The Sanctuary of Not Knowing

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Suggesting spiritual refuge is to be found in ‘not knowing’ rings a familiar bell, though ironically, striking it yields no sound.

It has no tone; yet all vibration is missing. I am intrigued. The clapper isn’t striking anything solid, as if that would be too much like ‘knowing.’ As if knowing is the materialization of thought, as if anthropocentric knowing is the only way, as if what we know is all that can be known.

You can’t unring the bell.

Not knowing feels like an undiscovered land, an abundant refuge in which I am not the center, the kind of getaway we all seek but rarely find. It’s freeing to not know, and yet also a rich and compelling un-network connecting everything without having to be anything itself. Unseen and ubiquitous. Being shaken from whatever we thought we were doing and drawn into this provocative, gestating, undefined space of not knowing is not unlike being a fish suddenly realizing there’s such a thing as water. Aha! indeed.

It seems there once were some fish who spent their days swimming around in search of water. Anxiously looking for their destination, they shared their worries and confusion with each other as they swam. One day they met a wise fish and asked him the question that had preoccupied them for so long: “Where is the sea?” The wise fish answered: “If you stop swimming so busily and struggling so anxiously, you would discover that you are already in the sea. You need look no further than where you already are.           —Carolyn Gratton, The Age of Spiritual Guidance

When was the last time you encountered someone determined to ‘not know?’ When was the last time you — equally committed to not knowing — locked eyes with a fellow not knower? I can only imagine such a moment as spontaneous combustion — of possibility, the sharing of a unique view in which we remain uncommitted, an intermingling of presence and absence, witnessing yet not adopting every impulse to hold anything, processing without retaining. Holding all that is real without declaring any of it to be true. This is an island in the middle of a vast ocean, stillness surrounded by motion.

We’re used to connecting over what we know. We’re used to establishing agreements about what we know, forming alliances, partnerships, romantic, economic, political and spiritual relationships defined by all we agree is true. And not true. Everything hinges on sustaining those agreements: all progress, growth, everything, every framework of discernment, even love itself is restricted to the parameters of agreement. And we habitually behave as if shared knowing defines the entire context in which we swim.

Could it be otherwise? What does love become in a field of not knowing? What if we weren’t so quick to define water, instead allowing ourselves to marinate in a realm where every assumption dissolves? What if we weren’t so quick to believe knowing and believing are the only currency of being with. I mean, look around. How are we doing with that? Certainty about what we know is the root of all conflict. We are being driven over the precipice by those who know and who never take the time to not know. I’m not suggesting we deny physics or science in general, but just consider, even science is also invariably, inescapably, inadvertently conducted according to barely discernible biases about what is true.

Not knowing dissolves presumed boundaries. It becomes an  entree to trans-corporeality, an intermingling of bodies, minds and natural phenomena. We become each other for a moment–at least until the knowing mind interrupts. We enter an uncommon relationship that doesn’t make sense. And at this historical moment, attempting to make sense in the usual ways makes no sense at all. We should likely infer the parameters of this unknown territory have always been accessible beneath the awareness of the One Who Knows. We can become the one who doesn’t know — implying wholly different terms of relationship have always been available were we to ever simply let go of knowing.

Not knowing is Rumi’s field beyond right and wrong.  It lies beyond Yeats’ widening gyre. It might as well be the field beyond truth and falsehood. It’s the undiscovered and unappreciated spaciousness of mind, released from restrictions imposed by being So Damn Sure, which is what makes living with uncertainty So Damn Hard.

Truly realizing not knowing becomes a meditation on belief. Every voice tugging at the mind to give up this quixotic adventure arising from Belief becomes a restraint against discovering and exploring the freedom of not knowing. Not knowing implies a certain trust and fearlessness to remain present in a state of greater uncertainty than we have ever known. It also offers perspective on the routine uncertainties of our current predicament, making them more palatable, even mundane by comparison.

None of this implies the disappearing polar ice caps aren’t true. They are indeed. It is the reflexive struggle against uncertainty generating the pandemic rise of fear and anxiety just now. Not knowing allows us to befriend uncertainty.

We are not in control. We never have been, no matter now hard we cling to that myth or struggle to recover. Anxiety and fear are functions of belief. Knowing and doing are intimately related. Not knowing is a sanctuary in which we may release ourselves from impulsive doing to allay anxiety and fear. The sanctuary is where we can exercise non-doing, waiting for doing to arrive.

Can doing arise from non-doing? How will we know? Can doing exist in a field of not knowing? I’m going to say yes. I’m going to say enthusiastically that doing arising from not knowing is not like any doing we’ve done before because it emerges in a pervasive field of uncertainty.

If we choose to remain in not knowing, will we do what needs to be done? Will we even know what needs to be done? I don’t have the basic practical measures in mind, but rather the deeper personal existential and spiritual choices. We will know what must be done because whatever doing arises from not knowing will be enacted in a context of Presence, Presence being the absence of past and future.

All belief, all knowing arises with memory of a past and a vision of a future. Presence rarely exists in a field of doing, at least not in the fullest sense. Presence dawns in the act of fully relaxing into not knowing, allowing the past and future to fall away. We are here. We don’t need to believe in anything. We are available for not doing. There is no place for anxiety and fear to hide here. This is sanctuary.

 

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