Friday, November 15, 2013

The Art of Understanding

Some time ago, I wrote a somewhat wry blog post on the joys of being misunderstood, which can be found here. Soon after I realized that I would inevitably end up writing about understanding as well, or rather, the art of understanding, because to me, that is what it has become. An art form, like music or painting or story-telling, rather than an absolute.

One way of explaining what I mean by that, would be to tell you about Table Mountain. This mountain dominates the scenery of Cape Town and has a very distinctive outline, from the city side, but there are many other faces and perspectives to it. From Kirstenbosch Garden it presents a completely different face and again, from the Atlantic seaboard side. You really wouldn't say it is the same mountain at all. To borrow an analogy from Robert Heinlein, how do you know the WHOLE house is painted white, if you've only seen one of its walls?

In the same way, the process of attempting to understand something, keeps shifting, showing new vantage points to the reality you are trying to grasp. Understanding, in its true form, is an active, ever-changing song, that keeps playing different phrases to your consciousness. It keeps refining itself... finding new pathways to the same destination. It is not frozen within a single moment. Understanding does not stop unfolding. You are never, ever finished ... in fact if you are done understanding, it probably means that, really, you are done with the process of understanding... you have thrown in the towel, or perhaps, you arrived at a certain spot, grown attached to that particular viewpoint, and now you do not want to move on anymore... It means, "I've made up my mind; stop adding things to it. I don't want to know any more. I'm closing the door and switching off my brain now."

Being understood, often hurts.

Understanding hurts doubly so.

Understanding is like an alchemy of ideas that briefly blends to a particular compound. But, tomorrow, life will add something... perhaps time, perhaps another element or thought to consider and then the compound is transformed into something completely new... the only constant being the ability to continue changing...

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