Not knowing what we’ll find

 

A part of Life 101 is having an open mind.

We don’t know what we’ll find in any exploration of life, whether it’s through science, psychological or spiritual explorations, or just through living our daily lives.

We honestly don’t know, apart from that it – most likely – will be different from what we think, expect, envision, hope, or fear. And when we admit to ourselves, and remind ourselves, that we don’t know, it helps us stay honest with ourselves and the process and notice what’s actually here.

It’s easier said than done. Our minds are typically experts at getting themselves caught up in hopes, fears, and expectations. Our hopes and fears have a charge, and that charge makes them irresistible to the mind. (Of course, the mind creates all this itself, but that’s for other posts.)

What can we do? We can notice. Allow. See it’s the play of the mind. Notice the specific fears and hopes. Meet them with kindness and respect. Inquire into the fears and hopes and see what we find. All of that helps the mind soften and release it’s tendency to get caught in its own creations of hopes and fears.

It can also help to see that this is universal. It’s an universal human experience. And it’s here for a good reason. Having hopes and fears, giving them a charge, and even for the mind getting caught in them, all helped our ancestors survive. We wouldn’t be here without it. At the same time, it’s not conducive to more rational big picture or long-term decisions on behalf of ourselves and humanity, or even for our individual contentment (if that’s what we seek).

Note: I mentioned charge above, and have written about it in other posts. The charge comes from thoughts – mental words and images, being associated with bodily sensations. Sensations lend a sense of reality and solidity to the thoughts and make them seem true, and thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. For instance, a set of sensation is taken by the mind to mean that I am this body, and that same idea is given a sense of substance and truth by the same sensations.

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Kurt Vonnegut: The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is

 

But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.

– Kurt Vonnegut quoted in At the Blackboard in Lapham’s Quarterly

The video cuts out just before the interesting part….!

Here is the diagram for Shakespeare.

I perceive, therefore I am

 

This is quite straight forward, and yet has a big impact to the extent it sinks in:

The only thing I know is that perception (awareness, consciousness) is. That’s all. Any content of experience is up for question.

For instance. I know there is experience here. That’s indisputable.

As for the content of this experience, I see a laptop, a room, a fire place, windows, I hear sounds outside, there is a cat here etc. Thoughts interpret my current content of experience in this way, and also adds a human being perceiving all of this, a me sitting here, and so on. And all of that is made up by images and words. It’s all up for questioning. It is, for instance, possible I exist in some sort of Matrix type reality. All of this content of experience may be created for me. It’s perhaps unlikely, but if I am honest I have to admit it’s possible. (And in a loser sense, it’s accurate. My world, as I perceive it, is created for me by this mind, by life.)

Also, I know quite well that as I question my thoughts and assumptions, including the most basic ones of a me and I, what’s revealed is often quite different from how it initially appeared.

So in this sense, Descartes had a point. If we take cogito to mean perception, he was close. I perceive, therefore perception is.

That’s all that’s known. Anything else is up for questioning. (When I wrote “I perceive, therefor I am” in the title, it’s intentionally sloppy – and more aligned with Descarte’s statement. It’s assumed that the “I” in that statement is questioned too, and that even “perception” is questioned. What is the “I” that’s perceiving? Can I find it? What’s left when I see that my images and words of an “I” are not “it”? And if I look, can I really find perception? Can I remove it and show it to someone? Can I take a picture of it and publish it in a magazine?)

Just to mention it: Questioning doesn’t mean not using conventional views as guides for my everyday life. I will still do that. The only difference is that I am open to question even my most basic assumptions, and from that holding them much more lightly. From taking my assumption as true, solid and real, and identifying with them and feeling I need to protect and defend these identities, I recognize them as assumptions and hold them more lightly. And that gives a sense of ease in my life.

Adyashanti: Then I realized I was back with myself

 

When my spiritual life really took off, was when I had to seriously entertain the question that maybe this whole enlightenment thing is just a nice pipe dream.

And it was only when I could actually face that, then I realized I was back with myself, I realized I don’t know.

And all of the sudden, when I was back in “I don’t know”, boy, did I have capacities I didn’t even dream of, then they started to come forward.

But as long as I was away from that, in “I know it’s possible, I am gonna get there” that was all belief, that was nonsense. I didn’t know any of that.

– Adyashanti, Kanuga Retreat, session 10

Admitting I don’t know

 

In my late teens and early twenties, I had a phase where I explored astrology, palmistry and psychics. It was mostly out of curiosity, although there was also an element of wishing to find a sense of safety. There was a belief that I could find a sense of safety knowing – or thinking I could know – something about who I am and my future.

I knew I couldn’t know, of course. And there was quickly little interest in those topics (apart from as projections, and then working with those projections).

