a blessing for deeper knowing

“All life is interrelated. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”                                        ~  Rev. Martin Luther King

I spent a good part of Sunday flying from New Hampshire to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit my younger son Jack.  I love this kind of low-stress travel day, especially when what’s waiting at the end of the journey is not a professional obligation, but simply a change of scene and a son to wrap my arms around.

En route, I buried myself in a book. But a lay-over in Newark gave me an opportunity for people watching. It’s been a while since I passed through a state-of-the-art airport, so I was unnerved to see electronic tablets attached to the top of every flat surface. The restaurant tables all feature a pair of devices set up back to back, so that people sitting across from one another will find themselves gazing at hi-def photos rather than into each other’s eyes.  Any hope of leaning in and conversing with a friend or loved one while sharing a meal is extinguished by an electronic barrier of flashing pixels.

I stood for a while at one cafe where adults and children alike were intently focused on the technology, heads bent, leaning toward their personal screens as if magnetized. Couples and families occupying the same tables were clearly inhabiting different online universes. Everyone was staring and tapping and swiping and typing. No one was paying attention to the person across from them. No one was talking. No one seemed to be really “there.”

Taking a seat near my gate, I found my own eyeballs inexorably drawn to the bright screen where a fine scotch was being poured over ice. The drink was replaced by a pasta dish puddled in sauce, which which was available packed to-go if I tapped right now and placed my order. The meal gave way to a video of a couple walking hand in hand on a beach I could visit, should I care to make a reservation.

We know by now that all this technology is designed to be addictive. And my own senses were in overdrive within moments — craving, hungry, yearning, sad, and I don’t even know what else. For anyone in recovery or trying to eat healthfully or grieving the loss of love (and isn’t that all of us at some point?), waiting for a plane in Newark is to visit a sanitized personal hell.

A time traveler from the last years of the twentieth century changing planes in the United terminal might look around at how we’re living right now, in the early years of the twenty-first, and conclude that human beings no longer have much use for, or interest in, one another. She might assume that we now need to be attached to machines in order to function, and that our 2017 brains are wired differently from those of our grandparents. To some extent, the time traveler would be right. And perhaps, after observing for a while, the disoriented twentieth-century pilgrim would find her initial astonishment giving way to musings more akin to my own — a hard-to-articulate sense that something essential to our survival is being lost, something having to do with soul and depth and knowing.

Last week I posted a link on Facebook to an essay entitled America is Facing an Epistemic Crisis. I’d initially been drawn to the piece because I wasn’t sure of the meaning of the word “epistemic.” I looked it up: of or relating to knowledge or the conditions for acquiring it.

My interest was piqued. The essay, which was provocative and disturbing, includes this observation:

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening.

The piece is decidedly political and openly opinionated. And David Roberts’s well-informed opinions give way to speculation: what could happen, given where we stand right now. But Roberts backs up his speculations with the facts that led him down this path in the first place. And he is also getting at something much larger and much scarier:   the increasingly limited, tribal, pre-packaged, and non-fact-based way we acquire knowledge in an age when we spend so much of our lives online, clicking and scanning, liking and sharing, tuning out (or not even seeing) the truths that don’t align with our beliefs.

I don’t want to live like that.

And so I’m thinking a lot this week about just what and how I choose to “know” in my own life.

On Facebook a friend commented about the piece I’d shared, saying he was put off by the unfamiliar word in the title, and that upon a quick look he’d concluded the author’s assumptions were misguided.   Confronted with the daily tsunami of media that pours through my own computer screen, I often catch myself reading this way, too — scanning headlines while trying to keep my overwhelmed brain above water. It’s tempting to dismiss anything that appears too dense or hard or contradictory, while grabbing onto whatever floats by that supports what I already believe to be true. Perhaps I don’t want to “know” as much as I wish to be updated and validated.

As I type these words, I can hear the sound of rain falling steadily. A breeze wafts through an open window. Other than the hum of the refrigerator and an occasional dog barking outside, it’s quiet here in the airbnb room I’ve rented for the week. I have a pile of books on the table next to me, and a letter part-way written that I want to give to Jack for his birthday. Alone with my thoughts, I have  plenty of time to reflect on my own uneasy relationship  with technology – how it contributes to my awareness of world events while simultaneously weakening my capacity for the kind of deep reflection and processing I need in order to truly absorb and understand them.

