Consider, for a moment, the word understand and its synonyms. To stand under. Something is “there” above us and we are below, underneath, looking up. We reach “up” and try to “grasp” it, “catch” it, “capture” it. The origin of the synonym comprehend is “to seize or lay hold of, to hang on to.” And similarly, the word apprehend carries this sense. Elusive criminals, like subtle meanings, can be quite difficult to apprehend. In each of these synonyms, the idea of understanding is linked to capture and containment, to a break in an ongoing flow of movement. As if understanding were a great tiger that we must take into custody and keep enclosed and tightly controlled. But what if it weren’t so? What if we were able to give up this way of understanding understanding and see it not as a captured stillness or singularity but rather as a momentary pause in an ongoing movement of unfolding, like a rest in a musical score, or a pause in a story, or a swirling eddy in an inexorable, ongoing river of meaning?

From Listening, Thinking, Being: Toward an Ethics of Attunement, by Lisbeth Lipari. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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