Years ago I was having a conversation with a friend at a New Year’s Party, a friend who is second to none in personal accomplishment. He mentioned that, after having extensive conversations with his friends and asking them about their internal dialogue, he’s made an observation. That is, people with an internal focus, a kind of guiding inner voice, have a kind of extra dimension to them, that he searches for and has come to recognize as a mark of inner depth. It’s more present than people realize, he says, and more helpful, too.
I was thinking, on a related note, that, over the years, I’ve developed the opposite of that, a kind of ingrained stubbornness; instead of thinking of it as ‘personal strength’, as I would ordinarily, it occurred to me that it was a kind of stupidity. I’d been used to thinking of stupidity in a very rigid, test-taking sort of way – the wrong answer, caused by not enough study, basically – but it struck me that this wasn’t it’s predominant, or even most important, form. Rather, there’s a kind of stupidity that can be described as a lack of freshness and awareness in the face of contrary evidence – and this, in fact, as you grow older, is the type that tends to take hold.
Related to this is an awareness of how incompletely we tend to learn things. There’s no real approach or sense of understanding about learning one thing in our culture, since we think of knowledge as mostly text-based information, with a tiny implementation component; we don’t really have a word for something that is simple conceptually but is refined over decades. You can say that it takes years to learn to be a lawyer or an engineer, for instance, but ‘lawyer’ or ‘engineer’ is really being used here as a catch-all term for a very long set of text-based instructions; conceptually, it could all be chopped up and reduced to, say, 1,000,000 little fact-bites.
But having an idea that isn’t especially complicated that you ‘learn’ conceptually in 30 seconds but really learn by implementing a basically infinite number of times: we don’t have a model for this, really. Yet this is the type of learning that, for me, has been the most fruitful for the past decade; running and meditation would both fall under this rubric – simple things, in a way, that you have to massage into your skin for decades to learn correctly.
So what is the nature of the learning that’s going on there? It’s hard to explain, but basically, on an internal level, there’s a lot of stuff that has to be chipped away first – over a very, very long time – before you can get to the conceptual underpinnings. These are not really expressible in language, or reducible, in other words, to text-based facts, so it’s not like you read the ‘executive summary’ and skip that part. That’s it, the real learning, the years of doing, over and over and over and over and over. Over time, new lessons open up – in 1 to 5 to 10 year increments.
This is especially true for all things internal. As time goes on, you basically learn to pry apart the layers of your personality, and, very slowly, very gingerly, probe at what’s there. There are new possibilities – for freshness, for vitality, for awareness, for all those will-based accomplishments that require a very high degree of inner mastery first. In a sense, time, for these pursuits, is like what money is supposed to be – the universal ‘getter’, capable of anything. But you have to be prepared to spend copious amount of it, to access the deepest levels.