To really know anything – be it another person, a language, a skill, an existential threat, or the contents of our own hearts – demands a kind of patience and raw intimacy with truth that seems antithetical to our culture these days. We are so good at skimming, judging, and distracting ourselves that the complex or uncomfortable truth takes a back seat to our desire for instant gratification, quick fixes, and pain-free solutions. It is easier to react than to reflect, simpler to see in terms of black and white than to acknowledge how much of the world is gray, safer to defend a position than to question it, easier to shut down our thinking than to shift it. And yet, as David Roberts points out in his essay, “Truth cannot speak for itself, like the voice of God from above. It can only speak through human institutions and practices.”

Many of us are profoundly worried about our human institutions at the moment, and it’s hard not to feel   helpless in the face of so much that’s so wrong. But it’s also dawning on me that If I’m to “know” anything of real value, I must be willing to be quiet and to go deep.

What if true knowing begins the moment we’re ready to acknowledge all that we don’t know?

Knowing deepens every time we step out of the virtual world and into the real one, in all its complexity and heartache and beauty. It happens when we imagine ourselves in someone else’s ill-fitting shoes and try to walk in them, when we wrestle with real ideas and facts and feelings, rather than seeking refuge in technology and ideology. To know is both to doubt absolutes and to stand firmly on the side of truth. It is surrender to life as it actually is, even as we step forward to change that which can be be made better.  (Witness this week’s elections!)

Knowing means greeting those who are different with compassion and those in need with generosity and friendship. To know is to observe and to wonder, rather than going along with preconceptions, reductive labels, and media bias. It is to replace pedagogy with curiosity, prejudice with open-heartedness, posturing with humility, habitual distraction with cultivated attention. It is to say, “Maybe I’m wrong about this.” Or, “Tell me what you know.” And then it is to do the hard, necessary work of showing up, digging in, and learning more.

We honor truth in our lives when we invite honesty and discomfort and uncertainty into our conversations and into our relationships. And we begin to know in our bones what is true when we turn away from the ratings-driven news cycle and the stimulation of our devices, and turn instead back toward each other – in airports, on the street, at our own dinner tables, in works of art and literature.

To know is to listen more and to speak less. It is to release our need to be right or popular or powerful.  It is to question our assumptions, to resist pat answers and political rhetoric and mindless rallying cries. To know requires us to read and think deeply, to write and speak with integrity, to wrestle with complex ideas, and to lift our eyes to the big unruly picture that’s the real world, rather than staring down at the tiny one that fits in the palm of our hands.

This work of knowing begins anew each day, with our own quiet recommitment to the truth of the present moment. And truth, of course, begins with me: the truth of who I really am, the truth of what I say and do, the truth of the consequences of every choice I make. So it is for each of us.

The world we live in today is a world we have created together – a world of post-facts, cynicism, distrust, and deep division; of amoral politicians, well-paid lobbyists, and corporations masquerading as citizens; of Facebook, Twitter, Breitbart, and Fox; of a dangerous president propped up by big-money politics, brutality and bigotry; of climate change and mass shootings and saber-rattling threats of nuclear war. It seems as if we have built this world while in the grip of some terrible trance, a collective amnesia that denies our own deepest knowing: namely, that we are all connected, not by algorithms but by grace, and that my survival depends on yours.

And yet there is also a kind of knowing that surely does still reside somewhere in each of us, if we can be quiet and tender enough to call it forth.   Walking through the autumn woods this week with Jack and his dog, reaching toward the sky in yoga class this morning, chatting on the phone with my husband, splashing through puddles on my way back to this room, I find my heart uplifted in spite of everything that conspires to bring it down. There is such mystery and joy in the moments when we are fully  present in our lovely, precious, embattled world.

Perhaps it was not happenstance but synchronicity that led me to these lines by theologian Richard Rohr early this morning as I lay in bed reading and listening to the rain on the roof.

If you asked me what it is I know, I would be hard pressed to tell you. All I know is that there is a deep “okayness” to life—despite all the contradictions—which has become even more evident in the silence. Even when much is terrible, seemingly contradictory, unjust, and inconsistent, somehow sadness and joy are able to coexist at the same time. The negative value of things no longer cancels out the positive, nor does the positive deny the negative.

Whatever your personal calling or your delivery system for the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to life. Your necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even clearer and more urgent in the silence, but now your work has a chance of being pure healing instead of impure anger and agenda.

