It’s hard to make a platitude about being human without automatic arrogance. The human experience is incredibly varied in its expression and what is true for one person is often not for another. What is, however, universal is our capacity for awareness. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the human experience is our capacity for self awareness.
The subtle irony here is that becoming more aware often begins with realizing just how little we are aware of. This kind of not knowing creates opportunity for getting to know.
There is a world of difference between knowing and getting to know. Knowing is a box full of stuff. You can’t add anything else to it. Getting to know is open and continuous. It is full of curiosity and adventure. Think of the early stages in an intimate encounter. This is getting to know.
But even understanding what not knowing means is elusive territory. It’s easy to fall into knowing that you don’t know something. And this isn’t necessarily not knowing. You might actually be closed off to the option of getting to know because you know that you don’t know.
Not knowing is subtle. It is an empty container – an orientation of openness that holds space for everything in the field of awareness with inquiry and exploration. In this sense, everything that you know (every concept that you hold) is an object in your awareness. Even the concept of not knowing is something to be examined with curiosity.
The early twentieth century mystic Gurdjieff shares that liberation is possible through the practice of bringing awareness to the experience of your awareness. This is a process of noticing yourself in relationship to the objects in your awareness.
Take a minute to do this right now.
Just take a few deep breaths and become aware of yourself being aware. You are reading something on a computer screen. Become aware of that. Become aware of your body and what kinds of sensations might be occurring at this moment. Become aware of yourself hearing sounds. Become aware of thoughts in your mind. Do you already “know” what you’re reading? What does it mean to not know it?
This kind of self inquiry and reflection is a continuous practice at the heart of not knowing. It is a practice of coming back to the direct experience of the present moment. And it is often an oscillation of losing one’s center and continually coming back to it.
Human nature inevitably defaults to knowing. With practice you bring yourself back to not knowing over and over again.
The value in recognizing how little you know is opening up to the experience and full possibility of life. You may have absolutely no idea how to start a company, grow a project, or get something done. If you judge yourself for not knowing these things or pretend that you do, you’re not likely to make constructive progress. By recognizing what you don’t know and being comfortable with that, you make yourself available to possibility.
This is as true in the subtleties of every moment as it is in your grandest aspirations. What we know is often a projection of the past. Not knowing is an opening into a future that is not defined by the past.
What would be possible if you didn’t know what was possible?