A full lesson (truth) is one that is understood as fully emotionally as it is intellectually. It is known not only in the mind but the heart. I am convinced that most of us are brim full of what I call “half-lessons” (you may call these half-truths). Among other things, life is an experiential process. When we are young we have few experiences to draw upon. This is the time of teaching and gaining intellectual understanding. However, our job is not to remain in the state of rich intellect apart from our heart intelligence lest we reduce all learning to intellectual propositions.
Half-lessons are the things that we intellectually know–but have never experienced–as well as personal experiences we have never fully reflected upon. Sadly, from my point of view, a good part of what we think we know about life is based upon unfinished half-lessons. This would not be so bad were it not for the fact that we treat the “half experience” as though it were the whole story. If we are to live fully–instead of partially, we must add experience to our intellect and learn how to recognize and process the energetic feelings that pass through us as we journey thorough life. Whole lessons are always about what is happening in the heart as much as what is happening in the mind.
In Buddhism, the life journey is composed of the “dharma taught” and the “dharma experienced.” The term “dharma” has many different meanings–but the one that resonates with me most is “the righteous life.” All religions present moral teachings about how one should go about living “the righteous life.” This righteous life is composed of the dharma that is taught and the dharma that is experienced. Both influence the other–but experience that resonates with the heart is the best teacher. Learning how the heart feels as we experience something is the key to learning whole-lessons.
Knowing something intellectually is not the same as fully knowing it. Growing up, I was carefully taught the “dharma” of my faith. The teachings have a beauty about them. As theological doctrines, they have a logical consistency that is appealing to a philosophical mind like mine. They can be ordered, memorized, taught, and expounded upon. I found great comfort in this type of learning and intellectual knowledge. But the knowledge of the mind is a different experience than that of the heart. As the Apostle Paul is supposed have said, “Knowledge puffs up!” There is a pride in knowledge. In our culture, knowledge is as much a commodity as gold or silver. But because what counts as knowledge is mostly incomplete, our culture is in serious trouble as is evidenced by the way we stigmatize foreigners, immigrants, the poor and uneducated. It reflects in the way we police our cities, punish our national enemies, and by declaring corporations as people and counting people as less important than money.
The opposite is true also. I’ve participated in mission projects, Habitat for Humanity builds and other good works–never taking the time to reflect upon the “feelings” that were generated nor its importance overall. No attempts at integration. For instance, there are the teachings about generosity–and there an experience generosity brings about. One without the other is only a half lesson. One day long ago a neighbor asked to borrow some money from me. I loaned it to him without thought but he was very slow to repay. At one point I was not sure that he would repay me. I related my concerns to an older friend who told me that she only loaned money she could afford to lose. She said that she would tell the person, “I don’t have as much as you need but you can have this amount–pay me back when you can.” This was a complete lesson. From that day forward, I’ve learned that generosity is better when it has few or no conditions imposed on the other. I usually give what I am able to give away and experience the blessings that come from openness and sharing.
A life filled with half-lessons is only a life that has been half-lived.