By Pelin Turgut.
The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again – Jiddu Krishnamurti
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, 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 of the fertile mystery of the unknown? Often, to not know feels like an admission of failure. It feels like being asked a question in class and stuttering while our classmates cringed or sniggered. It looks like being asked what we’re doing with our life, and having no idea, feeling confused and like a failure.
And yet, a life without the unknown becomes stagnant, and a spiritual journey without the unknown is someone else’s journey, facts we’ve learnt from someone else who was brave enough to venture into the mystery and discover it for themselves.
Many of the things we enjoy allow us to touch on this unknown quality. 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. The aliveness of meeting someone new, and for a few fleeting moments feeling their being without being burdened by facts about them. The freedom in meditation, when the meditator drops away, and we are in a timeless state, unsure of how long we’ve been there, or how much longer we’ll stay, just participating in the rawness of the moment.
Embracing the mystery of life
Not knowing isn’t an admission of failure. It’s often an honest opening to the mystery, and reality, of life. When we admit that we don’t know, a question can arise. An enquiry. An honest, and intimate participation in the fertile mystery that is all around us. We think that because we can describe something, that we know what it is.
This goes for the most sublime of spiritual experiences to the most mundane daily events. Do we really know what a bird is, or can we just describe it? Do we really know what enlightenment is, or have we just heard about it?
We talk about having a beginner’s mind. Part of this is being with our own not knowing. Having the innocence of a child that is fully absorbed in looking at the bird, precisely because they don’t think they know what it is. Who experiences (and therefore knows) the bird more deeply? The child who gazes at it, taking it all in, delighted by it, or the adult who says “Oh yeah, that’s a robin. Cute.”.
The unknown is not the same as chaos. We can’t live in chaos for too long, but for many of us, times of chaos are the only time we acknowledge that we don’t know, and as such we feel that the two are one and the same. The unknown is an attitude. It’s an orientation. It’s a wonder and appreciation. It’s an acknowledgement of the mystery from which we came, and will return.
There is fertility in this space. Just as sound comes out of silence, knowing – by which I mean deep, embodied knowing – comes out of not knowing. It gives space for intimacy. For honesty. For wonder, and deep experience.
So dear friends, what happens if you embrace your own not knowing?
If you meet everything and everyone, from a tree, to your lover, to your yoga practice, in this receptive, innocent, and open state? If rather than trying to make the unknown known, instead of trying to understand and demystify the mystery, you simply give it space to reveal itself to you.
Much of life exists in the unknown. In the feelings we can’t quite put words to, the moments that defy description, and the infinite mystery that we are participating in.
Dare to not know, and in doing so, to find out for yourself.