Understanding is a process of contemplating and confronting mysteries. It’s like we have two selves, the observant and the enlightened. One ingests with absorption while the other processes by simmering. Their timing is not always the same. Sometimes understanding arrives much later than input data. But it is our pricking drive of curiosity and our slow-cooking insight that comprises learning–and living.
Frank Conroy, writer and musician, says in his essay entitled “Think About It,” that “Education doesn’t end until life ends, because you never know when you’re going to understand something you hadn’t understood before.” This elasticity of understanding, the distance between input and processing, is the expanse of the canvas of our lives, covers the whole painting. Conroy so aptly puts it, “The physical body exists in a constant state of tension as it maintains homeostasis, and so too does the active mind embrace the tension of never being certain, never being absolutely sure, never being done, as it engages the world. That is our special fate, our inexpressibly valuable condition.”
We doubt. We feel insecure in ignorance–some of us–and so we look for answers. Sometimes we find them in our immediate search, like when I ask my students to Google a word, ‘avuncular’, for instance, when that word turns up in their reading. Other times, we don’t find the answer or solution until much later–or never.
I remember one ex-client explaining his divorce. Of his wife of 30 years, he said, “I did not hear what she said–or I did not understand her words.” He told me his wife complained that he didn’t work hard for the family, which baffled him since he was putting in 12-hour days and weekends, socking away retirement and college money. He could not understand how that was not working for his family–until he did. “Now I know she wanted me to look at her, to work hard at being there for her and our boys each day by spending time and focus on them, not my work,” he confessed. He shuttered out simple words spoken to him before his experience allowed him to “see”.
That lag time between learning and understanding is the human condition. Some would even say that inside that gap–between ingestion and digestion–is rubbery, elastic life itself. Maybe.