Tara Howley — From Insight to Wisdom

May 26, 2023
Brett chats with Tara Howley, coach and Art of Accomplishment co-founder, about how a flash of insight integrates into embodied wisdom. Tara is facilitating the weekly small group sessions for the Master Class + Deep Dive cohort. Applications for 2023 are open until midnight PDT on May 29th.

Episode Intro: Welcome back to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, and today I am here with another special guest, Tara Howley.

Tara is a coach with the Art of Accomplishment, and she is also a cofounder with Joe Hudson. She is going to be leading a group through the master class in this upcoming cohort, which starts in a week or two.

Brett: Is there anything else you would like to say about yourself, Tara?

Tara: Today I feel like a lover of nature, mountains, and skiing. I am with a couple of girlfriends skiing in Colorado for my birthday. It was snowing today. That's what I want to say about myself today is I love snow and skiing.

Brett: I love it, too. It has been a couple of years since I have actually gotten back out to the mountains and skied. I do miss it, especially this past season.

Tara: It has been an epic year.

Brett: Clearly my priorities were out of whack.

Tara: Let's change that. Let's ski a lot for work next year. We are on the slopes with your Art of Accomplishment podcast.

Brett: Art of Apocalypse, is that what you almost said?

Tara: Art of Skiing Podcast, Art of Accomplishing While Skiing. Now there's an idea.

Brett: Speaking of ideas, insights and wisdom, what I wanted to talk with you about today is the journey from the aha moment of insight to when it becomes a lived embodied reality that is wisdom in our system. In this work, we often have these big insights, these epiphanies. There is a journey from the moment you recognize something, the moment that you see it to your first couple of times testing reality with it until eventually you are really living it from a deeply embodied place where it is a new reality. Without any further ado, I would love to pick your brain on that journey, which you have been beautifully there to hold space for for me and my process over the years.

Tara: I love that journey. I love my own path through that journey and I love holding space and watching other people dive in and marinate in the journey, all of the twists and turns and unknown things that happen in it. I love it.

02:50 Brett: Let's get started with defining some of our terms here. In your view, how would you define insight? What does that mean?

Tara: Insight is exactly what you just said, that aha moment. It is that suddenly something from a new perspective or a different contact with truth or reality or a new idea of who you are. It is a shift in the perception about your identity or the world or your beliefs. It is that whoa, I thought my anger was bad but it is just me protecting my boundaries, that kind of shift. Changing how we see something or feel about something or see ourselves and our place in the world.

Brett: That's the beginning of what we are describing in this journey, the moment of insight. How would you define wisdom?

Tara: I would define wisdom as once that insight has integrated into our whole being, we no longer have to remember it. What was that insight I had? I want to remember. We don't have to do that. It is in our muscles, our body, our heart, our gut and our mind, our whole being. The word I really love for this is coherent. It is not just an idea we have, but it is a deep, deep knowing in our whole being.

Brett: What makes it that insight isn't enough, per se? What makes it that we don't have a flash of recognition and then everything changes immediately? Or does that happen?

Tara: I don't know that I have ever seen it happen immediately, but I would not put it outside of the realm of possibility. I am guessing somewhere in someone's personal history they have had an experience of bam and everything changes forever. That totally may happen. What I see happening more than not is people have the bam and then nothing changes. They have this idea, like I just keep hiring direct reports who can't do it on their own and I have to do everything for them. They get rid of one direct report, hire another and then it is the same thing over and over again. Someone has a toxic boss and they say this is leaving because this is a toxic work environment. Then they step right into another one. They have had the insight, but they haven't shifted it because they haven't worked on all of the reasons that first thought was there that led to the insight. They haven't, as we said earlier, made the journey from aha moment through the lived reality.

There is this journey once we have that insight. It is like when you get the map, it doesn't mean you have arrived at your location. You actually have to get in the car and take all the turns around the hills and test drive it and play with the insight. You can't see me but I am rubbing my hands. It is getting that palpable sense of it down in the body. I think it doesn't happen automatically because we have to test it, play with it, try it out, and grow with it. If we have computer systems, we have to update all of the computer systems so that they are all coherent with that insight.

Brett: One thing that comes up for me around that is if we were able to get an insight that changed everything immediately, we would probably be ping ponging back and forth between a lot of different insights. It would be really chaotic. There has got to be some process or gating mechanism by which insight as an idea, epiphany or just one way of seeing gets to make it through different layers into your longer term, deeper, more subconscious memory. Otherwise, it would be pretty, like I said, chaotic.

Tara: I do love the idea of ping ponging, that image, not the chaotic version, but I think when an insight happens and we start to metabolize it, it is a ping pongy feeling. It moves through our bodies, our organs, our heart, our gut, our intestines even, and our whole being in a ping pong fashion, our muscles.

