HOW NOT TO KNOW
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
― Richard Feynman
Often, I am asked by those close to me, family and friends, ‘Oh, haven’t you learned enough? Didn’t you have enough training? What do you need that course for? When are you going to stop spending time and money on that?’ etc, etc. Of course, my initial reaction is to snap back and become defensive, but then, that leads nowhere. People simply have different values, different viewpoints…For me, learning and growing is like air and water. Those that do not feel that way – I can appreciate that that’s fine for them. I’d like them to appreciate my attitude too – actually it is not an attitude only, it is a way of life…
And so, (we shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’, but I’m inspired to break those shoulds!) instead I decided to use the source of irritation (those near and dear judging me or not understanding me) as a source of inspiration! To write, instead of rant. To present, instead of defending. To offer, instead of arguing…
Learning comes from curiosity and limitless desire for growth. It also comes from the ability to stay open, receptive to change, to new ways of looking at things. It is underpinned by curiosity, child-like innocence, belief that anything is possible and courage – courage to try, fail, learn and try again. The courage to be vulnerable and therefore be exposed to hurt, pain, judgement…
I have heard the term ‘course junkie’ many times, but it seems to be only a label put on the people who are ‘seekers’ by those who are not. Also, I see a difference in the starting point – a behind the scenes talk in your head, such as ‘I am not good enough, I need this in order to be better, smarter, more spiritual, more educated or similar.’ and the one which runs like ‘I am really curious about this, I want to know more. I want to explore and grow and even though I am OK as I am, I know I can always grow, push limits”…One approach is inspired by turning away from(feeling of not good enough, feeling inadequate or unable to deal with life’s situations), whereas the other one is inspired by turning towards (growth, pursuit of excellence, pushing boundaries, creation and innovation of self). I know because I have experienced both, I was running away and running towards. To be honest, it does not matter where you are coming from, if you are moving rather than being stuck, you are actually more likely to be living your life than avoiding it!
Katherine Woodward Thomas refers to it as ‘living the questions’. It is spending your life in enquiry, in wonderment and also being able to tolerate the uncertainty – not knowing. The rigid mind is fixed in right or wrong, correct or false, there are only definitive answers and judgement. The not-knowing bit is really difficult to tolerate, the mind is always racing trying to find a solution. I can tell you though, that my life really started to change once I shifted my focus on asking questions, rather than frantically trying to find solutions, to respond to everything and everyone, first of all to my ego’s calling. Asking questions, quality questions, that bring insight, as opposed to asking questions that demand a quick fix solution, is what I found creates incremental, but sustained change. Sometimes the change can be a breakthrough – a moment when illusions and until then deeply rooted cherished beliefs are shattered -like a glass ball bursting into million shards in front of you. You may get cut or grazed a bit in the process, but your eyes and your mind will be focused on the pouring light that is coming through – the fresh insight.
In juxtaposition to a rigid, closed mind, that believes has all answers (or even avoids contemplating that questions are endless, let alone answers), is a fluid, open mind that allows uncertainty as well as the possibility that something else, apart from black and white thinking, can be an existential basis from which to direct your life. The Buddhists call it ‘Beginner’s Mind’, in Christianity we are asked to ‘become like little children’ in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono it is the process of cleaning your mind of all memories and returning to ‘zero state’ which is actually the state of divine love inside us, the state free of judgement, blame, guilt, shame and polarity such as ‘right or wrong’. In his book ‘Zero Limits’ that is what Joe Vitale refers to – by taking full responsibility for our thoughts, actions and our lives, without self-blame, and cleaning ourselves of all guilt, resentment, fear and judgement, we actually get ‘back to zero’. A place where we really have no limits, and everything is possible. It is the same as ‘being in innocence’ and allowing the possibility that ‘we do not know anything, therefore, everything is possible’ according to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
Throughout history, there have been many spiritual practises and philosophies that have challenged our beliefs, pre-conceptions, and perceptions that we assumed – were knowledge. After all, what is knowledge? Isn’t it so that new discoveries are always replacing old facts, theories and beliefs, that change is the only constant thing? I have always been fascinated by Koans, self-paradoxical riddles and questions used in Zen Buddhism to exhaust the analytic and egoic mind in order to reveal the more intuitive no-mind. They are not about arriving at an answer, they are more about the revelation that there are no fully satisfying answers.
From time to time I remind myself that it is all about our perception and if I keep asking myself ‘how do I know that?” I will actually never arrive at a definitive answer – it will just be a temporary perception, or perhaps a belief that is so strong and deeply rooted that we equate it with reality. Floating and frolicking with joy on the open seas of a fluid, open mind, is much more fun, and brings the much-craved sense of freedom. It is the freedom from self, rather than of self.
So learning how to unlearn and cleanse and empty your mind is one of the most powerful ways to keep growing. As the Zen master says in this little koan:
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Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
Zero Limits, Joe Vitale, Ihaleakala Hew Len
The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell