Therapy Blog

Mindfulness: Intellectual Understanding and Experiential Knowing

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In practicing mindfulness, both intellectual understanding AND experiential knowing of things are important as both are quite real and “of-the-mind.” Think of intellectual understanding as knowing something ‘in-theory,’ whereas experiential knowing goes beyond theory and is actually experienced in reality. I intellectually understand what jumping out of a plane must be like, but I do not experientially know it. My intellectual understanding is enough to tell me, “Nope!” My experiential knowing knows how grateful I am to listen to that intellectual understanding!

The intellect can be a wonderful teacher as long as you are open to the experiential knowledge it is trying to teach. If you are defensive and closed to the reality that you are experiencing, you’ll likely feel some form of suffering. Remember, according to many mindfulness teachers, including me, suffering arises when we do not accept reality as it is. In other words, when our intellect is telling us one thing while our experience is knowing something else. In psychology, this is called “Cognitive Dissonance.” This would occur for me if I were to go skydiving.

When we reflect on our experience with our rational mind (the intellect), resisting the urge to judge, we are practicing mindfulness. A slight twist of the word “mindfulness” could be seen as using the “full” mind to know our reality: both the intellectual/rational mind AND the emotionally-experiential mind. You’ll recall from my post on the Wise Mind that when we are rooted in both the thinking and feeling minds, we have the best of both, and this hybrid-mind is called the wise mind. The wisdom is the ability to access intellect and emotion.