The Importance of Not-Knowing
Updated: May 12, 2020
“Knowledge is power” is a famous quote present in many self-help books, an expression to stress the importance of knowledge in making our way through life. Knowledge is what sets us free, it is what gives us the tools to make great breakthroughs in the world we live. Though this might sound a logical assumption, in this post I would like to invite you to consider how much knowledge is actually limiting and preventing us to realize deep truths about our self and the world we live in. Credits to Peter Ralston to let me value not-knowing as the most powerful tool to get to what is absolute true about myself and reality.
When we were born we knew nothing about the world and pretty soon we started learning a good deal of information about our self and the environment we were living in. We learnt what was dangerous and what was safe, we learnt to recognize where food was coming from, we learnt to identify our body and what was separated from it, we learnt which tricks were useful to drag someone else’s attention and so on. We have started obtaining knowledge that over time has allowed us to know who we are, it has helped us to build and shape our personality and it has allowed us to discover and make our way into the world. This knowledge was and it still represents an important tool to control the environment in which we found our self, a tool to be able to interact and survive within reality. It is as if knowledge represents the perfect antidote against our insecurity and fear of the unknown: by knowing what we are dealing with, our insecurity disappears and a sense of control assures us.
The culture we live in plays a fundamental role in shaping our reality and in giving us truths about the reality we live in. Each culture tells us what it is healthy to eat and what is unhealthy, it tells us which religion to follow and it warns us not to listen to anything else, it tells us what it is moral and what is unethical, it tells us what is best to dress and what is outmoded. Without realizing it, culture sets for us a web of beliefs, rules and information in which we found our self navigate without questioning whether or not these are objective truths. The knowledge we get from our educational system gets so rooted in our mind that it becomes our objective reality and at some point we even forget that it is something we have learnt. This process is reinforced by the sense of security and acceptance we feel by following certain rules and give us an identity that rarely we question because we might be immediately seen and labeled as an outcast. Since these rules are shared by the most, we do not recognized that we are constantly pulled here and there by conceptual forces.
Not-knowing carries within itself a negative connotation because it is associated with ignorance and with a feeling of uncertainty. Everyone at school had this feeling of embarrassment and uneasiness when the teacher caught us in not-knowing an answer or a solution to a specific issue. Since early age we are pushed to find answers, to solve any kind of problems with the assumptions that knowledge is what will help us in being successful. Knowing is so important that many time we also lie about something rather than admitting that we simply have no clues about it. Since we have been taught that knowing is good, our craving in finding answers pushes us to make something up to fill up all the cognitive blanks of which we have learnt to be ashamed of. This way of acting is so contorted and messes up that we end up feeling relieved by having found something to say to the detriment of honesty and truth.
What people do not appreciate and overlook is that not-knowing is prior to knowing. Before something is known there must be an empty space to let knowledge appears. Not-knowing is the source of knowing, it is what is always present but nevertheless we constantly avoid it and feel afraid of. The attention is always focused into content and not to what allows the content to be. Knowledge comes and goes but its container has to be necessarily always there. Not-knowing should not be seen as the absence of something but as a fundamental propriety of reality out of which something can appear and become real, something that allows any investigation to take place. Could scientific and religious knowledge appear if there was not a formless container out of which these fields could come from? If the nature of reality intrinsically came with scientific knowledge, could anything else appear? If all you have is a square container, could you fit within something that is circle shaped? The state of not-knowing is what gives infinite freedom and openness for anything to appear without any constrains because itself has not limitations. I do not want to push too much on this important insights but this overlooked truth is so important that it touches also existential assumptions about what we think we are and what reality appears to be.
I anyway invite you to consider that maybe what you point as yourself and reality is only content that comes from a Container that has no shape and form out of which anything can appear and that maybe that Container is you.
The spiritual path implies that you allow yourself not to know and this is a very difficult task because all your life has been a crazy race to learn more and more. People do not understand that not knowing represents the ground to create a space to any honest investigation and people are unaware that in reality they do not know much about reality in its absolute terms. Just to be clear, thinking and knowing that you are a human being physically made out of flesh, bones, molecules, atoms or energy living in a physical world made out of independent objects is ignorance, you are out of track. This is a conceptual model of reality and it does not correspond to your personal experience. It seems to be that way only because your educational and cultural conditioning have brainwashed you and you never took the time to question this model. I know it sounds crazy but the problem is that these assumptions comes from a knowing position. As long as we take the materialistic perspective as the container on which reality appears, we do not leave any space and room for something different and maybe more true. You might need to accept and swallow the bitter truth that maybe most of the thing you have been taught and learnt in school is inexact and do not represent an accurate model of your daily experiences. Of course this a hard thing to do because it goes against any social and individual survival mechanisms. By stepping back into the field of not-knowing you will be judged and labeled by our society as stupid and being non-sense and it does not feel like a safe place to stand. This new perspective goes against what noble prizes are claiming, it goes against the most intelligent personalities of our century, it goes against your current perceptions of what you and reality are. You will likely be mocked by claiming such things as much as the ones claiming that the Earth is flat. The difference is that these claims can be "experienced" and verified directly by you, meaning that you can finally wake up and remove all the beliefs and assumptions that have been thrown to you over decades and that you have accepted with no reservation.
You might be reading my blog simply because you know me, maybe because you are curious or maybe because there is something within you that does not feel right. As if there is something more in life that is slipping away and you do not know where to look to find the answer. Thought as I said in my previous post (link), some knowledge is necessary to orientate in this new reality I am inviting you to explore, acquiring or changing knowledge will not help you to fully grasp what it is been said here. You do not need to focus on the content but on That which functions as the container of reality. You need to look for the nothing that allows the something to be there. As Lao-Tzu said: “it is the emptiness within the cup that makes it useful”. So, if you are honestly interesting in this path, stop focusing on what has a shape, form and colors and focus instead on That that allows those things to be.
What I find ironic and paradoxical is that our society (and therefore the people that are constituting it) is constantly bragging about how much it knows, it often shows off with arrogance all the scientific and religious knowledge it has acquired over centuries against some less educated cultures, it speculates all sort of things but when challenged individually in answering “who are you?”, deeply inside an immense and unbearable sense of ignorance has to be recognized. And, I believe, it is this sense of ignorance about our own existence that pushes us in focusing more in doing rather than being, that this ferocious desire in accumulating more and more knowledge is indeed a distracting and defensive mechanism not to admit that we have no clue who we are.
Would not be better for everyone to know on behalf of who we are doing and chasing things all day long?
We are used to experience reality and our self as something that can be put in words, pointed, described, communicated and shared with others and that is where spirituality differs. What I personally realized is that going down to this path, you will be left with nothing and you will be unable to share this realization with others because it goes beyond words, language and knowledge. You will walk through your life from a not-knowing position but with the absolute awareness that this is the safest place to be in this world. As I hope you will realize your true nature cannot be pointed, it is simply is.
Thanks for reading and see you next week!