Brett: I have also heard it called titration. You step in. You step back. You bounce on either side of the line to figure out where the line is in a variety of contexts, in a variety of moods and states until you really have a picture and a felt sense of how that insight works across your life.

Tara: Beautifully said.

07: 50 Brett: How do you get from insight to wisdom? What, if anything, do we need or can we do to facilitate that journey once we have had an insight? We think this could be life changing if I really integrate it. How do we best facilitate that process?

Tara: I think one of my favorite things that I love seeing, and you may have seen this in your practice, too. Someone has the insight. Sometimes people will sit on it, but they will have this urge to stretch or move their bodies after an insight in a coaching session or a retreat. I love it when people actually don't sit on that urge, which is one way we can sabotage ourselves. When they actually take that gentle stretch and move the body, I think that's the very beginning of letting the insight sequence through the body and how the body wants to move with it in that moment. I would say that's the first part. It seems small, but it is the first way the insight starts to metabolize.

Brett: I feel like sometimes you will see that as a face cracking yawn or a little bit of shaking in the body.

Tara: Yeap, face yawning. The breath is another one. After insights, I love it if people can slow things down to really have the time and space to just be with the insight and breathe it slowly, gently, like 6/6 breath, letting the belly be soft and inhale on a six count and exhale on a six count, just breathing with it. The breath and the yawning really bring that down. Then, also, I will almost always encourage my clients to go take a walk after a big session. It is moving the right side and the left side of the body, right brain, left brain. It helps integrate those aha movements down into the being.

Brett: I want to double click.

Tara: I love your double clicks.

Brett: I want to double click on the part where you said just being with it. I think that's a really beautiful and important piece. The opposite of that is so often a pattern will come and it will be like I have seen the insight. What do I have to do about it? Then we make it a to-do list.

Tara: That slowing things down right then in the moment and not even trying to understand it, solve it or make sure it gets incorporated, but just being with it and breathing with it. That gives it the time to actually sink into our being. I do love that slowness there. Other ways to help it incorporate and integrate would be movement. I said going for a walk, but dancing, like moving the body, walking, dancing, cuddling, giggling, shaking, and then moving any emotions. Usually with the insight, there is some emotional content behind it either the grief of having thought opposite of it or excitement about it or anger or fear. There is usually emotion that was holding the old belief in place that needs to get moved as well, so moving that.

Brett: Sometimes the fear of stepping into a new open space as whatever you are now after this transformation is another one.

Tara: Yeap. How I see that fear show up sometimes too is fearing of losing. They can't feel the excitement necessarily about it. Excitement and fear are so closely wired together that it will go to a fear of losing this as opposed to how afraid versus how excited are you and letting the body have that excitement. The body wants to move when it is excited. You see two year olds. How many adults let themselves get that excited when they have these big aha moments?

Brett: We also have all these different ways that we might either bring ourselves back into or try to. I don't think we ever quite can. Once an insight has really happened, we can go back to the place before it but it will never quite be the same. We will always see a little bit through it. We will feel a little bit more of whatever backlog of emotion that previous belief was holding in place. It will just be a little bit more uncomfortable. Even if we feel like we have the insight, it will be that much easier to regain the next time. That can slow the process down. What are some of the ways you have seen that we can get in the way of our insight integrating into deeper wisdom?

Tara: The first one is the one I just said. People will have this insight and be afraid of losing it. They ask how they can not use it and how they can hold onto it. The holding onto it, in and of itself, sends a message to the body that it isn't going to integrate. If someone is feeling fear that they will forget it, then gratitude for it is often one of the best counters. I am so grateful that I saw that. It will let you let go of that grip of fear. That's one way to sabotage.

Another way I see people sabotage themselves is by beating themselves up. I saw it. Why am I redoing this?

Brett: It just becomes a new tool for self abuse.

Tara: Exactly. My whole thing is how we create paths of gentleness with ourselves. Through gentleness, we can really truly grow quickly. Beating yourself up would be a second way, like I know this. Defending the knowing is another way I see people sabotaging. When someone else says something, they say they already know that. The defense can stop it. That defensive act can stop it from coming down, metabolizing and integrating.

Brett: That relates to another thing I think is very similar. Maybe that's where the defense comes from. We take the insight and integrate it in our identity but not into our body or lives.

Tara: We use the insight as another way to cement some sort of identity. Ouch.

14:50 Brett: You mentioned a few moments ago about the emotions holding the belief systems in place that the insight sees through. Can you speak a little bit more about what emotions have to do with insight and wisdom and the path?