Our future depends upon our commitment to a deeper kind of knowing, on our ability to connect, reflect, and take informed action.  To know is not just a choice we make, but a responsibility we  bear together. Whether we’ll survive these dark times is anybody’s guess, but I’m pretty certain our best hope of saving our world is to engage with it, to know it more intimately, to accept the challenge of healing it together, not out of anger but with love.

                                                       A Blessing for Deeper Knowing

May we take time each day to close down our screens, turn off the TV, and seek to know with our eyes, our ears, our hearts. May we study the lessons of history so that we don’t repeat them. May we read works that challenge our beliefs and open our eyes and remove the barriers between us. May we recite poetry out loud. May we lean in for the hard conversation, take up the good cause, write the check, compose the letter, make the phone call. May we show up with our voices and our feet and our dollars. May we reach out a hand to a stranger, reweave a connection with a friend, go deep into uncharted territory with a loved one. May we view this life as sacred. May we listen to magnificent music and visit great paintings, climb mountains and take long walks with dogs and splash barefoot at the shore. May we  remember to contemplate the sky, the stars, the dawn. May we nourish our souls with silence and renew our love affair with the earth. May we tend to the children and plants and animals within our reach. May we feed the hungry, care for those in need, and celebrate those who serve. May we transcend our differences. May we tap into our own deep knowing and use it for the good of all.  May we raise up hopeful voices in a resounding, knowing “yes” to life.

(Such a long post, I know.  But if you have six more minutes in your day, I urge you to watch  this video, What is It Like to Be You?.  It gives profound expression to the kind of deep knowing we’re talking about here.)

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Funny you should observe something I have seen many times: the inside of the Newark United terminal, where tablet-equipped bars and restaurants occupy the center of the concourse, quite nearly blocking the way through. You therefore have to confront three of our most pernicious addictions—food, alcohol, and technology — before you have the presence of mind to pass them by.

  2. Thank you Katrina for your wisdom and grace. May you be blessed as you walk through your life, paying attention to those people, things, and ways of being which really matter.

  3. I read this on my iPad. What is it that you want? Go back to a printed version of your blog? I see your point but I rather move forward than back. Do we really want to wash our clothes on the rocks of the river bank?
    I spend time talking when out with friends. In the airport? Prefer my technology because I am usually alone…were not you?

  4. I find your thoughts to be very eye-opening and progressive. If we cannot learn from our past mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. Where have I heard this? It is so true. Today, I am heartened by the voters in New Jersey and Virginia. Stand up and be counted Americans. Become the change you desire. There is good in this country. It makes me proud. Thank you for your great observations!

  5. Very thought-provoking. Reminds me of James 1:19, “Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.”

  6. One of my most valued compliments I ever received was that I wrote about sacramental living- exactly what you are describing here and exactly what you are doing, Katrina. What a lovely gift of awareness to bring your son Jack on his special birthday.
    Blessings from Barnstorming (Emily)

  7. Madonna Mooney says:

    Thank you for your continuing to be faithful (making room for and listening to) to your self and to “spirit”, to whatever one calls their creator, guide, higher power. Your writing feels like one more resting place for me in this challenging world. The tragic loss of my youngest brother two years ago ( His birthday yesterday) among other losses recently, has brought me to my knees and challenged my faith. But I do as a good friend tells me to do – “believe that I believe…” One day at a time I notice the beauty of my surroundings, the kindness of a stranger, the perfect book put in my path. Like your writing, these things remind me that “there is a god”, I am safe and loved.
    Thank you again for your monthly or so missives. Carry on.

  8. Jackie Roberts says:

    This is a wake-up call for the world…in many realms. Per an above comment, this has NOTHING to do with not using modern technology for good, i.e. for Katrina to use her computer to post this blog. It DOES impart wisdom to not let a good thing go to far, which is happening in our world today. Unless we do connect with one another, society will suffer in obvious and untold ways. Listen, learn, understand, empathize, give, love, live, connect…ALL impossible to do while plugged in and focused inward, not outward. A thought came to my mind last week, when seeing evidence of our angry world last week…seeing the sadness and the pain caused by unfeeling, disconnected people. The phrase that came to mind, understanding I have no idea what “hashtag” means, is…#I SEE YOU. Simply look people in the eye, talk to them, smile, hug, CONNECT one on one. Yes we can change the world…one person at a time. To do that, we must be willing to put down the high tech everything once in awhile and come back to the real world around us. It’s the only way. Thank you, Katrina, for spurring these thoughts and getting the conversation started. It had to start somewhere…here’s hoping your visit “within” continues this conversation.

