Lately, I have been saying, “I don’t know” a lot. I used to feel more confident; now, I find myself frequently admitting ignorance. At one time, a question such as, “Why do my shoulders ache?” would have elicited an answer in which I had some certainty of accuracy. Now, I simply reply that I do not know. Or, a query as to the best way to solve a given problem will elicit a response that I simply don’t know. Given the task of addressing the issue, I will just do it, unknowing. Even if asked something ostensibly simple, such as “What is fun?”, I find the answer eludes me.
There is something to be said for “beginner’s mind”, the state of unknowing. Philosophers and mystics over time and across cultures have honored it. For starters, it is a prerequisite to learning. One cannot learn what one already knows or believes one knows. It also fosters a state of humility, necessary for growth and for living cooperatively among the brothers and sisters with whom we share the Earth. “Not knowing” opens us to new perceptions, and to the experience of awe. Beginner’s mind also makes us less argumentative, less warlike. After all, if we do not know, then there is no need to defend our perceptions against the ideas of others.
Beginner’s mind can also be relaxing. There is no need to hold all the answers, and no need to prove oneself. That does not mean that “anything goes” or that all actions and ideas are equally valuable in a given situation. In a state of relaxed “not knowing”, one’s choices flow intuitively, cooperatively, with no need for defensiveness, logical justification, or aggression. Action is consistent with the situation; figuring things out becomes counterproductive. Accomplished martial artists understand this, as do many mystics and indigenous practitioners, as well as many artists.
It feels sometimes as if I were regressing into childhood. However, I do not think I am losing my mind. I do perceive what is going on around me. My responses are usually consistent with the experience of the moment. It is just that I feel that I no longer know, and that I would like to learn. It would be nice to have all those answers, and to again feel confident in them. I remember the comfort of a perhaps illusory certainty.
In a broader sense, I think that it is difficult for anyone to clearly “know” with any certainty in the confusion of the current times and events. Each day brings surprises and changes to the status quo. An abiding center to the ebb and flow of events can be difficult to perceive, as can any vector of apparently chaotic occurrences. Perhaps beginner’s mind is what we need to bring things back into balance again.
I have always wanted to be a part of birthing a kinder and more just world than the one we humans have so far created. It has seemed an elusive goal. Perhaps not knowing is a step closer to that aim. I wish for all of us the serenity to embrace not knowing, the willingness to be open to perception, and the grace to move cooperatively with those energies that lead to kindness and which honor creation. I wish for us all peace, love and joy.