Years ago, I began to notice that I was incapable of truly being in-the-moment while speaking — or even while thinking! When I’m speaking, I’m not reporting from an immediate state of knowing. Rather, I am passing on what I’ve already thought thru somewhat. Speech references past experience, if even only a second ago — not now. Yet, now is all I can truly know; the rest is only partial views and after-thoughts arising from previous moments and tainted with my own partiality. On the other hand…
I speak and think, to know what I know
I think and speak to understand what I know. How does this comport with chapter 56’s, One who knows does not speak; One who speaks does not know? To paraphrase chapter 2, Knowing and speaking produce, complement, offset, harmonize, and follow each other. The knowing is that dimly visible essence we feel yet can’t nail down in words. On the other hand, speaking abandons deep knowing. For example, saying, “What a beautiful sunset!” leaves the now moment behind.
We need to speak, think, or write in order to understand what we know. By understand, I mean almost literally to stand under in order to look up and observe what we feel we know. Certainly, we lose much of the intuitive knowing by speaking, thinking, or writing, yet by giving our knowing a tangible side, we can cognitively work with it. Like a carpenter sawing lumber and nailing it together, thinking what we know allows us to nail something together. Fortunately, we can even preserve sanity and balance if we follow chapter 71’s, To know yet to think that one does not know is best. Otherwise, Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
I so agree with much of what is shared here; me, too! and yet, curiously, sometimes I experience “being in the now” or being fully present while speaking. there does seem to a pattern to that. more later . . . perhaps.
and THANK-You to all for the blog and comments.
I feel the main reason “nothing really exists until we apply language to it, name it, or perhaps conceptualize it somehow” (or may rather seem to), is that we are so accustomed to having thought (esp. logic) be the arbiter of reality – existence. This accounts for the puzzlement Zen Koans
can stir up. The degree of ‘nonsense’ felt is directly proportional to belief in a logical ‘named’ reality. I see our logic bias as a mental tool for survival, but not the best tool for seeing the ‘big picture’. There is a “state of mind” void of any kind of thinking. All other animals who have a brain of any size, experience it. They don’t have the ‘noise’ and ‘filter’ of language to obstruct the view.
I see this as essentially human, as so therein lies its “usefulness”. To not “cobble together some sort of thought structure to represent reality” is to not be human. If I’m not to be human, what other species am I? Ha! I find that the less seriously I take the “structure”, the less obstructive it become. The more I feel language is the illusion, the closer I come to experience the mind of an animal without language. This has been happening to me naturally over the years as I my faith in language dies. That seems paradoxical considering how much I write, but it really isn’t. It’s like acting. You act a part, but you are not the part is not you. Curious.
To me this is knowing, not knowledge. Knowledge is the “structure”, which if taken seriously hinders ‘vision’… knowing! Knowing is natural. A rock knows to stay still; a bird know to fly; a worm know to wiggle; and so on. Oh, and a human knows to think. It is just that too much of a good thing becomes a hindrance (throughout all of nature, I might add). Things would be a lot more peaceful for humanity if we could ‘learn’ that names and word are not real. I won’t hold my breath!
You just did!
But, can knowing be through words? I say not. The knowing must come and exist from within. Speaking gives that knowing shape. But the shape can only be seen by those who already know what the speaker knows. On the other hand, I suppose, a person can understand the words, the grammar, and perhaps even ‘think’ they know, or more likely, wish to know what they ‘think’ is desirable to know.
I’m trying to keep this short, and in the process probably end up making it sound flaky… and not that short either. Oh but I can’t resist showing my ignorance. 🙂
A dog doesn’t understand how to chase a rabbit, it just knows to chase rabbits. Or if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Thought makes it possible for us to ‘pseudo know’. Speech, and the thinking that underlies it, (and thus, understanding) is ‘pseudo knowing’. It is weird and ironic, which may indicate there must be a grain of truth in there.
Now if you think about it do you negate the premise? I suppose the answer is yes and no (maybe like the fate of Schrodinger’s cat). This is as close to reality as we can get and still discuss it, I guess.
Another example: water knows to boil at such and such a temperature / pressure. It boils but doesn’t understand how to boil, or that it is boiling. Nature is one vast example of this distinction between ‘understanding’ and ‘knowing’. Nature knows, it doesn’t need to understand. We instinctively feel a need to understand. We feel curiosity which give rise to questions in a thinking brain and thought answers them, giving us a secure feeling (i.e., ‘understanding’), temporarily.
I’m thinking that has more to do with social instinctive responses than to thinking. Thinking just follows in the wake of ‘falling down’. I challenge this each day doing Tai Chi at the beach. Many don’t know what the hell I’m doing and probably think it/me weird, make comments, watch, mimic, etc. The challenge is to ‘keep balance’ regardless. (Actually, when I came back to USA in early 70’s and did Tai Chi in front yard, my father would feel embarrassed and want me to do it somewhere else.) I notice the imbalance first begins as emotion which then shows up within milliseconds as thought. Then I ‘turn’ emotion back to the task at hand, which returns balance even if residual thought remains. It is almost like free will. 😉
“Jeez , I’m carrying around a lab between my ears” ( I’m thinking as I write this).
Lynn Cornish says
Referring to your first paragraph, I so strongly agree. I seems impossible for me to stay present while talking and that’s the reason I seek solitude so often. I find it uncomfortable if it goes on for too long a time.
Is it really true that we must speak before we can understand what we know? I’m not sure. It’s so hard to think about; if I think about it I negate the premise, don’t I? There are some right-brained activities (like painting) that have less to do with language than what I am trying to think about here.
At the gym when we are doing balance exercises, if I think about it, or if the teacher says “Great balance everyone!” I fall down!
I have a friend who says that nothing really exists until we apply language to it, name it, or perhaps conceptualize it somehow. I could say that I don’t agree with this view but it goes far beyond that. I’ve been unable to discover a state of mind in which this kind of thinking might seem true.
Like you, I find wordy thinking and talking usually interferes with the moment of experience. Although I’ve always tried to cobble together some sort of thought structure to represent reality as I experience it, I’m not sure that it’s been a useful exercise so far.
There’s another kind of knowledge that fascinates me. Genuine “know how” is often wordless and even empty of thought. Shaping clay on a potter’s wheel, for example, is largely a matter of feel and response to the dynamic moment. The result, whether it’s a beautiful, useful object or whether it turns out flawed or even a total flop, is entirely in the potter’s hands. Sometimes the thought arises “Hey, I’m really doing well here” and whump! there’s a crumpled mass of clay on the wheel. (same with playing music, making love, riding a unicycle?, etc.)
Seems to me we shape our experience of life in the same way. The present moment is always in spin so, to keep it balanced and “sweet”, unbroken attention, relaxed immediacy, responsive touch, is the way. Know-how.
Can it be conveyed in words? I don’t know :-).