As I sit down to write my last blog post of 2020, I am reflecting on the power of “not-knowing.”
I think this is one of the most impactful ways of being I have experienced all year.
Really, staying in not-knowing means not automatically filling in outcomes, not filling in why someone did something, not filling in who someone is, not deciding how something is going to turn out before it turns out.
When I practice not-knowing, I am more open to possibilities. And most importantly, I am open to my inner knowing, which arises in that space that not-knowing creates. Our inner knowing is deep wisdom, and it guides us in a way that is more effective than our perceived knowing, our believing-we-know, ever can.
I confess: I have been a lover of believing-I-know: Oh, I know why someone did what they did! I know what is going to happen! You name it, I KNOW.
We all know how to know (or think we know). What we don’t automatically do, at least in Western culture, is not-know.
When we practice not-knowing, we leave room to be surprised. And when we do that, we have an opportunity to really see what happens next. Without our tight grip on our expectations based on our perceived knowing, we have an opportunity to let things unfold. To not-know is to be willing to see.
Not-knowing allows us to open up to a whole host of possibilities. Have you ever gone shopping with no plan in particular and then happened upon something spectacular? The minute we “know,” our vision becomes limited; we stop seeing all that is available.
Not-knowing also allows us to access new ideas.
This morning, my Dyson vacuum cleaner looked to me like it was on its way to the dump. It kept turning on and off. I tried everything I knew to fix it.
And then I handed it to my friend, who is a lover of not-knowing. In general, he orients to life from a state of wonder. He tried different things, one of which was taking out the filter and smacking it on the table. When he smacked the filter on the table, gobs of dirt came flying out. Turns out, the filter was clogged. That’s why the vacuum kept turning on and off.
My friend’s willingness to be in a state of not-knowing and wonder saved me $400.
Here is another way to experiment with this concept:
Not-knowing is like having a blank piece of paper.
The paper could be used to draw on. It could be used to make origami. It could be used to make paper airplanes or wrap a present. It could be used to balance one leg of an unstable table. It could be used to write a love letter. It could be used as a window covering.
The minute we decide what the paper is for, we close off other options. At some point, it is wise to know what we want to do with that piece of paper. But we may see more options for it if we stay in wondering for just a bit longer...
We all know that this year has been challenging and difficult. Yet, what if we didn’t know what this year was about? What unfolds for you when you look back at the events of this year from a place of wonder? What other interpretations do you see?
What if we don’t know the end of the story?
On that note, I leave you with one of my favorite Zen Buddhist fables:
One day in late summer, a farmer was working in his field with his old, sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he let his horse loose to go to the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited. They offered their condolences and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land and prosper?” The farmer replied, “Who could say? We shall see.”
Two days later, the old horse came back, rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainside while eating the wild grasses. Returning with him were twelve new and healthy horses that followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the farmer’s good fortune, and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate him on his good luck. “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. “You must be very happy!” The farmer softly said, “Who could say? We shall see.”
At daybreak the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but he was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one, the villagers arrived to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune. “Oh, what a tragedy you have had!” they cried. “Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself. How will you survive? You must be very sad.” Calmly going about his usual business, the farmer answered, “Who could say? We shall see.”
Several days later, a war broke out. The emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the emperor’s army. As it happened, the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. “What very good fortune you have!!” the villagers exclaimed, as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Who could say? We shall see,” replied the farmer, as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on, the broken leg healed, but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh, what bad luck you have; too bad for you!” But the farmer replied simply, “Who could say? We shall see.”
As it turned out, the other young village boys died in the war and the farmer and his son were the only able-bodied men capable of working the village lands. The farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are. You must be very happy,” to which the farmer softly replied, “Who could say? We shall see.”