Open sesame! To knowing, alignment and intuition

‘Aladdin’s cave of wonders’​. Credit Gaelle Seguillon

Well, what do you know? While researching my book (on embodied / integrated listening – more on that in future), I recently stumbled across the eclectic and prolific work of John Vervaeke PhD. He is an award-winning lecturer at University of Toronto in the departments of psychology, cognitive science and Buddhist psychology. The book he co-authored, Zombies in Western Culture, is about the Meaning Crisis. And zombies. In an endeavour to capture all his work, Vervaeke created a 12-video series “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis”, where he explains (among other things) four types of knowing. I wonder – how familiar are you with what lies beyond the first two ways of knowing?

Vervaeke describes four types of knowing:

1.    Propositional – what

2.    Procedural – how to

3.    Perspectival – how to perceive the world and sense what is needed in a given situation, with presence.

4.    Participatory – how to be in, or relate to the world. When we know how to participate, we impact the world. We influence and are influenced, become co-creators. As Gregg Henriques PhD puts it in this article, “[Participatory knowing] involves ‘doing,’ in a creative and enacting sense.” Henriques elaborates:

“Imagine two people who go to a party. The first enters the party, knows several people, feels comfortable and moves from conversation to conversation. She has a great time, meets new people, discovers new things, and the evening is over before she even realizes it. The second is anxious, knows no one, hopes that it will go well, but fears it will not. As soon as she enters the party, she is over-whelmed and stays in a corner feeling self-conscious. The fifteen minutes she is there feels like two hours.”

C-lick! Scratching the surface of the deep, deep work of this academic, I felt like something in me had unlocked. Not merely ‘I have a way out of social anxiety when I understand there are different knowings,’ but more like, ‘I can be an agent in the arena. I too can choreograph a dance between my actions and the environment!’ That means I can hold conversations that may result in more than one kind of knowing, or steer conversations to receive output in different ways. In this way, the act of listening well becomes all the more potent. The extrovert/introvert dichotomy is exploded. This is about knowing. It’s about meaning. It’s got nothing to do with personality. The future applications of this theory are limitless.

In a random-not-random turn of events, around this same time of Vervaeke-revelations I thought I’d be proactive and interview people in my network. The goal was to get insight into their professional pathways as a way of reflecting on my own career. I thought, “It’s time to steer my copywriting freelance business, get more clients and start running workshops. What workshops? Better do some market research. Let’s get back onto LinkedIn!”

I made a shortlist and got in touch with one of my colleagues from 22-23 years ago, Stefanie di Trocchio. She went from law student/casual department store salesperson/part-time Hansard editor, to lawyer, Lonely Planet editor, interior designer/co-owner of a residential development company, through various corporate communication positions and all the way to Independent Brand Publisher. It’s an impressive pathway. She lived abroad, got hitched and had a couple of kids as well. Although we’ve kept in touch over the years through sporadic emails and via LinkedIn too, we have not spent loads of time together as friends per se.

I’m a fairly seasoned interviewer, but the zoom meeting I invited her to ended up nothing akin to an interview. In fact, I didn’t refer once to my list of questions.

We started by peering through the interwebs at each other – Stefanie covid-ly locked down in Melbourne at 9am, me term-break-ly locked down in Christchurch at 11am – and remarked that the other had barely changed since the mid-90s. Compliments aside, within an hour Stef and I ascertained:

–      We are both in an exploratory phase of our careers.

–      It isn’t straightforward to find people we truly resonate with in environments that align with our values and ways of being.

–      That we both operate instinctively, as we have each made major decisions from a visceral place, which makes us look completely bonkers and incredibly courageous at the same time.

–      We clearly understand and can articulate our strengths.

–      We share a reticence around our commercial capacity and forget to ask “why not me?”

–      We nurture a curiosity in a “North Star” sensibility – in a non-woo-woo sense – and yearn to respond to our lives in an integrated way that goes beyond cognition.

–      Simultaneously blurted out a cracker of an idea to start a project or podcast together.

–      Discovered we had both been toying with an identical, major professional financial decision, agonising over it for somewhere between 5 weeks and 3 years between the two of us.

–      Made an agreement to get in touch the following week, because this much alignment cannot go unnoticed.

I had expected to hold a purely informational interview. No offence Stef, but I thought I would end up penning a sort of ‘dry business write-up’. You know, save my passion for my book research. I had also planned to get some tips for aspiring or young editors, brand strategists etc, and do some gimmicky, snappy format to overlay each interview, like “Past-Present-Future and Career Tips, with [insert name of my contact from my network here]”.

Instead, our conversation resulted in a loud and clear resonance, a shared perspective of many specific items, and the notion that we could be significant to the other person in our striving for purpose and success in our professional/personal lives. We were both open – to the words, feelings and experiences of the other, and each left the ‘interview’ changed.

I didn’t even know that this is what I’m seeking when I use social media. And maybe it’s why I’ve been so private in the past. I thought that to ‘expose’ myself online meant I would be laid open to judgement (propositional) or criticism (procedural). When in fact I could possibly encounter truth in my encounters with other people and experience them where they are (perspectival), and find practical ways to take action, together (participatory).

Every week, the last couple of months, my experiences have led me to a little nugget of gold. I am compelled to keep panning. Before too long I hope to have an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure to share with the world. For my clients – sure, I’ll write your copy. But at the same time I will continue to write reflections like this: for me and the passing curious reader – to think, to know, to understand my world, the world. Like magic and good vibrations, what I learn (and then turn around to relay) will reach whoever wishes to be reached. So … shall we dance?

P.S. With the deepest of bows to John Vervaeke, and in the spirit of a new-to-me ‘why not me?’ attitude, I have a view on and wish to co-unravel the Meaning Crisis: I propose a fifth way of knowing – somatic knowing (it doesn’t start with ‘p’, though, damn – but somehow ‘physical knowing’ is not quite right). I highly suspect this will be my life’s work, and in the scheme of things, I’m a newborn. Watch me grow, develop and learn in public.

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