One of my counselors says “understanding is the booby prize of life”.  I think that is to remind me that understanding with my cerebral cortex does not provide the whole picture. Compassionate fathoming, empathizing, or event sympathizing with the nature of what ever is being sought to understand is Understanding. So, with her umbrage, I differ.

I went to Japan for Aikido training several years ago.  We trained for two weeks at a small ancient dojo.  Because all of the moves are in Japanese, the language barrier on my part was not an issue as long as I stayed on the mat. The rest of the time off the mat, I remained pretty much alone.  One of the Japanese phrases one comes across from a teacher is “Do you understand?”  and if the student says “yes”, well then, one experiences the consequences of claiming as such if not fully Understanding what will happen next.  My English-speaking teacher explains, “Do you understand?” when asked by my Japanese teacher, means, “Do you fathom – not just with your mind – but within your body, maybe within your heart? Do you experience the meaning of what was just presented?”

I’m reminded of that saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes before one claims to understand that person’s life. I have longed for more examples of people talking about their experience over their philosophy or unquestioned beliefs – I love philosophy, yet it is a pleasant stroll in the garden compared to the realities of experience earned in thick dark forests and ocean currents. Stated beliefs without experience feels bland and in wont of essence. One who states a position on reality without direct experience of it may be open to disappointment, or at worst, hypocrisy.

I catch myself stating even now, I understand. Why? Am I trying to cut short a conversation that begs my patience? Have I tuned out and am afraid of my lack of integrity exposed? Or is it simply I lack the courage to state I do not understand, I do not have control over my perception of the truth of this person, or I lack the stamina of curiosity?

To my teachers before me: I promise to say, “I do not understand, but hopeful I will at some point.”

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