I would like to share some thoughts about the state of “not-knowing.” Not-knowing is the state of relaxing into uncertainty. Accepting the reality that life will unfold as it will, that we cannot know exactly how it will unfold, and being at ease with and embracing this uncertainty.
This goes totally against the grain of our conditioning. We have always been taught that we should know the answers. We should be able to define things correctly. We should think ahead and be able to anticipate what might happen, so we can plan ahead of time how things will go, and how we will respond. This is what organized, responsible people do. This is knowing through thought.
But this creates a lot of suffering for us. All of this mental rehearsing – it creates stress, anxiety, fear, worry. And of course, more often than not, things unfold differently than we’ve planned, which can also set us up for more suffering. We didn’t think things through well enough, or we didn’t manage what was happening skillfully enough. We may feel like we failed somehow. In addition to creating suffering in these ways, our obsession with knowing through thought, all the mental rehearsal and getting things all figured out, prevents us from being with our life in a natural way.
As a psychologist, I recognize that there is an innate drive to anticipate outcomes. From an evolutionary standpoint, our species has succeeded in large degree by developing the capacity to imagine potential outcomes and solve problems. And these skills shouldn’t be abandoned. They help us navigate our lives in the complex world in which we live. But, it is not necessary to approach every aspect and happening in our life in this way – as if it were something that needs to be anticipated and known in advance. There are many instances in which it is not necessary to have things figured out in advance. There are also plenty of times when it is just not possible to know how things will go, however much we might want to. Trying to impose a false sense of knowing in these cases only serves to limit our ability to respond naturally and spontaneously. It prevents us from perceiving aspects of our experience that fall outside of the solution, or the paradigm, we’re trying to impose.
Paradoxically, our compulsive need to know in advance precludes us from really knowing things as they are. It prevents us from really knowing ourself and our life. True knowing is knowing with the heart, not with the analytical mind of thought. It is not verbal knowing, but a direct knowing. Knowing with the heart is only possible when we can allow the not-knowing to be there.
So, can we notice the need to know when it arises, and observe it without entering into it. Can we relax into the discomfort of not-knowing, noticing how this discomfort is just a product of our conditioning? Can we open our heart-mind to the unfolding of our life and the uncertainty it contains, trusting in our own natural ability to respond wisely in the moment?
– Michael Bresnan, Ph.D.