Now, there is a genuine relief in not knowing. I see the stress inherent in thinking I know something about who I am (identities) or the future. And – through specific examples – I find the freedom and availability in seeing I don’t know and cannot know.

Every psychic in the world may say I will live until I am 95. And the truth is that I don’t know. That’s more true. More peaceful. More aligned with reality.

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Others know something fundamental about life

 

Other people know something fundamental about life that I don’t.

That seems to be a common thought or feeling, and one I recognize from my own life as well.

It is easy to understand why we have that assumption. We are more familiar with the facade of others than what is going on internally. And that facade is often one of being in control and knowing what is going on.

The sense that others know something fundamental about life is also a projection. Others are a mirror for myself, so it is a good guess that I know something fundamental about life, but I don’t quite notice or “own” it.

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Gifts of not knowing

 

There are many genuine gifts of not knowing….

In a conventional sense, there is a huge amount I don’t know about quite literally every subject.

There is a lot of information out there I am not familiar with. I have very limited experience. There are many far more knowledgeable and with far more experience about any subject. And even if I knew more than anyone else, that too is just a drop in the bucket compared to what will be known about it in the future, and that is a drop in the bucket in terms of what is possible to know. There is an infinite amount of possible information, perspectives and experience  about anything in life and in the universe. And what I do know, in a conventional sense, are only preliminary guides. I don’t know any of it for sure. (Apart from that it will change, and often does so dramatically, turning what I thought and my whole perspective upside down.)

So not knowing is shared. It is something we all have in common. It is something all life, all beings, share. We are all in the same boat. Just there is an immense beauty.

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Ignorance is bliss

 

Ignorance is bliss. That’s another one of those simple, rich and beautiful everyday pointers.

Usually, this statement is used to point to avoiding uncomfortable information and thoughts. I avoid it, so feel better in the short term.

So I can take it as a question and explore what happens around thoughts I tend to avoid.

What happens when I avoid thoughts that makes me uncomfortable? What is the experience? Does the thought surface anyway? Can I prevent a thought from surfacing? What are the practical consequences of avoiding certain information and thoughts?

What happens if I meet these thoughts with interest and curiosity? What happens if I take the time to inquire into them?

What are the specific information and thoughts I tend to avoid? What do I find when I investigate one of these? And another one?

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I need to know!

 

When something happens I don’t have a ready explanation for, it is a good opportunity to see my need-to-know mind.

As usual, it is easier to first see this in others. And right now, I can see it in the scramble to figure out what happened to Air France flight 447 where media and bloggers elaborate on a wide range of theories in the absence of any data.

This desire to know is partly very practical. Knowing what happened can help us prevent similar accidents in the future, and that is good. But when I compulsively spin stories in the absence of data, it points to being caught up in beliefs.

From here, I can work with it in several different ways.

How do I relate to the emotions and experiences that comes up for me around it? Do I resist these? What happens when I resist? Can I instead be with these emotions and experiences? Can I allow it, as it is, as if it would never change, with kindness and heart?

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You have too much fun breaking all the rules

 

Ohhh you have too much fun breaking all the rules
Ohhh maybe so much fun I just might break them too
You’re trouble
Oooh just trouble
Oooh you’re trouble
Mmm just trouble
Bitter:Sweet, Trouble

One of the synchronicities life is so full of: 

My wife picked up the copy of Astronomy I am reading, looked at an article called Is there something we don’t know about gravity? and read out loud…

Spacecraft flybys and the moon’s orbit aren’t following predictions. Whatever is causing this could usher in a new theory of gravity.

As a punchline, the lyrics of the music we are listening followed with Ohhh you have too much fun breaking all the rules. 

This is another reminder of how life is full of pointers and questions for practice. We create stories about the world, including through science, and life show up differently. It is not limited by our stories or rules. And that is beautiful, there is no problem there. But if we take those stories – any story – as true, we are in trouble. Or rather, we perceive life as trouble. 

You’re trouble
Oooh just trouble
Oooh you’re trouble
Mmm just trouble

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Expectations = plan

 

M: … but in reality if he went out and used again, it could be tough for me.

Byron Katie: Oh, there’s a plan. “I think I will plan that.” [M laughs.] If you want to know your plan, look at your mind. It will show you. “That will be tough.” There’s a plan.

On my way through PDX to San Francisco, I read short sections of Who Would You Be Without Your Story and then stayed with it for a while, letting it work on me.

The quote above especially made an impression on me, maybe because it is something I have explored on my own lately.

When I have an expectation, I have a plan. I have a plan for how it will turn out, and I may either interpret what happens so it fits my expectation, or act so it is more likely to happen – to the extent it can at least.

