October 2013: The Wisdom of Not Knowing

by Brad on September 30, 2013

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is.”
— Soren Kierkegaard       .


I don’t know.” Three simple words that seem nearly impossible for most people to say; yet, when said, open a whole new world of possibility, learning and freedom. What’s up with that, anyway? We live in an unforgiving society, one that continually pressures us to know it all, get everything right, avoid mistakes and hide our vulnerability. That’s left us in fear of saying, “I don’t know.” Intellectually, we may not believe this is so; behavior says otherwise.

17150551Despite the “reasons” we hide not knowing, let’s look at what happens when we do that. Thinking stops: we’re afraid to risk the unknown. Dialogue stops: we’re afraid to be seen as vulnerable. Learning stops: we’re afraid to ask questions. In this place of fear (a place which, of course, we can’t admit to being) we either retreat inside ourselves or lash out at others. Both are defense mechanisms to hide our ‘not knowingness.’ See if you can find examples – in yourself or in those around you; then see if you can trace the behavior back to a fear of not knowing.

Fact: we can’t know it all. (If you think you can, this month’s suggested book by Gregg Braden will blow your mind wide open.) How, then, do we deal more effectively with “not knowing?” I’m a consistent and persistent (and often insistent) advocate of how our thinking creates what we experience as reality. And I’m just as much a believer that tapping this power is a function of our conscious awareness of that thinking. Said from its consequence instead, if you don’t like your current reality (life), stop blaming life and look instead at the thinking that created it.

Clearly, we’re in “not knowing” most of the time; life it too vast and too complex for things to be otherwise. When we deny not knowing, we deny what is true. We don’t know. The problem, then, isn’t that we don’t know, but the judgment that we need to know anyway, that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t. But let’s see what happens when we accept what is true. Pretend you completely accept not knowing. Say, “I don’t know.” What comes next is big open space for possibility, and the freedom to explore it. When you say I don’t know, you allow others to be vulnerable as well. You see that they were afraid of not knowing, too. You invite mutual exploration, which opens the door to learning, which evokes growth and potential. And the choice to “be yourself” is life-affirming and freeing.

You come to the “wisdom of not knowing” through awareness and acceptance. If, instead of hiding from or fighting with your fears, you got to know them, you’d discover the thinking that created them. With non-judgmental awareness of that thinking, you’ll find your thinking changes, naturally and easily. Along with that, fear falls away. You’ll find yourself asking big questions, connecting more deeply with others, learning, creating new possibility, and being yourself. As Brené Brown noted in Daring Greatly, showing your vulnerability is actually an act of courage.

Exercise: Embracing your cluelessness: So, you’ve heard the rational side; now it’s time for the experiential side. Change happens not by knowing about it, but by experiencing it. Stop what you’re doing a few times each day. Think about recent instances of “not knowing,” along with how you responded. See if you can trace the thinking that gave rise to your response. Write down what you discover. Example: “My boss asked me to do ‘xyz.’ I didn’t tell her I had no clue how to do it, because I was afraid she’d think I couldn’t do my job. But now I’m even worse off, because she thinks it’s going to get done, but I don’t have a clue how. With hindsight, I can see how things would have changed if I’d simply said, ‘hey, can you help me figure out what you want here, so I can make sure I deliver?’” Via awareness of your fear, you open the potential for dialogue, and along with it, learning, growth and a deeper connection. (True, this exposes yet another fear, that she may choose to yell at you instead. But if you don’t know how, you don’t know how.)  Part 2 might be the following: once you get more comfortable and confident in your own not knowing (notice I suggested that claiming your cluelessness is a source of confidence … yes, I meant it), begin to involve others. Especially so if you manage others, but start asking people big questions – not to bust them (because they won’t know how to answer), but to stay with them so you can explore and learn together. Just try it out. You may be surprised.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

Let’s try it out. Let’s experiment. There’s a principle of Gestalt theory (of human development) that we learn, grow and change best when we try stuff out, often in small steps, or “experiments.” I’m not sure whether the Gestalt folks learned this approach from nature or from “trying stuff out” on humans. But it’s the way nature creates. And it’s the way nature manages all the things we would name as fears – making mistakes, being vulnerable, having all the answers, etc.

In nature, creativity is the driving force. Nature just creates. There’s no judgment as to whether it will work or not. There’s no worry as to whether it will look good or not. There’s no consideration as to whether it is sustainable or not. In nature, things work when they work. They’re sustainable when they’re sustainable. And they may or may not ever “look good,” but who decides that, anyway? In nature, what works and what’s sustainable is decided by the feedback nature gets from trying stuff out. As with a Gestalt experiment, whatever happens shows you the next steps. You don’t need to know ahead of time (which is a good thing, because you can’t know ahead of time.) And besides, as is true with human consciousness, it’s not possible, for the complexity and possibilities are staggering.

As you sit quietly in nature sometime this month (or week, or day), notice nature’s relationship with not knowing. And notice nature’s lack of judgment with her “not knowingness.” And notice how both contribute to the beauty, mystery and majesty of the world of which you are a part. Breathe. Absorb. Experience.


Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

  • The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription that offers you connection, interaction, challenge, and learning. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.
  • “In Nature’s Image,” a series of blog posts here. A new post every few days, each a simple suggestion for adding meaning to your life, accompanied by one of my images from nature. If you’d like them delivered to you by email, you may use the green icon (“receive blog via RSS feed”) on any page of my website or right here. If we are connected on Facebook, you’ll also find each post there.
  • My e-book, A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom, offering a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life. Reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it at no cost as a series of blog articles posted on my website.
  • The Road Not Taken newsletters (11 years, 132 issues of Purposeful Wanderings) available here as a pdf file.  
  • Photo images from my travels available here on fun products – note cards, coffee mugs – great gift ideas.

An invitation to possibility: If you have the courage and determination to step apart from the crowd and challenge conventional thinking so you can live instead with authenticity and freedom, contact me for a conversation that can shift your thinking forever. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work and the world – that allows you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month The Divine Matrix, by Gregg Braden. Life is far too complex for us to understand it all. And if that weren’t enough, Braden outlines, in layman’s terms (almost), how a field of energy, or matrix, permeates the universe, and is the source of the unity of all life. Spawned with the beginnings of the universe, this energy connects all that was, or is. He shows clearly and concisely how our thinking creates our reality, and why. I have to admit that, despite my study in both quantum science and consciousness, this is the first time I’ve understood, at an inner, or feeling, level, how my thoughts are connected to your thoughts, and how our thoughts bring our world into being. While his work is based fully in scientific knowing (today’s, not yesterday’s), it is not a science book. It’s about the mystery of our being, our oneness, and our unlimited potential. Fascinating. … And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


Download October 2013 pdf

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Adventure Insider October 1, 2013 at 11:57 am

Another great blog post.

I for one always thought I should have the answer to everything or at least know where to find it.

Then I read this quote and realized it was just not possible.

“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing” Socrates

If Socrates could say that, I for one feel much better about my personal knowledge or lack thereof.

Again, thanks for the blog post, it helped to reaffirm my beliefs.

Adventure Insider


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