When I was thirteen I was probably more serious and idealistic than I ever came to be. That summer vacation I spent in La Jolla, California, at Wisteria Cottage, which had been rented by my Grandma King. I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and decided to materialize my ambitions by having book labels printed with the words Give me understanding and I shall live. Now that I am approaching my 90th birthday, I realize that this quote has shaped my entire life!
From that time onward, through thick and thin, for better or worse, I have tried to understand the ultimate meaning of existence. I read and studied and the earnest, solemn search through reading, and endlessly studying, led me perhaps to meriting meeting my Teacher at the age of twenty-one. By then I had read nightly the Old and New Testament, the Koran, the Upanishads, the I Ching, and Plato, and countless other books, furiously underlining and copying into notebooks like a glutton for wisdom until the day came when to my utter dismay my Teacher told me that what I was looking for was not to be found in books!! I became a crushed autodidact in one fell swoop. I was so distressed that he consoled me by saying it would give me a good vocabulary [which it did].
What he was trying to teach me was that understanding is not just an intellectual pursuit but following the path that teaches that an unexamined life is not worth living and that wisdom is the result of experience, that experience comes from acknowledging with humility the hopelessness of the conscious intellect to encompass the All! Now, in my old age, some people project onto me that I am a Wise Woman, to which I reply truthfully that I am wise in one respect only: I am wise enough to know only one thing for sure: I know how much I don’t know!!
So, back to my original prayer: Give me understanding! So here are a few things I have learned along the way, much of which I owe to Carl Gustav Jung:
1. Our conscious mind is but a fraction of our psyche. It floats on the vast endless ocean of our personal Unconscious, which in turn floats upon the Collective Unconscious. This truth has been the foundation of Eastern teachings all along and is their gift to the Western world.
2. To understand implies so much more than mere comprehension. It implies a grasp that love and humility are called for and that for us to really live implies understanding one’s own limitations while, at the same time, having respect and compassion for all the know-it-alls who think they run the world!
3. So, I come back to the unconscious wisdom of my thirteen year-old self in choosing that saying for my book labels! It has become the prayerful quote guiding my entire life!
Give me understanding so I shall live!