recovering from a decidedly unpleasant personal situation. My recovery was impeded, in part, by my internalization of an individual’s constant criticism.

One evening I was deep in chat with the occult lecturer and blogger Cliff Low. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I must have said something regarding lingering self-doubt and guilt.

What I do remember were Cliff’s words to me:

“Lainie, [Name Withheld] is a seriously messed up individual. Yet you insist on treating [Name Witheld] like a fair and impartial judge. You need to remember that the quality of a judgment depends in large part on the quality of the judge.”

These words triggered a complete change in my perception. Here I was, struggling under the weight of judgments that, in reality, should not have been given any weight at all. Once I read Cliff’s words, my burden lifted.

The lessons learned here were straightforward, but also profound. It is important to be open to feedback and criticism from others: Relationships can’t exist without honest communication and such truth-telling can often provide us with material that we can use to improve ourselves.

But feedback and criticism can also be faulty: It should be received by a critical mind and weighed justly by wisdom, particularly against the worth of he or she who delivered the criticism. Sadly, some of us, including myself, may at times have a tendency to give far more credence to the words of those who do not deserve our harkening.

Ignore the quality of the judge at your own peril.



Life’s Little Lessons: What is Worthy of Me

Note: This post is the first in a series. Each one describes a short lesson taught to me by friends, family members, acquaintances, and others.

A few years ago I was angry at someone. Incredibly angry. I wanted to hurt this person so that they might feel some of the pain that I was feeling.

I had a plan in mind. It was mean, it was spiteful, and it was petty. But I still wanted to do it.

Fortunately, I had managed to keep at least some of my wits. One of these wits nudged me to contact my old friend and colleague, Patriarch Shaun McCann and reveal to him my fiendish plot.

+Shaun listened to my ranting. He replied by saying “You know, sometimes when we are angry and hurt and want to take action, we need to take a step back. We need to consider not whether the person who has made us so angry is worthy of a particular action, but whether that particular action is worthy of us.”

(Forgive the cliche, but those words stopped me cold.)

I was justifiably angry. But the action I had planned was, as stated above, petty, spiteful, and mean. It didn’t need to happen, and I didn’t need to become the person who would do such a thing.

(And thanks to the words of a friend, I didn’t.)

+Shaun’s words still occasionally resonate at the back of my mind as I continue to navigate a full and busy life. Anger arises, annoyance takes hold. Occasionally, very occasionally, rage threatens to consume. But I remember that I don’t have to hand control of my self to my feelings or thoughts. I can know the worth of my values and act accordingly.