  9. Technology is upon us! It will continue to penetrate deeper and deeper, and cast it’s net wide across all aspects of our lives. It’s dominating presence is real. But in the midst of all these, we must never loose sight of being human, filled with realms that are physical, psychological and spiritual. We must endeavor always to allow our five senses, together with our minds, emotions, will, and spirit, to be in touch with ourselves and all those around us. Thus, celebrating the Creator and the created as we journey through life. Thanks, Katrina, for a thought provoking article.

  10. Lauren Seabourne says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a way that always makes me stop and think. I agree with you that something is being lost, and it’s what drives me to think about my own relationship with technology quite often. If people begin to only turn to a screen rather than turning inward, then many of us are indeed at risk of losing those intuitive “knowing” traits you eloquently wrote about. Your entire blog was filled with thoughtful introspection, and reminders that distractions are everywhere now that devices and news are contending for our attention, which ultimately means we do, at times, miss the moments. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and writing such a brilliant piece.

  11. “namely, that we are all connected, not by algorithms but by grace, and that my survival depends on yours.”

    Gratitude.

  12. I have a stupid phone. I take it when I travel or to the lake where I’ll be alone but want to be in touch. I can’t email (I can text but on a stupid phone, it’s easier to call). I don’t have a tablet. Sometimes it would be handy — lighter than a laptop. But too easy to pick up for the quick and easy answer. I will go to restaurants and see two people looking at their own phones, not speaking — and sometimes those are lovely restaurants where there is much to admire, much less the company of their fellow diner. The kids are glued to it, though they pretend to be engaged. But that quick glance at the screen tells all. I love good telly as much as the next person; it helps keep me informed, I love my PBS. But when I’m at the lake without, I’m so much more productive.

    Everything you say, and say so well rings very true. I don’t mind the convenience of having phones or tablets. But without self control or self-regulation, they are no longer a tool but a crutch to avoiding the full 360 of life. There is much here I will revisit and share with others. Truly, spot on.

  13. Of course the irony is that I read your blog online. Technology has improved many aspects of my life: I used to use a typewriter to do everything at work; the computer makes my job so much easier. Researching is more convenient; I no longer have to be physically in a library. When I was in college, I could only afford to call my parents or siblings once in a while because long distance calling was expensive; now I can talk to my own children (one nine hours away for his job, the other at college) as often as we want. But I do understand your point that screens get in the way of relationships and our own peacefulness. I recently visited the new office of my ob-gyn, and there was no television in the waiting room! I was thrilled and told her so. Her office waiting room was an oasis of peace and tranquility…much appreicated in my hectic life.

  14. Chris Wells says:

    Thank you again, for another inspiring post. As a “senior”. I am so amazed at technology. I can see my son in Ohio and talk to my grandkids with a click on FaceTime. I can follow blogs and talk to people I don’t even know all over the world. That said, there is a disconnect between people and much of it because heads are down focused on phones. Customers come in the store where I work and never get off their phone the entire time I am waiting on them! No need for me to smile and say thank you, they aren’t even looking at me. Drifting through life.
    I took 6 minutes and watched the video and sent it on! Thank you!

  15. Thank you for this post Katrina. It is so distressing how disconnected so many have become due to this new era we live in. There is no denying that our lives been made easier by this technology. Yet, I, too, am guilty of looking at my phone too often, checking my email more than I need, etc. It’s addictive and that in itself is scary. Recently, while out to dinner, my husband and I witnessed what we gathered was a father and teenage son at another table. The boy was on his phone the entire meal, even when his dinner came. It made us both feel sad for this situation: the missed opportunity to connect about each other’s day, feelings, what’s going on in the world and the simple joy of being alone with a parent. We all witness these sights much too often. For me it’s a reminder to reach out and to connect, listen, share, see, feel and love one another. It’s a challenge when airports and waiting rooms across the country are filled with TV’s and tablets pulling us into that world and taking us away from one other. Somehow we have to find a way back. Thank you Katrina for starting this conversation, reminding us what is important and what is dangerous. Your words and Richard Rohr’s are thought-provoking to not only think about but to act upon.

Leave a Reply to Linda R. Cancel reply

*