What you know already might be obscuring what you need to know now
I’ve been reading about physics again. Because I adore the intersections of science and spirituality, this happens more often than you’d expect for a gal whose academic science education came to a hard stop after high school Chemistry and Biology.
This time I picked up a slim book called Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Carlo Rovelli writes about science like a true storyteller. In the sweep of his narrative, he makes clear that each of the of the ideas that blew open humankind’s understanding of “how things are” came from a simple, but complete change in perspective.
How do you get from “The Earth is flat.” to “No it’s not.”?
Consider: for millennia, the cosmos was conceptualized as sky above and Earth below – a horizontal line separating the two until a great thinker (some say Pythagoras, some say Parmenides) had the mind-bending realization that it made more sense for the Earth to be round. Aristotle inched that understanding a little further by envisioning spherical heavens circling our home planet.
Each of these scientists had to suspend their certainty, their knowing. Copernicus took another such leap when he realized that Earth was not the center of this spherical system. The sun was. Can you imagine the freedom and courage he needed to have this idea?
Einstein had a similar, simple yet breathtaking change of perspective when he realized that space was not empty “space,” but a material entity with qualities that allow it to flex and curve and twist. This truth reversed decades, centuries even, of understanding.
Re-imagining is less about thinking and more about the way you think
As Rovelli describes it, each of these brilliant ideas came less from thinking as we typically (sorry) think about it and more from sitting with the current ideas – sensing how they fit, feeling around them for thin spots, and re-seeing.
While this kind of re-imagining doesn’t earn many of us Nobel prizes, it is the most powerful kind of thinking we can do. Poking at what we know, what we’ve learned from our education and even our life experiences, seeing where our certainties pinch or confine us, having the courage to close our eyes and set these certainties aside for something completely new – this is “thinking” that can change our lives.
Becoming a beginner again takes more courage than being a brand-new beginner
Here’s a real-life example: For the last few years, my body has been in pain. Long-term, chronic minor issues reached unbearable levels. Sudden catastrophic health issues cropped up. Through it all, I did what I’ve always done – practice the yoga that I credit with keeping me well body, mind and spirit.
Then the pandemic hit. My crazy busy schedule came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, I had the space to pause. The resulting quiet allowed me to register a quiet thought: “What if the yoga I’ve been doing all these years is no longer nurturing me and is, instead, causing this pain?”
Had I been busier, had I been less in pain, I am certain I would have shoved this “heretical” thought aside. Instead, like a pale reflection of Pythagoras, Copernicus, and Einstein, I stretched into my newfound space and allowed myself to reimagine what I knew to be true.
I rediscovered a truth I’ve taught for years. Yoga is meant to be tailored to us. This tailoring is a constantly evolving process. What “fits” today, may not “fit” tomorrow. We must stay curious, flexible, and creative with the practice. Yoga is meant to change as we do.
Today I am practicing a style of yoga that is brand new to me – something I haven’t done in 20 years. I feel like it’s healing me. I am a beginner all over again. While this is a role that I’ve reprised countless times as a mother and a role I’m comfortable with every time I open a physics book, it’s been quite an adjustment on my mat.
What you know already will support you as you stretch toward what you need to know now
But in one small way I share a secret power that allowed Einstein, Copernicus, and Pythagoras to make their giant leaps. I am a beginner who has willingly set aside everything I know. But I am not a brand-new beginner. As each of these scientific giants were supported by a lifetime of study, the wisdom of twenty years of practice informs everything I am doing on my mat.
Maybe, if we can give ourselves the space to experiment with it, we’ve stumbled upon a valuable equation for life? If we’re brave enough to set aside what we know, we will be free to make new discoveries.
Being a Beginner + Courage = Freedom to Discover New Possibilities
Are you reimagining something you have always been certain about? The space of spiritual direction offers the support you might need to find the courage to pursue new possibilities in your life.