Thursday, 19 January 2012

On Not Being Clever

I was a clever child. Recently, my mother recalled how a teacher once said that I showed 'flashes of brilliance'. I loved to be top of the class; I revelled in winning the weekly spelling contest, and aimed to get the best grades in every exam. 

By the time I reached the sixth form, I was less concerned about the marks I was getting, and more concerned with being cool. Being clever, though, was still a major part of my identity. As one of six children, in what was referred to in the 1970s as a broken home, I often struggled to get adult attention. I loved the fact that being intelligent won me praise and acknowledgement from nearly everyone. 

During my 20s, I was a community worker, involved in politics and feminism. Debating issues, being knowledgeable about what was going on in the world, and having the right views were all-important. I read the right books, watched the right films, listened to the right music. There were two sides, and my friends and I were very clearly on the right side.

As many people do, over the years I slowly moved from trying to change the world (in a decade, I didn't seem to have made much of a difference, and Margaret Thatcher was still in power) to changing myself. I started to work with a variety of therapists, and learnt all kinds of models and theories which purported to explain why I was the way I was. Maybe it was to do with insecure attachment. Clearly, according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, mine had not been sufficiently met. Perhaps if I just had a dose of Natrum Muriaticum or Staphysagria, all would be well. If I could just figure it out, find the answer, then I'd be okay, and my life would begin to work. life sometimes seemed to work. More often, though, I still had the nagging sense that there was a crucial piece of information missing. I carried on searching, in the firm (and unconscious) belief that my life's ills could be solved by finding the right knowledge. For God's sake, I'm surely clever enough to work this out! I battered my brain exploring all the possible options, but seemed to come up empty-handed every time. 

This quest led me, inevitably, to non-duality. I began to inquire, to trust, to read and listen. For a while, I didn't really question my assumption that it was just about finding that missing piece of the information jigsaw. Then, one day, I suddenly realised that it wasn't about knowledge. I didn't need to be clever. What a supreme relief! 

There was no longer any need for me to prove my intelligence, to make sure that I was getting the right fact intake every day. I didn't have to understand quantum physics or mathematics. I didn't have to know what was going on in Mexico or Turkmenistan, or even the bottom of the garden. I didn't have to know the Prime Minister's name or the price of shares or who won this year's Booker prize. I didn't need to know people's names or job titles or ages or places of birth. I didn't have to know why I do the things I do or why sometimes I suffer.

So, the clever girl let go of the need to know, and is now (mostly) comfortable in the open space of not-knowing:

"Once the whole is divided, the parts need names
There are already enough names
One must know when to stop
Knowing when to stop averts trouble
Tao in the world is like the river flowing home to the sea."

Tao Te Ching Verse 32


  1. Ahhhh....wonderful, and so true. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Colleen. Lovely to see you here.

  3. Thank you, Fiona :) This is beautiful, true, brilliant and shining. It reminds me to turn my mind toward the light of being, and out of the darkness of needing to know everything for approval, for needing to feel safe. Laurie Immekus

  4. Hi Laurie. Thanks so much. I'm really glad that it struck a chord with you.

  5. Replies
    1. I think there's a few of us about...