Tara: Yes, but hold on because I just remembered the other thing I was going to say. On the sabotage front, the insight can come with a high feeling, like that ecstasy feeling of ah. It can have this aha. It can come with the state, almost like a natural high state. Because we can't hold on to any one state ever, we aren't going to stay ecstatically high, depressed, angry or fear, any sort of state forever. That ecstatic state naturally leaves, and when it leaves, people mistake the ecstatic state leaving for the actual insight leaving.

Brett: They conflate the insight with the ecstasis.

Tara: With the relief or whatever it was that went with it. That is something else they beat themselves up for. I had it and I lost it, as opposed to it is still there. The state is gone, but the learning is still here. What is still being metabolized?

Brett: Another way that that shows up that I have seen is if we are attached to the bliss of the epiphany, and when the bliss goes away, we think the epiphany has gone away, then we are going to clearly see the evidence for the epiphany having gone away. LIke you said earlier, it is unlikely, but perhaps possible and worth keeping an open mind about this, but when you have the epiphany, it is likely you are going to run into the same thing somewhere else in your life on a different, deeper level, so when you do that, it doesn't mean you lost the insight. It might just mean that you are now seeing something on a whole new level you hadn't seen before, and it is the same shape.

Tara: It is deepening, right? It is spiral dynamics. It is coming around to be integrated in a deeper, more felt sense and a more coherent, more deeply understood way.

Brett: Speaking of the felt sense and having these insights really settle into the bottle, I want to come back to the question about what emotions have to do with the journey from insight to wisdom.

Tara: We love emotions generally, all of them, and I deeply believe that insights are seeing through an old story, belief or habit, a story about self or the world. Those stories are all held in place by an emotion. Emotion is like the glue that holds pieces of our identity in place, any story around identity or the world in place. What do you call the thing that releases glue? Solvent. In this case, it is moving the emotions. If there is grief, having a good cry, even a good cry that you believed that story before the aha moment, or shaking off the fear, letting the body shake and move the fear off.

Brett: I want to give some examples for listeners to demonstrate all of this. What would be an example insight? What would be the belief system it sees through? What would be an example of the emotional glue that was holding that belief system in place? What is the process of that moving?

Tara: It is a great question. Let me think. Someone might have a story of when people get angry, it means I have done something wrong or I am bad. That's a common one I see. When other people are angry "at me", it means I have done something wrong or bad. They can have the insight that people get angry and they might be angry at me, but it doesn't mean I have done anything wrong or bad. It doesn't mean I am bad. They might not be happy with what I have done, but it doesn't mean I am bad. They might have the insight that when people get angry, it might not have anything to do with me. They are starting to unhook any identity of being bad or having done something bad from other people's anger. That would be the insight, the aha.

Then the emotions that have to move, in this case, might be their own anger. That's not okay to put that on me. Stop telling me I did something wrong.

Brett: The anger of how much of their lives they have spent believing the story they were bad or wrong.

Tara: Believing they were bad or wrong anytime anybody got angry.

Brett: And that it was imprinted in the first place.

Tara: Exactly, a parent or caregiver led them to think that or whatever led them to think that. I would say anger needs to move. Often their fear needs to move as well because if someone has that relationship with other people's anger, there is a lot of fear of anger. Anger is not safe. They have to move fear, and that's just shaking. In that case, also grief of believing for however many decades that anytime someone was angry, they had done something wrong or bad. I had a client who talked about whenever she was in traffic and a car honked, she would jump and look around to see what she had done wrong. It was like four cars back honking at someone else and had nothing to do with her, but she had that ingrained belief that she must have done something wrong if someone honked. She had to go through the journey moving fear and grief for all of the years and all the times she had thought random anger had something to do with her and her own fear and then her own anger of that not being okay and don't put that on me.

Brett: When you describe going through that grief of all of the years where X, Y, Z was happening and believing A, B, C, it is as though there are so many micro insights in that grieving process. In my experience, when I am going through a big grief process, there can be a flashing of memories that come out of nowhere. I had forgotten that that had even happened, and I didn't know that was driving my subconscious and filtering my reality. Then many of the things don't actually show up in my consciousness at all. They are just happening subconsciously. It is almost as through the process of emotions moving and the insights are kind of the same thing on some level. The insight is the mental version of it or the seeing, but then the emotional process is applying that insight to your deeper store of life memories and seeing what settles out from that process.

Tara: That's right, or what wants to bubble up and move through emotionally and be reseen. How you identify is really different at the end of the process.

Brett: Sometimes it is like a house of cards, too. I am remembering playing Dr. Mario or Tetris where sometimes if you hit the right thing, all of a sudden everything will start to collapse or Angry Birds, I think, looks a lot like that. You have one insight, and if you really let that insight land all of the way in your body, there is going to be a whole bunch of stuff that used to seem internally consistent about your reality that is now ready to collapse, too, because if that wasn't true, then this wasn't true and this wasn't true. Here we go into the abyss.

