Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Art of Not-Knowing

One of my spiritual teachers says there are 4 addictions that we can become caught in, and one of them is the Need to Know. At first glance, it might seem that asking questions in an effort to find answers is a productive and even necessary process, one that most of us learn during elementary education. "What is the answer, class?" is a common refrain heard from even the most seasoned teacher who is geared toward imputing information into the student followed by requiring the recitation of facts. Once the teacher has posed the question, hands shoot up into the air, "Pick me! I know the answer!" the enthusiastic students cry. Great rewards are given to those students who know.

Along the way we continue to learn many things and receive positive acknowledgement from the world at large when we demonstrate our knowledge including doctoral achievements and work place promotions. Suffice it to say, for those who don't know the "right" answers life can be challenging for there is little recognition which is bruising to the ego not to mention hard on the paycheck for those who seek promotions for their performance.

Then, as we age, there may come a time when we begin to question whether we really know as much as we thought we did. Perhaps some of the concepts which we have held tightly to as the glue in our view of the Universe ceased to feel as solid as they once did, being replaced by questions with no answers.

What happens after death?
How can I possibly know what is right for another human being?
Who or what is God?

And here we find the fertile realm of Not Knowing or what the Buddhists call "Beginners Mind".

If we assume that we know a person very very well, then in fact we may be closed off to surprises that this person may give to us. The operative word here is assume, for it is making the assumption that we know something with absolute certainty that closes us off to the sparkling creative process within each of us, the place of discovery! We may be blinded to new possibilities by our preconceptions. Adding the phrase "I don't know" to any thought can be liberating and help us to detach from the control our minds have over our feelings and help us release the stronghold of the ego which the opens the way for humility.

Suzuki Roshi said, “Not-knowing does not mean you don’t know." It means holding our opinions more lightly by being open and curious. Considering that maybe things are the way we think they are, and maybe not.

Question: How can I embrace uncertainty today?

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