It was while I was reading a really interesting book that I had an insight. The insight itself is not what I want to give focus. Instead I became intrigued by the process of getting an insight. What happened? How did the process happen? Was it a matter of luck or is there really something I could do to enhance my chances of getting insights? Let’s pursue this idea, especially with respect to spiritual insight.
The word, insight, is fairly simple and straightforward. It is a compound word, “in” and “sight.” Literally it means to “see within” something. It means looking “inside” something (it could even be a person). In that sense we get an “inside look.” But it also is a little trickier than this.
If we were standing outside a house and peered into a window, we would not say that we had “insight” into the house. We merely would affirm that we had looked “inside.” And if I open a drawer in my house, I would never say that I had “insight” when I looked inside. I simply looked inside. So insight is more than simply physically looking inside something. This is suggestive of the second meaning of insight.
If we consult a dictionary meaning of the word, insight, we learn that it means, secondly, a “seeing into the nature of something.” Many dictionaries actually move to language like “apprehending” or “seeing intuitively.” Both of these ideas take the word, insight, to a deeper level than the literal. For example, I would never say I opened a drawer, peered inside and apprehended my socks. Instead, I would say that I opened the drawer, looked in and grabbed my socks.
At this second level, insight is a mental phenomenon. When I “apprehend” something, mentally I am saying something like, “I got it!” In effect, I claim that I understand. Also to see something “intuitively” suggests that I see deeply enough into something, that I am working at some secondary, deep level. I see beyond the obvious.
It was at this level I realized I had reached when I was reading that interesting book. At the surface level, I was gaining some knowledge. I had some new facts. I was even gaining some new perspective, as the author guided me through her logic. Over and over, I could say something like, “I understand.” To understand meant that I was learning and processing the information in a way that I could truly say I was learning. But this was not the same as insight. Insight is another level yet.
For the sake of this reflection, let’s assume there are three potential levels when you or I read something. The first level is the literal reading. If they are in English, I can read the words and get some general sense. The second level is the level of understanding. At this level, not only did I read it, but I also understood it. I could demonstrate my understanding by explaining to you what I just read. I could even put it into my own words, and I could explain it to you. From years of teaching, I know that I cannot explain something if I don’t understand it.
The third level is the level of insight. This is the deepest of the levels. Here I apprehend or intuit something of significance in the reading. Insight is often accompanied by the “Ah-ha” experience. We might say it is understanding plus (understanding +). The level of insight almost feels like a gift. It is experienced as revelation. I read, I understand and, then, I am given a gift. I am given significance.
This is especially true when it comes to spiritual insight. Perhaps an example is worth more than a myriad of words trying to explain it. When I first began the spiritual journey, I don’t think I understood anything. I would read stuff at the first level only. And then I would read something different and change my mind! I wondered if I ever would begin putting down some spiritual roots or a spiritual foundation. Slowly that did begin to happen.
The roots began to form when I could read something and have an understanding. I began to watch my understanding grow. In fact, I realized I could read something with which I did not necessarily agree, even understand it, but be true to my own foundation. I often use the analogy that I can read and understand Marxism, but I am not a Marxist.
Then gradually I began to have an insight. One of the most blessed insights given to me was to be able to apprehend the absolute amazing, extensive compassionate love God has for all of us. It is a love that goes beyond justice. It is a love that is so gracious, it seems to cancel out all the messes we have made. It is the kind of love that makes the consideration of whether I deserve it irrelevant. This insight was more than fact. It even went beyond my human understanding. It was simply the gift of intuiting the whole reason God became human. It was actually for me (and you).
The insight is a gift and, as such, is meant to be shared. I don’t need to prove it or insist on it. It is what I know from a look within---a look within the heart of the Divine One.