Tara: The abyss is what can show up in that case.

23:15 Brett: Tell me more about the abyss.

Tara: My experience of it is that when all of the stories fall away, what's left is the abyss? It has a million different names, but it is the place of no story. It is the knowing of self beyond the story, identifying beyond the story. Of course, we have these bodies and selves, and so we have stories. It is making contact with that which is beyond the self. When we have these insights and really the whole house of cards starts to fall. I remember when I had the experience, it felt like a house of cards, every single story true and not true in the house of cards and all of the emotions beyond them. Under it all was nothingness and spacious nothingness.

Brett: Which brings me to another question, that might be the answer to this question but I am also curious what other answer there is. How do you know when insight has consolidated, integrated, and become wisdom? Not even to imply that there is an end state.

Tara: I want to step back first and say that the house of cards falling, the whole Tetris game, everything falling, the abyss, I don't think that's the goal. I think that's a by-product. If someone is having an insight and then trying to integrate it to get to the abyss or spaciousness, nothingness, I think that's probably going to backfire at some point. I just want to name that so people try to integrate aha moments into wisdom so they can get spaciousness.

Brett: That's another thing with that state attached from earlier. If we are conflating the abyss with the state.

Tara: It is just a potential by product. What was the question you asked just before I wanted to clarify that?

25:35 Brett: How do you know or measure or track how insight has become wisdom?

Tara: The easiest way is when you don't have to remember it. You have the insight and you think you have to remember it. You don't have to remember it because it is just in your being, like that example I used about the client with anger thinking she was bad or wrong. When people get angry and she asks what is going on for them and she has no emotional reaction, there is no trigger or tightening up because she is just curious what is happening, that's when that insight has been integrated. It is coherent and integrated in the body when you don't have to remember it or think about it. It is just there and natural. You are not reactive to the same things you used to be reactive to. That's one of the easiest ways to know.

I also want to say I do believe it is asymptotic. I believe, like you said, we can have these insights and they can integrate throughout being, move to wisdom and then resurface as we develop and evolve in different points in our life. Wisdom is asymptotic, ever changing. It is not a hard, fast thing that's done and will never shift again. We are always evolving, learning, growing, and deepening.

Brett: There is an interesting asymmetry here that I am seeing where we get the insight, and one of the common responses is to be afraid of losing the insight but the actual integration of the insight will result in the insight falling away. It is like training wheels. I look forward to the day where I don't have to remember that I get to have my anger or sadness or that my wants are important or that I am not responsible for other people's feelings or that it doesn't make me bad or wrong if someone is judging me. If I am living in a world where I forget all of that and it is just second nature, then that's what I am looking forward to when an insight comes. There is the insight. I can't wait to have this no longer be in my world so much that I want to hold onto it.

Tara: That is a great attitude, by the way, for the whole process. I can't wait to get triggered again by someone's anger so I can see where it hasn't integrated through my system. I can't wait until someone honks at me on the road and I can see what emotion is left or what story is left around this.

Brett: It is being in wonder with the insight and whatever wisdom is arising from it. If I just forget this, where do I get to discover this again?

Tara: That's right. Welcoming the process. Very cool.

Brett: Beautiful. What else would you like to say?

Tara: Oh, what else would I like to say? I would say marinate in the journey anybody having the aha moment. Take it and roll with it. Marinate in it, steep in it and enjoy it. Be gentle with yourself. Everything we do here is about self compassion and having more compassion for ourselves and others, so with that aha moment, once it happens, how can you be gentle and compassionate with yourself and love yourself through the whole process and really enjoy the whole process, even the crunch bits?

Brett: Alluding back to something you said earlier about recognizing the way the belief system was serving you, I think there is something that can happen when we have an insight and then we feel disgust towards whatever previous thought we had. Then we are just doing things again where we are pushing some part of our experience into the shadow and the dark.  

Tara: And beating up a part of ourselves. Those stories came up to protect us. They served us. We wouldn't have had them if they weren't protecting, helping, and serving us in some ways. They might not serve us anymore, but they for sure did at some point. We can appreciate them and be gentle with them and that part of ourselves. Loving it all.

Brett: Beautiful. Thank you so much. I loved doing this episode with you. I want more.

Tara: I adore you, Brett. It is so much fun. Yay.

Brett: All right. Thank you everybody for listening. If you enjoyed it, please share it with somebody that you think would enjoy it just as much or even more. See you next time.

Tara: Ciao.

Ready to Jump In?

Join our free intro workshop and try it yourself.

a free 90-minute intro workshop hosted by AoA facilitators
early access to new courses and opportunities
We’ll send you our intro guide and monthly newsletter.
Unsubscribe at any time.