The Beauty of 'Not Knowing'
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
<<Today is a very special day for us at ACEBE because our dear friend Pelin Turgut ––an experienced Hatha Yoga, Meditation and Nidra teacher, an incredible dancer, a generous soul, and an overall amazing human–– has generously decided to contribute a piece she's recently written to our blog. We are delighted to have her share her innate wisdom in this piece she's entitled The Beauty of 'Not Knowing' ––an art most of us are still very unfamiliar with and from which we all can learn a great deal. We hope you guys enjoy it as much as us. And if you're curious to read some more, check out our other entries on 'Life in times of Corona' clicking here!>>
"The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again"
Humanity is filled with creation myths explaining how ancient ancestors first arrived on these lands, how gods created order out of chaos, and how all that we see and know emerged out of that which is unseeable and unknowable. 'To know' is a practice that makes us feel safe, secure, and held. Within the known, we can predict outcomes, we can make plans, and we can confidently stand on the ground of our knowledge. But what about the fertile mystery of the unknown?
In modern times, 'not to know' feels like an admission of failure. To say that we don't know something, to admit it publicly, makes us almost feel like being asked a question in the middle of class only to stutter while our classmates cringe and snigger loudly. It is almost like being asked what we’re doing with our life when the truth is that we have no idea. We feel confused, embarrassed to admit our shortcomings, and like a failure.
And yet, a life without the element of the unknown becomes stagnant, in the same way that a spiritual journey without the unknown is in fact someone else’s journey: a collection of facts we’ve learnt from the deeds and achievements of someone else who was actually brave enough to venture into the mystery of the unknown to discover it all for herself!
Though we are unaware, many of the things we enjoy daily allow us to touch on this quality of the 'unknown.' The joy of traveling and arriving in a new place and discovering not only the new place, but who we are in this new context, for example; or the aliveness of meeting someone new, as well, and for a few fleeting moments, maybe hours, feeling their being without having to be burdened by all the facts about them. The quality of the unknown can all so be found in the freedom we experience in meditation, when the meditator drops away and we rest in a timeless state, unsure of how we got there, how long we’ve been there, or how much longer we’ll stay, but participating in the absolute rawness of the moment nonetheless.
Embracing the mystery of life
The truth is that not knowing is not an admission of failure; instead, it is often an honest opening to the mystery, and reality, of life itself. For it is only when we admit that we don’t know something that questions can arise, that real enquiry happens as an honest and intimate participation in the fertile mystery that is taking place constantly all around us.
We tend to think that, because we can describe something with a lot of words, or images, or 'facts,' that we know what that something is. That we really know it. This goes both for the most sublime of spiritual experiences to the most mundane of daily events. But do we really know what a bird is, for instance? Or is it more that we can simply describe it or point at it? Or, to put a different example, do we really know what enlightenment is or have we just heard about it? Is hearing about something or describing that something the same as knowing what that something really is?
In the world of Yoga, we teachers often talk about 'having a beginner’s mind' and we do so, in part, in recognition of the beauty of 'not knowing.' When we are beginners or newbies at something, we ease without much issue into the groove of not knowing things. Think of the beauty of a child's innocence, a child that is fully absorbed in looking at a bird precisely because he doesn't think he knows what a bird is. This is exactly what 'not knowing' is all about, and this is precisely what having a beginner's mind is supposed to echo. For who experiences, and therefore 'knows,' the bird more deeply? The child who gazes at it, taking it all in, in delight of it, or the adult who says “Oh yeah, that’s a robin. Cute"?
Many of us still assume that 'not knowing' or the unknown is the same as chaos, but the reality is that they're not synonymous. While we humans can’t live in chaos for too long, for many of us, times of chaos are the only time we dare to acknowledge that we 'don’t know' what the future holds, that we don't known what is happening around us, that we don't really know what the meaning of anything around us really is... But because we're not used to 'not knowing' we feel that not knowing and chaos go hand in hand and that there's something negative about all of it.
Still, the unknown is an attitude, an orientation, a wonder and appreciation: an acknowledgement of the mystery from which we actually came and to which we will return one day eventually. There is fertility in this space, in the space of 'not knowing.' And just as sound comes out of silence, so does 'knowing' ––by which I mean deep, embodied knowing–– come out of 'not knowing.' It creates space for intimacy, for honesty, for wonder, and for deeper levels of experience.
The true question, dear friends, is what happens when we embrace our own not knowing? What happens when we meet everything and everyone ––from a tree, to our lover, or our practice–– in this receptive, innocent, humble, and open state? What happens when, rather than trying to make the unknown known, the undefined defined, the invisible visible... when instead of trying to understand and demystify the mystery, we simply give the unknown time and space to reveal itself to us? What do you think could come out of this?
Believe it or not, much of life still exists for all of us in the unknown: in the feelings we can’t quite put words to, in the moments that defy description, in the infinite mystery called life that we are all daily participating into... The challenge for all of us is to dare to stay with the initial discomfort of not knowing, and in so doing, truly find out what it is that we know fully, on our own.