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7 Ways of Knowing that Fuel Transformation from Disorder to Reorder

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

This month I was introduced to a book by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan brother and Christian mystic. I have long been intrigued by Rohr’s writings, particularly his idea of the Third Way, which avoids the paradox of fight or flight through the way of compassionate knowing. It offers a path outside an either/or world where we have no ability to transcend, to hold together or to be creative. I’m a voracious reader, always looking for new insight and inspiration; however, I had never read his book The Wisdom Pattern. In the book, Rohr talks about the pattern of order, disorder and reorder. It is a timely read, given the current circumstances of our world.

The wisdom pattern transcends any particular tradition and echoes patterns shared by the world’s great spiritual and philosophical traditions. He cites several examples. Indigenous peoples call it day, night, sunrise. Hebrew scriptures are presented in three sections, law, prophets, wisdom. Christians point to life, crucifixion, resurrection. Chemistry follows the pattern of solution, dissolution, resolution. The Recovery movement speaks of innocence, addiction, recovery. For Rohr, this flies in the face of our human notion of progress, of a linear line and the possibility of moving from stage 1 to stage 3 without moving through stage 2. Knowing the full pattern allows us to let go of the first order, trust the disorder, and sometimes even hardest of all – to trust the reorder that emerges.

The movement from order to disorder is often accompanied by fear. When we are not sure what is certain, when the world and our worldview keep being redefined every few months, we’re going to be anxious. Our instinct is to get rid of that anxiety as quickly as we can. Yet, often our disillusionment with the present is what motivates us for transformation. It is the seed of an unwillingness to settle, to stop there, that moves us toward the promises and fulfilment, the transformation that shapes reorder.

I am personally excited about reconstruction as Rohr proposes it: “Whatever reconstruction we’re going to do cannot be based on fear or on reaction... It has to be based on a positive and fully human experience of... loving Presence.” For me, this translates to a reordering that reflects compassion.

Compassion offers us a tool to survey the disorder and take action that supports the transformation needed to reorder. How we see the world affects the shape of compassion. Rohr suggests we rediscover the multiple ways of knowing—how we see and how we come to understand what we know. While society prioritizes rational knowing, he reminds us that there are other ways of knowing too. His is a call to explore how other perspectives can enrich and advance our work of transformation—be that personal or collective.

Rohr proposes 7 ways of knowing, but this is not an exhaustive list. For example, a Google search will point you towards references to Theory of Knowledge (TOK). There is also a growing appreciation around the world for Indigenous ways of knowing.

  1. Intellectual Knowing – the knowing that results from education, reason and logic

  2. Volitional Knowing – the cumulative knowledge that comes from making commitments and sticking with them

  3. Emotional Knowing – the way that emotions have the capacity to blind us or open us up, this is recognized in the language we use around EQ, or emotional intelligence

  4. Sensual Knowing – knowing that comes from touching, moving, smelling, seeing, hearing, breathing, tasting

  5. Imaginative Knowing – through fantasy, dreams, symbols, stories, metaphor, the unconscious can move into the conscious by imagining or re-imagining circumstances

  6. Aesthetic Knowing – art, across the spectrum of beautiful and ugly, has a way of inducing a reaction from us

  7. Epiphanic Knowing – this is a life-changing manifestation of meaning, a eureka moment that comes with an element of surprise

Holding together these different ways of knowing rather than prioritizing one over others sparks new ways of seeing. This richer perspective will undoubtedly affirm and challenge existing ideas. It reflects something bigger than any of us individually. I encourage you to play with and experiment with different ways of knowing in your journey through the everyday and larger experiences of order, disorder and reorder.

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