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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Not Knowing

photo credit:  Bruno Barbey, 1980
Before the longing to know in human nature, came the deep need to explore.  One only needs to look at babies and small children to recognize this.  A toddler will climb up and down stairs repeatedly to experience this interesting physical phenomenon.  Or adventure all sorts of objects into their mouths exploring the thing’s dimensions, as well as tastes and textures.  Once the newness of something is ‘known’, we move onto other adventures.  And so it goes.

As ego develops in human beings (thanks in part to all this acquiring of skills and knowing), the focus shifts from exploring to knowing.  The culture at large supports this.  The value of not knowing falls to the wayside.   What is the value of not knowing?

The knowing state is a static state (usually).  It tends to be fixed, inflexible, not expansive.  It also tends not to be open, is incurious and often prejudicial or biased.  One’s sense of identity (ego again) is often wrapped up nicely in what we know.  This is a comfortable place to be.  And the basic human/animal organism’s main thrust in life is to find and maintain comfort in all things.

So, what is the value of not knowing?

To the basic part of myself, not knowing is of no value, in fact should be avoided at all costs (even at the cost of ignorance or denial of not knowing).  Possibly why projection is such a powerful and forever present aspect of daily living.  We project onto others who we believe ourselves to be, who they are, our desires… everything.  Distortion is inevitable.  Our reality is of our own creation. This is a way of cementing our knowingness.  Projection, like ego and knowing is always with us.  An awareness and interest in how it is manifesting is to slip into the curious, requiring another type of attention.

art credit:  Stankko Abadzic
To the other part of myself, the part or parts that have more possibilities, not knowing is of value.  This is the (more conscious?) part, the aspect of ourselves that separates from the enmeshment of engagement, that isn’t buried in the past or future.  It’s an acquired state, being in the unknown.  Outright uncomfortable, almost painful at times, not knowing throws out most of what I thought I knew and leaves me feeling stranded in an unfamiliar abyss.  Most of me fights hard to leave this disruptive place.  If I am lucky enough to gain some experience there, it becomes less and less awful the more I allow myself to experience it.  Something in me recognizes the value of that kind of bearing.

So, when I am in front of an octogenarian failing in memory or a three year old having a melt down, sometimes bearing witness, being with, is a more useful act than supposing the reason to the unreasonable behavior (and god help me, if I attempt to fix it).  I stand with them in not knowing.  I only know what is, right now.  And I am with them in that unknown place.  Wonder flows, tensions fall away.  We’re only human after all.


  1. Loved this!!! thank you for reminding me that this is where I need to 'lean in"..brings me more humility, humanity and a good kind of "undoing". Bless your journey my friend!!

  2. Thanks for staying posted Anita, and for your warm comments. Yes, humility is in short supply these days. Possibly allowing ourselves to not know a little more frequently will help with that! Salud!