I Really Don’t Know Life At All: Confessions From an Older and Wiser Counseling Psychologist

Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange

They shake their heads; they say I’ve changed.

But something’s lost and something’s gained in living everyday

I’ve looked at life from both sides now. From win and lose and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.

                                                Both Sides Now, by Joni Mitchell

I am the possessor of two graduate degrees in counseling psychology, a California state psychologist license, and several educational credentials and certificates. So this should make me qualified to help others deal with the problems of life. However, I have changed. What I have gained from living every day is an awareness of the entangled complexities of the reality in which I live and now I believe life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. I am willing to publicly admit that it is life’s illusions I usually recall; I really don’t know life at all.

This realization has had a profound effect on the way I now see things and do things — and on the way I try to help others see and do things. My change is an example of the kind of change that will be required in a world of “white-water change”:  I need to unlearn much of what I have learned and learn what I have not been taught. And even then, I will have to admit that I really don’t know as much as I think I know, and that my view of reality often includes illusions. Of course I believe this is also true of everyone else, which is a hard sell because of the human tendency to believe that the way we see things is the way things really are.

Using philosopher/scientist Karl Popper’s two metaphoric categories of the world, clocks and clouds, may be helpful. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable. Popper says it is a mistake to pretend everything is a clock that we can fix with our tools, because we live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds. Our reality, is more like clouds and it is interesting that Joni Mitchell, in the first stanza of Both Sides Now wrote: I really don’t know clouds at all. Much of our reality is a confusing, cognitive mess, highly irregular, disorderly, and not only more or less unpredictable, but also more or less unknowable. You and I really don’t know reality at all.

My theme is that we experience far less of our reality than we think we do. What part of reality am I missing? What part are you missing?

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One Response to I Really Don’t Know Life At All: Confessions From an Older and Wiser Counseling Psychologist

  1. Marianne says:

    Since I already replied on the e-mail, I’ll just say again how great I think it is.

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