As a child, I remember a slogan on a coffee cup that read, “I finally got it all together. Now where did I put it?” Can you relate? My life often feels like a never-ending cycle of figuring things out and then realizing I didn’t have it right. It’s a cycle of Knowing and Humbling. I read a book that brings an insight then build a system or habit to incorporate it into my life. Or I take a new approach in a relationship. At first, it’s working great. My head grows a little bigger and I become self-righteous. And then it falls apart.
There is an oft-repeated story that sheds light on our efforts create certainty and stability out of a mysterious and chaotic world,
The Chinese tell the story of an old man who owned a bony plow horse. One spring afternoon the horse ran away. The old man’s friends, trying to console him, said, “We’re so sorry about your horse, old man. What a misfortune you’ve had.” But the old man said, “Bad news, good news-who knows?”
A few days later the horse returned home leading a herd of wild horses. Again the friends came running. Filled with jubilation, they cried, “How wonderful!” But the old man whispered, “Good news, bad news-who knows?”
Then the next day, when the farmer’s son was trying to ride one of the new horses, the young man was thrown to the ground and broke both legs. The friends gasped. The old man stood still and said, “Bad news, good news-who knows?”
And a short time later when the village went to war and all the young men were drafted to fight, the farmer’s son was excused because of two broken legs. Good news. Bad news. Who knows?
So I can try to figure everything out or I can just allow myself to not know. I can have a guess based off probabilities but I don’t have to foreclose the rest of the possibilities. As it turns out, not knowing can be exhilarating or even relaxing. Not knowing can open our minds and hearts to curiosity and wonder.
In the video below, Zen Master Bon Soeng declares “Knowing separates things. Good, bad, right, wrong. Not knowing greets wonder and curiosity and aliveness.” Being in this moment. Right here and now even if we can’t quite make sense of it. Not knowing is alive. With uncertainty, anticipation, fear and excitement.
Technology and interconnection have enabled us to have 24/7 access to information at our fingertips. So we have the perception that everything is knowable. Comedian Pete Holmes observes, “There was a time that if you didn’t know something, you just didn’t know!” So we have less practice of sitting with uncertainty because much of what we think we want to know can be uncovered with a simple Google search.
Meditate with C4SC
Join us every Wednesday at 7:15 pm for Simply Meditation at Balanced For Life Yoga Therapy, 45 Berkley Road, Devon. Each week, we offer a short teaching, a guided meditation and time for shared reflection. Register at https://www.balancedforlifeyoga.com/schedule.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Don’t Know Mind
Zen Master Suzuki Roshi wrote, “A beginner’s mind is wide open and questioning. An expert’s mind is closed.” The certainty of knowing limits the possibility of change. Not knowing can be a powerful tool for developing wisdom and accessing intuition. Our experience is impermanent and ever-changing such that what we think we know is true no may not longer be true, or perhaps it never was.
We can practice inviting uncertainty in meditation. It may be as simple as offering the phrase “don’t know,” whenever we get caught up in a thought or busy solving a problem. Or we can invite it into the challenges and difficulties we face to see what comes up. A helpful resource is Pema Chodron’s short book, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion.