In my last post I mentioned briefly the power behind the statement ‘I don’t know’. I grew up in a world where not knowing was considered something bad. Somehow I had failed at getting the the necessary information and knowledge was heralded as the holy grail.
I have since broken free from this type of thinking, partially because I realized that there is no such thing as knowledge; only opinions and more or less educated guesses. History has shown us time and time again that what we thought was sacred scientific knowledge is merely a collection of what we have observed so far. The universe doesn’t orbit our disc-world and yes, there are indeed black swans.
I also found out while coaching my clients and in my own coaching that ‘I don’t know’ can be a tremendous opportunity to make new thoughts, as long as I can disconnect the idea of not knowing being something shameful or embarrasing.
‘I don’t know’ then becomes a portal into the vast grayzone of life, a space where ideas & thoughts have yet to be labeled, judgements have not been made and yes or no simply does not suffice as an answer.
As a professional (as well as privately) I really appreciate clarity and although ‘I don’t know’ seems unclear at first it is really the start of the journey towards clarity of mind around a certain subject. New ideas and new thoughts are required to find the clarity within yourself and there is always a fair amount of learning involved in such a process.
Even when I have made up my mind about something and delved into my mind looking for where in the grayzone I stand on a certain issue, I try to keep in mind that I still don’t know. New information or new circumstances might come to light and I will see the situation completely different. What I have gained is not absolute truth, only my truth at this specific time. This has helped me greatly to detach myself from my opinions and truths. I know that everything changes so I don’t identify with knowledge and stay more open to others opinions & truths.
For these reasons I would like to honor ‘I don’t know’ as one of the most transformational phrases I have come across in my life.
Another important 3rd answer I first came across in Robert Pirsig’s classic bestseller Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is Mu.
The term Mu originates from the 13th century collection of Zen Kōans called The Gateless Gate. Kōans are Zen Buddhist teachings that come in the form of stories, questions, problems or dialogs between students and masters with the intention of invoking the great doubt, Mu. The word itself can easiest be translated as nothing, has not or without existence.
Mu points beyond my binary thinking of yes/no, on/off, one/zero because nothing really means no thing and even a zero is something. Instead Mu un-asks the question because a simple yes or no answer cannot suffice. My understanding of the question must be enlarged. This is also not a point to despair. Quite the opposite. Mu can be an even more important answer than yes or no, because it points to personal growth and an increased understanding of the context of the question itself. It is perhaps one of the most basic teachings of Zen Buddhism, as it evokes a beginner’s mind, where possibilities are endless and knowledge is secondary.
I hope that my exploration into the beautiful uncertainty will help you free your mind from black/white thinking and detach your knowledge/opinions from your sense of identity. Only then can our minds be truly free.