Daily Archives: January 16, 2015

Not-knowing

2chairs

“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next.” – a tweet

Mostly, we like to be certain, don’t we? When I was in a leadership role, I often found myself in situations where folks expected me to know. I was expected to know the next step, the right thing to do, what not to do, and I was expected to know what would save us. Certainty would save us, and others would look to me as the leader to be certain, to know, to have the answer, to understand. Sometimes anger was expressed toward me, the leader, for not-knowing.

What do we really know? Do we know how this day will turn out? Do we know how we will feel, this afternoon? Do we know what our loved ones need from us? Do we know when we’ll feel better, or feel whole, or feel like ourselves? Do we know what will work, in any given situation? And do we know what “will work” looks like?

There is a kind of wisdom in not-knowing. Every day, we are confronted with situations that expect us to know. Every day, it is wisdom to not-know.

A friend of mine with young children posts on Facebook about funny conversations she has with her 3 little ones.
“We’re not going to MacDonald’s,” she says.
“Why?” her children ask. “Because.”
“Because why?” they ask.
“Because I said so,” she answers.
“Why?” they ask again.
“Because I’m the adult,” she says.

When we refuse to live in that state of not-knowing, we are like little children, asking “why, why, why” to every assertion. When we refuse to live in not-knowing, we refuse to accept what is true in every moment: we don’t know.

Our minds, our thinking, analyzing, always-knowing minds, expect to know. We expect to know the outcome of our actions, as if we were in control of others affected by those actions. We expect there’s a “right answer” to every question. When we take action, we expect everything to line up, like a squadron of soldiers, to have the outcome of that action be what we expect.

We think we are in control.

Finally, life is not like that. As much as our thinking-minds want to know, we can’t know. We can take action, and we can accept – or not accept – the result of our actions. We can live with the feelings of uncertainty, or we can do everything in our power to stay ahead of those feelings, to numb those feelings, to ignore those feelings. We can blame others when things don’t work out as we’d planned, or hoped, or dreamed.

Not-knowing requires a certain trust. Not-knowing requires us to set aside that constant, ringing question: “why?”
Sometimes, we just don’t know why. Like my friend and her children, as the mom, we simply get to decide. And then, we enter again through the gate of “not-knowing.” There it is again, and again, and again, and again…

Living in “not-knowing” is like a dance, a crazy, wonderful, energetic dance that whirls and whirls and ends up sometimes, across the dance floor, where we didn’t expect the dance to end up.

“Not-knowing” requires a certain trust, a trust in what is, and a trust in what is-not.
We can take an action, but when we do, everything else is out of our control. We don’t know how others will react. We don’t know if we will decide, now, or the next moment, or this afternoon, or tomorrow – that there is another choice we could have made.

To accept that life is “not-knowing” is to move into the dance, to be surprised, to live free of expectations, to know that we can do the best we can, and we will still receive gifts we didn’t know were there.  Feelings will still arise, unexpected events will occur.

We are not in control, as much as we want to be.  We simply – don’t know.  We live in a sea of uncertainty.

***

I suppose one way to understand is that to be an adult means we don’t know.

7802294254_377662167a_z