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  • Tara Palmer

Freedom in the Crooked Line of Not Knowing

I wonder if a part of what is going wrong in our current world is also attached to the things that are going right?

It seems that we typically find truth and a space for belonging in the land of paradox, the place where opposing forces bump into each other and ask us to find acceptance in the messy middle. The messy middle is the place where we all seem to be able to exist together as humans and be real instead of trying to be what we think we ought to be, or make others be what we think they ought to be.

The Danger of Deconstructing Our World and Our Selves

We have been living in a world that for quite a while now has valued research. We like to break things down into their component parts… to dissect things and get a good handle on the smallest specks that contribute to the biggest problems. We seem, as a society, to highly value knowledge that comes from a petri dish.

In many ways, it’s really pretty cool that we have the ability to break our humanity into chunks, but must we also consider the possibility that it is having some negative effects?

We have been committed to using this strategy of research and its related ‘outcomes’ to help ourselves stay safe, maximize our health, position us to reach for our potential and live our longest lives.

In doing so, we often seem to be on a search for the 'right' information, the 'right' interventions, the 'right' ways to think, the 'right' ways to be?

Is the Solution Becoming a Problem?

It seems that the solutions of dissecting things into their component parts and defining what is 'right' may have itself become a part of the problem…

What is the relationship between defining what is 'right,' and 'normal,' and what we come to understand as accepted and embraced in the magical, messy middle of the human experience?

In seeking what is 'right' and 'normal,' it seems we inevitably shrink the magical, messy middle. Doesn't it appear that we have more and more interventions for a variety of experiences that may have at one time been considered a part of the messy middle? Weren't more of us considered 'okay' in the past than we are now?

As a result, it seems we are more anxious about whether or not we are okay, whether or not our loved ones are okay, and whether or not we should be invested in 'fixing' the somethings 'wrong' with us or others.

Are we becoming so concerned with having problems that in the pursuit of ridding ourselves of them we create new problems, or perhaps in some cases, even reinforce the problems we seek to cure?

Mental Health

Given my profession, I find myself most concerned about this with regard to our pathologizing model of mental health, where we have created a 'diagnosis' for just about every 'I feel off' potential known to man. If we are looking for it, we can usually find something 'wrong' with any given person.

Are we too anxious, too melancholy, too hyper, too organized, too unfocused, too focused, too introverted, too sensitive? Are we taking too long to adjust, to grieve, or to develop? It seems as soon as we begin to consider ourselves too much of something, or taking too long, we establish a diagnosis? What are we diagnosing? Are we diagnosing problems or the very condition of being human?

When we diagnose something, I fear we risk becoming more of it. We begin putting our 'too something' or not 'quick enough something' in a petri dish and running circles around it concerning ourselves with what is going wrong with us. We zoom in on treating the problem instead of maintaining a zoomed out perspective where we see our challenge in the context of a larger understanding or our self as a whole person living in a story.

Einstein suggested, “we cannot solve our problems at the same level of thinking that created them.”

The Big Picture- Zooming in/ Zooming out

If we are going to find a way to use opposing forces of certainty sought in the petri dish, we need to get a zoomed out perspective.

'Cosmic Eye' offers some lovely parts to the whole perspective that might help us remember the value in moving back and forth between zoom in/ zoom out.

Take a look.

Embracing Mystery

When I see the parts and the whole, I remember who I am.

I remember I am significant, but small.

I remember I am only one. I remember, I am one.

I remember I matter. I remember, I am matter.

I remember, I know nothing. I remember, I am something.

I remember that asking questions leads to adventure and aliveness.

I remember the awe of embracing the messy middle and its mystery.

Expert Knowledge

Maybe its helpful to remember that even ‘expert’ knowledge often turns out to be limited. What was thought to be the latest intervention at one time in history might now be viewed as malpractice! We keep evolving. The experts only know what they know. And what they know is often very narrow (such is the nature of expertise in a complex world). In the words of Nicholas Butler, "an expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing."

It is not that what they know cannot be helpful to us, but that we must source check. We must remember they are not the source, we are the source. How does what they suggest apply and fact check against our inner knowing?

We benefit from remembering to come back home to ourselves to see how it applies to me, in my context, at this time.

Without listening to ourselves, knowing our context, and embracing mystery, I fear that we will lose our humanity. We are more than the sum of our parts, and if we forget, we miss the layers of meaning, purpose, and mystery that enhance our well-being.

The late Robin William played the character, Patch, an out-of-the box thinking medical student, in the film Patch Adams. Patch was committed to bringing humanity back to the experience of providing care to patients. He challenged the detached, clinical demeanor of medical professionals who were more focused on treating problems than helping people. In Patch's words, "You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome."

What might happen if we return to thinking of ourselves as people living in the magical, messy middle? What might happen if we remember how little anyone can truly know, if we remember how uncertain certain is, and how quickly being right can become wrong?

We must remember that much of what we seek is comfort for our pain, support, help, guidance, understanding and compassion. All of these needs are conditions of being human, not a reflection of something gone wrong.

Freedom in the Crooked Line

Whether we’re searching for answers to things studied in a petri dish, or to the great mysteries of life, it seems we often access our greatest individual and relational well-being when we can accept the magical, messy middle... and our condition of being human.

Perhaps, life is lived most effectively in the questions rather than the answers,

”And the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.”

Closer to Fine Indigo Girls

I'm tryin' to tell you somethin' 'bout my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all, yeah
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety 'til I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores
And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine, yeah
The closer I am to fine, yeah
And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-Grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free
I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine, yeah
The closer I am to fine, yeah
I stopped by the bar at three A.M.
To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend
And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
And I went in seeking clarity
I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
We go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
We look to the children, we drink from the fountain
Yeah, we go to the Bible, we go through the work out
We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine, yeah
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Amy Elizabeth Ray / Emily Ann Saliers
Closer to Fine lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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