KEYS TO INTERNAL AUTHORITY AND EXTERNAL LEADERSHIP
The self-compassionate magic of comprehending your own needs and those of others.
I am in El Roque, a small and remote island in the Caribbean, taking a few days of vacation to start the new year with renewed reflections on my life. I am in the most imperfectly perfect place. I originally came for 13 days but I’m going to leave on day 3 because this isn’t the place where I want to spend my vacations. There was a plan but I’ve just thrown it out. Now I’m going to go to Curacao. I have lived this change of plan as something very enriching, because it allows me to see that I comprehend myself, and from here I am able to comprehend the supposed imperfections apparent in my surroundings without complaining or getting angry with anyone, since on the one hand it is the perfect environment and on the other it is that most imperfect I have ever seen. This island is only 500 metres long, there is a night-club on the beach whose music every night is deafening meaning not just that no-one can sleep, but also that it must frighten hundreds of species of marine life for tens of kilometres in this gorgeous ocean of clear turquoise waters. I could make a long list of things for and against, but I am left with a feeling of happiness about not staying here even one more day based on what I feel in this place. This same thing happens with relationships and situations in which remaining trapped for more time than we want to is an attack on or an insult to ourselves. We must leave just at the right time. This is a great comprehension.
I got up at 2am, taking advantage of not being able to sleep, to sit on the beach and answer a question that I had just received from Leila, a student of the Conscious School and facilitator at Inner Mastery. Leila sent me a message that said: “I have just comprehended something, and what has come to me since this comprehension is incredible. I was able to see the limit of my personality and the infinite nature of my consciousness. I keep seeing more and more clearly the dis-identification with what I believed myself to be. It is amazing because now I just feel enthusiasm for living. Please, Alberto, do you have anything written about understanding and comprehending? It has just become clear to me that now I am comprehending what before I was simply understanding”.
This woman in the two photos is Leila, now 27 years old. Before (2 or 3 years ago) and now, 2019.
I want to take advantage of this topic, and the opportunity to comprehend, to ask Leila: “What is it that has occurred in your life to bring about such an impressive shift? Look at yourself as you were and as you are now, inside was the same essence, but it was asleep, forgotten. Can what has happened to you be understood or comprehended? If you understand it you can explain it, if you comprehend it words won’t be enough, because comprehension is the language of silence that says everything without the need for speech. It is also true that I have proven that the mystery of comprehension uses the power of words which come from internal silence to awaken consciousness and produce a presence that inhabits the infinite, the eternal… the essence. Right now, what I have least of around me in my surroundings is silence, for this reason I want to make the most of this noisy external situation to settle into my internal silence and develop my answer.
You haven’t had to do anything for this transformation to occur, and this is the mystery, that the most important and surprising things in life happen just because. You have simply surrendered and given yourself to the flow, actions that represent resigning from having to keep doing, these are ‘actions’ that don’t really belong to the world of action but rather to that of ‘non-action’. Why have they occurred? What happened? What have you done for this to take place?
Many people say to me this same thing: “I don’t know what has happened to me or how it happened, but suddenly I see myself as a different person, or, better said, I see myself as no longer being the lie that I was being but now I am being what I always was but had forgotten.”
UNDERSTANDING and COMPREHENDING, two verbs that represent such different processes. The vast difference between these two terms which seem equal or similar, is worthy of a moment to understand what it means to comprehend and to comprehend what it means to understand.
Understanding has to do with what is limited, the rational, words, the definable; comprehending has to do with the unlimited, the irrational, presence, the undefinable. We understand the known, we comprehend the unknown. Understanding works in the service of the mind, of memory and of intellect; comprehension operates for the consciousness, origin and mystery.
Understanding is greatly useful in the functionality of things. We understand languages, signals, orders, laws, but we cannot understand the meaning of life or the feeling of love. The greatest realisation of understanding is in understanding the meaning of comprehending, but understanding what comprehension is doesn’t guarantee comprehension, since they have such different natures. To comprehend we must take a leap into the void, away from control and repression, towards no-control and towards flowing. Understanding is mental, comprehending is spiritual; when I understand, I think; when I comprehend, I feel. Upon understanding, I reach something; upon comprehending, something reaches me. To understand, something has to be done; to comprehend nothing has to be done.
Understanding and comprehending are actions that complement each other but that function in separate and independent ways which may or may not overlap. It is possible to understand without comprehending and to comprehend without understanding, it is also possible to understand and comprehend at the same time. In fact, right now one of those three things might be happening to you. In this case I would ask you: What are you comprehending? Given that the process of comprehension is irrational, you don’t need to think that you are comprehending, because it is something that is occurring right now on a superior or metaphysical plane and which is reflected in the manifestation of something deep within you.
