About a year ago, I went out in celebration of getting a job. I had no money and wouldn’t actually start working for another two weeks, but figured that partying like I was employed was the best way to begin immersing myself in the SF tech world.
My friends and I Uber-ed over from their place to a bar with a long line and a cover fee (read “trendy”). I’ve never been totally comfortable in bars and could feel the slight anxious feeling bubbling up. Instead of getting more drunk, I tried to head it off by getting advice from my buddy who always seems in perfect harmony with the social scene of a bar – like a dancer almost, flitting gracefully from group to group, leaving a trail of laughter and seduced women behind him.
I asked him what his mentality in a bar was. He said that everyone there was just like us: a bunch of drunk idiots hoping to have a fun night. Why be nervous around people who’re just like you?
The frustrating thing was that I agreed with this sentiment and knew that it was true, but I still struggled to apply it. There’s a significant difference between telling yourself there’s no need to be nervous and actually being a person who’s not nervous.
This happens to me a lot, this gap between my beliefs and my actions, and I’ve come to call it the difference between knowing and understanding. To me, knowing something happens at a purely cerebral level, whereas understanding occurs when it, like, sinks into your bones.
For example, I know that other people’s opinions of me don’t matter. We’re all just future coffin tenants and our opinions of each other don’t mean squat. Yet, if you told me to go introduce myself to a group of strangers, I’d get nervous about looking stupid. So I’d say I know this thing but don’t understand it.
Now, soccer I understand. I don’t just know the rules and theories of it. Put me in a game and I’m totally immersed in it, completely in sync with what’s going on. There’s no conscious thinking about my movements – they just happen. That’s understanding: when knowledge becomes a part of you and is acted upon unconsciously.
This difference between knowing and understanding is the source of a lot of tension in me. Particularly when it comes to unhealthy thoughts that I know don’t do me any good, but I still sometimes listen to and let negatively impact my life.
Like the other day when I drove past my old high school and thought about how things could’ve gone differently. Like if only I had done this thing, then I would’ve been a more whole person now; or if I hadn’t done that thing, then I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes, and I’d be happier now because of these reasons, and my life would be better because… and suddenly my car is a teleporter because the last mile ends in an instant, and I’m parked in front of my house with no recollection of how I got there and flattened squirrels in my wake.
It’s like that negative part of my brain is going reverse fishing – like it’s a monster at the bottom of the ocean and I’m floating on a raft in the sun. And it tosses up that one insecurity as bait, and if it gets even the slightest nibble, it rips me from the raft and drags me underwater, the shimmering sun fading as I’m plunged into the darkness of the ocean floor.
It can be immensely frustrating when these old ways of thinking take hold. But how the hell do I resolve them?
I think the solution for closing the gap between knowing and understanding is a matter of faith. In the first scenario with my friend, having faith that what he told me was true and following his lead even if it felt uncomfortable.
With the unhealthy repetitive thoughts, having faith in people wiser than I am who tackled this issue a long time ago and prescribed awareness in the present moment. And faith that things like meditation will help me get there. Or I suppose the point is that I already am there, I just haven’t realized it yet, or something like that.
Although if I’m being completely honest here, faith falls in the category of something I don’t understand. I want to have faith in something greater than myself, but I can feel that I’m still clinging to something. It’s like going skydiving. You need to have total faith in the parachute, but I feel like I’ve just jumped from the plane only to twist back around and grab hold of the door frame with my fingertips. So now I’m dangling with the wind ripping into me and the menacing roar of the plane’s engine at my side. Do I have faith and drop? Or do I climb back in?
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” – Alan Watts