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Resistance to don’t know

 

Resistance to don’t know can show up in different ways…

If I want to know, but can’t find a story to land on, there is a sense of confusion. Identification with a desire to know without finding a good candidate story, creates a sense of confusion.

If I want to know, and find a story that can play the role, I may take it as true. I pretend it is true, and live as if it is true. I make it true for myself in my mind and life, as well as I can. And life plays along as well as it can.

In both of these cases, identification with a resistance to don’t know is identification within content of experience, creating a sense of I and Other. In the first case, Other is the desired and elusive story of knowing. In the second case, Other is any story threatening the apparent truth of the story I decided to cling to as true.

And all of that applies to this as well. These stories are just pointers, questions, something to explore. What I find is another question.

There is no truth to any of these stories., including this one. At most, they can be pointers (apparently) helpful in some situations and not other.

When I go into knowing, there is automatically a sense of I and Other. A sense of being located in time and space. A sense of something – a story and its identity – to protect. A sense of substance and reality in the story.

When I allow it all – including the resistance to don’t know – there is a sense of opening in all directions. Not being located anywhere in particular. Receptivity. Curiosity. No story or identity to protect.

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Everything you know is wrong

 

everything_you_know1

Helpful insights and pointers can come from any source. Some of my favorites are church signs, book titles and lyrics.

The book above is prominently displayed at one of our local grocery stores, and it is a great question and pointer. Is it true that everything I know is wrong? How is it true for me? What do I find? 

When I use statements from any source as questions in this way, what I find is often quite different from what is intended by the source. That only adds to the rich yield of those pointers. 

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Demystifying and mystifying

 

mp535carter-the-great-posters

In most areas of life, demystifying that which can be demystified is a practical and sensible approach. (Or so we think in our culture, so why not play along?)

Most spiritual teachers today do a good job demystifying mysticism. They use a clear and direct language. They use a practical approach. They often describe direct experience instead of relying exclusively on traditional – and sometimes confusing – terminology.

And by doing this, what is truly mystifying is left even more obviously mystifying.

Something is. What can be more amazing?

And I don’t know. A story may appear functional in a practical sense, but it is still a story. A story may appear to point to what I am, but it doesn’t really. Even when what I am is awake to itself, that is all that is known. And even that is mystifying.

So it can be helpful to demystify that which can be demystified, such as maps and pointers, leaving what is truly mystifying still mystifying.

And it may be less helpful to do the reverse. To mystify that which can be clear. And to demystify – by taking stories about it as true – that which is genuinely mystifying, which is everything.

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Don’t take it as true

 

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself.

That is how the Buddhist teachings are presented, and it can be understood in a couple of different ways.

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself. See if it is true. See if the stories are true.

Or… Don’t take it as true, because no story is true. Use it as only as a pointer for your own exporation.

Baffled

 

One of the reasons I enjoy the magician Tommy Cooper is that he seems to be completely baffled by what is happening. (See Too many bottles.)

And that is how it is for me as well. Whatever happens is completely baffling.

Fingers move. Letters appear on the screen. They reflect thoughts. Others can read them and understand. There is awareness. This human self funcitons in the world. Choices are made. There is a sense of a separate I here or not. There is something rather than nothing.

I am every bit as baffled as Tommy Cooper.

And all of it is a play… Pretending to be baffled. Being baffled. Covering it up and pretending to not be baffled. The tricks themselves.

It is all play.

Not knowing in two ways

 

Not knowing comes in two distinct flavors…

There is the not knowing outside of thought and stories, and the not knowing inside of thought and stories.

Awareness is inherently free from knowing, and this is noticed when this field of awakeness and form awakens to itself as a field, inherently free from the filter of any story, including the stories of a separate self, a center, a subject and object, and so on. This is the not knowing outside of thoughts and stories, the not knowing inherent in the Buddha Mind. And we can notice this one in a simple way by asking ourselves: is knowing inherent in the awareness of what is happening here now, or does a sense of knowing come from the filter of thought overlaid on this?

Then there is the conventional not knowing, the not knowing within the context of stories. The world is always more than and different from our stories about it (our maps, theories, assumptions, guesses, beliefs), so our stories are of temporary and practical value only. They help us orient and navigate in the world, but not much more than that. Inherent in any story is the not knowing from it having only limited and practical value, at best, and from the equally limited truth in each of its reversals.

Noticing and becoming familiar with both of these forms of not knowing is of great value in our lives. The first not knowing help us notice what we really are, free from and outside of any stories. The second not knowing helps us see stories as only tools of practical and temporary value. Both help us find ourselves as that which is already free from stories, see thoughts as just thoughts, and free us from taking stories as anything more than just stories. There is a mutuality between both, one offering insight into the other.

And they are really just two ways of talking about the same.