Knowing Where to Look (#932)

In one of his final interviews, the author/philosopher Aldous Huxley was asked to sum up his life’s work.  What he said was this:

It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than “Try to be a little kinder.”

While I actually think that’s beautiful in and of itself, I also love the question.  If you had to sum up everything you’ve learned about life in one or two sentences, what would they be?

When I began studying the principles behind the inside-out understanding, I asked that question of a number of long-term teachers, students, and practitioners.  While the answers ranged from “I’ve learned to be grateful” to “It’s all made up and it’s all OK”, when someone asked me the same question recently, I was surprised to hear this answer come out of my mouth:

“I know what to do when I don’t know what to do.  When I’m stuck, I know where to look.  Better still, I know where not to look.”

There is something so unbelievably comforting to me about that that I wanted to take a bit of time this week to explore it with you…

For many years, I attempted to amass a database of strategies for success and happiness that I could fall back on when my automatic pilot habitual thinking wasn’t enough. Whenever I found myself stuck on a project or a bit down in myself, I would go to that database, represented by over 3000 books that have filled the walls (and at times overflowed onto the floors) of my home over the years.

If I couldn’t find the answer in my memory bank or my books, I’d go off to the bookstore or on to the web in search of the solution to my very real seeming problem.


One day I realized that if the answers were in those 3000 books, I would be the happiest, most successful person on the planet.  And I knew damn well that I wasn’t.  So I went on a “book fast”, which was really an “information fast”.  I stopped inputting new data into my brain, and decided instead to let the dust settle inside my head and see what was left.  To my amazement, in the emptiness that remained, I found my own wisdom.

It wasn’t so much in my head as in my whole body – as much feeling as thought and as much common sense as deep insight.  It appeared as a knowing – a warm feeling of “right” without any “righteousness” attached.  That feeling has become my friend over the years, even as I’ve fallen back into the strategies and tactics of others from time to time.

In the early days, I tried to encourage myself with positive slogans like “Go with your knowing, even when you’re wrong!” to “I know that I’ll know when I know.”  But the truth was, that experience of knowing happened far too seldom for me to rely on it completely, and time and again I’d find myself going back to doing things as I’d always done them.

And then one day it dawned on me that the problem wasn’t that my wisdom only spoke with me sporadically – it was that I only looked inside to find it when I’d absolutely given up on everything else.

Once it became obvious to me where to look – within, away from the known, towards the power and intelligence behind life – I found myself accessing wisdom more of the time and earlier in the game than ever before.  Insights became a reliable way to navigate instead of “lucky breaks”, and to this day the quieter I get the more obvious things become.

Here’s a metaphor I sometimes use with clients:

You wake up in a completely darkened room.  At first you remain completely still, too afraid to even move, but soon you realize you are not alone. There are others there with you in the dark, and they have learned to function relatively effectively.Many of them have simply memorized their way around a relatively small area so they can navigate it with confidence as long as nothing out of the ordinary comes to pass. Others have maps, carrying the accumulated wisdom of others but difficult to read in the dark and easy to misinterpret.

There are some who act as a light in the darkness, filled with the flame of their own wisdom and casting enough light to both draw others to them and guide them forward.

But the secret that so few teach because so few know is this:

The divine spark of wisdom is alive and well in all of us, just waiting for the gift of our own attention to help it burst into flame.

It turns out we don’t need to know what to do – we only need to know where to look.

Have fun, learn heaps, and may the light within you illuminate the world around you!

With all my love,


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