A little while ago my 10-year-old daughter, Amelys, was in a Conscious School class. It was the first time that she spent 2 hours listening to the crazy stuff that her father talks about. She got comfy and lay down with her mother to sleep but she hardly closed her eyes even for a moment; she was listening attentively, from her innocent perspective, to something very complex. On this occasion we were speaking of the need that people have to let go of being what they are not in order to begin being what they are. Amelys was very attentive and later she told me that she didn’t understand but that the topic interested her. Over dinner she asked: “Why do people need to stop being so that they can be? I don’t understand.” The girl’s question gave us an hour-long conversation and I enjoyed being able to explain the inexplicable. Sergio, Daniela, Paula and I became children, all of a sudden, to try to shed a light of comprehension for this little girl. And it seems that she did comprehend something. I realised this because at the end of the conversation I asked her: “Have your comprehended Amelys?”. She responded: “Yes, but I can’t explain it”.
This is how comprehension happens, it is a phenomenon of the consciousness, it happens without doing anything, just by opening ourselves up to the mystery of what we don’t understand. Osho said something very true about this: “To comprehend we only need one thing: to listen well, nothing more”. Listening isn’t an action, but rather an innocent opening of ourselves to the unknown. When we only want to hear what pleases us, what we already know and recognise or what we agree with, this isn’t listening; listening is a bridge towards the unknown, it brings us closer to mystery, predisposing us for something new to enter to the depths of our heart.
This is why I insist on the fact that in order to comprehend we don’t need to do anything. Furthermore, we don’t even need to comprehend anything, because in the moment that we propose to ourselves that we must achieve comprehension, a character is created who is a seeker of comprehension, who will try to do everything to arrive at comprehension, and this activity oriented towards achieving something will prevent us from arriving at a place of comprehension. This is a Taoist concept of great depth, related to ‘no action’.
Wu-wei (No Action in Chinese) is a word that describes an important aspect of Taoist philosophy in which the best way to face a situation is not to act, not to force, not to influence; not acting is not the same as doing nothing. Plants grow through Wu-wei, meaning they don’t make an effort to grow, they simply grow. Wu-wei, therefore, would be a natural way to do things, without forcing them with devices that distort their harmony or their principle.
THE TAOIST WU-WEI SYMBOL. Not doing: the path of love, of the heart and of comprehension.
In Zen calligraphy, Wu-wei is represented as a circle where the beginning and the end meet at the same point, creating an internal and an external area, an inside and an outside of the circle. A boundary and two realities. The internal might be perceived as being disconnected from the external or being something different, due to the fact that the two are separated by a line.
Wu-wei means the that the isolated part has understood that it is only a part and thus it has abandoned the fight against “the all”. Now “the all” does, while “the part” is happy. This is being in harmony with the all, maintaining the rhythm of occurrences, synchronized in the step-by-step of life. In this relaxation of allowing the river to take you, comprehension occurs because it is the path of love that doesn’t allow manoeuvres or manipulations. A special way of flowing without influencing, of living without interrupting and of favouring without preventing. Wu-wei is a term that requires comprehension, understanding can’t go far enough, it means doing without doing, or not ‘doing’ doing. A contradiction for the logical and analytical mind. It means allowing it to occur. It is the path of flowing, where the heart guides life from the beginning to the end arriving at the same point.
Some of the chapters written by the most important Taoist writer, Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tse, make allusion to “diminishing actions” or “voluntary diminishing”, as key aspects to the success of a sage. Taoist philosophy recognises that the universe already functions harmoniously in accordance with its own principles (just as it does on this island). When a human being pits their will against the world, we alter the harmony that already exists. This does not mean that people should give up their free will (for this exact reason I am leaving this island), rather it has to do with how to act in relation to the critical natural processes in existence.
Wu-wei has also been translated as “creative stillness” of the art of “letting things to be”. This doesn’t suppose disdain for reason, rather it is a way to understand that Tao is inside of all things and inside of all those who opt to follow this ‘path’. One way to imagine Wu-wei is through the writings of Lao-Tse where he indicates how to govern a kingdom. In these writings he compares the activities of governing and of frying a fish – too much heat and the food is ruined – this is to say that order needs to be promoted but not to the point of oppression. To achieve this, it is necessary to comprehend the needs of the people and to not go against them. Hidden in this premise is one of the ingenious Taoist teachings of leadership.
Leila, I believe that everything is the perfect preparation, not only to understand what it means to comprehend, but to comprehend the importance of comprehending others, without which it is impossible to achieve reconciliation and the leadership role that you are going to assume.
Alberto José Varela