First 30 Days Blog

29 jan

Is It All Right Not to Know?

spirituality_rockpathOnce upon a time, a great scholar and a very wise person, a true sage, lived on the same street, and they arranged to meet. The scholar asked the sage about the meaning of life. The sage said a few words about love and joy, paused to reflect, and the scholar jumped in with a long discourse on Western and Eastern philosophy. When the scholar was finished, the sage proposed some tea, prepared it with care, and began pouring it slowly into the scholar’s cup. Inch by inch the tea rose. It approached the lip of the cup, and the sage kept pouring. It ran over the top of the cup and onto the table, and the sage still kept pouring. The scholar burst out: “What are you doing?! You can’t put more into a cup that’s already full!” The sage set down the teapot and said, “Exactly.”

A mind that’s open and spacious can absorb lots of useful information. On the other hand, a mind that’s already full – of assumptions, beliefs about the intentions of others, preconceived ideas – misses important details or contexts, jumps to conclusions, and has a hard time learning anything new.

This week, let yourself not know:
• Be especially skeptical of what you’re sure is true. Remind yourself: “Just because I think it doesn’t make it so.” One of my relatives was a wonderful person, but she had a problem: she never had a thought she didn’t believe.
• In conversation, don’t assume you know where other people are going and then stop listening in order to rehearse what you’ll say when they finally stop talking. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say; you’ll figure it out just fine when it’s your turn. Remember how you feel when someone acts like they know what you’re “really” thinking, feeling, or wanting.
• Let your eyes travel over familiar objects – like the stuff on a dinner table – and notice what it’s like during that brief interval, maybe a second or so, after you’ve focused on an object but before the verbal label (e.g., “salt,” “glass”) has popped into your mind. Try to expand that interval of not-knowing by relaxing your mind and your gaze and dropping any need to categorize what you see. Or go for a walk. Notice how the mind tries to know the things all around you, to place them in boxes so it can solve problems and keep you alive. Appreciate your mind – “Good boy! Good girl!” – and then keep letting go of needing to know.
• Now, go even further into the deep end of the pool – look at something and ask yourself if you really know what it is. Say it’s a “cup.” But do you know what a “cup” is, deep down? You say it’s made of atoms, of electrons, protons, quarks. But do you know what a quark is? You say it’s energy, or space-time, or sparkling fairy dust beyond human ken, or whatever – but really, do you ever, can you ever, actually know what energy or space-time truly is?? We live our lives surrounded by objects that we navigate and manipulate – spoons, cars, skyscrapers – while never truly knowing what any of it actually is.
• Deeper still – since you don’t really know what a spoon is, do you even know what you are? Or what you are truly capable of? Or how high you could actually soar? Consider any limiting assumptions about your own life . . . how you’ve “known” that your ideas were not very good, that others would laugh (or that it would matter if they did), that no one would back you, that swinging for the fences just means striking out. Is that so?

Notice how relaxing and good it feels to lighten up about needing to know. Soak in those good feelings so you’ll feel more comfortable hanging out in don’t know mind.

May you know less now than at the beginning of reading this.
And therefore, know more than ever.

Dr. Rick Hanson’s latest book is Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by First 30 Days on January 29th, 2010 in Spirituality | 3 comments Read related posts in

  • Add Comment


  • I found this article extremely interesting. I have spent, and continue to spend a big part of my life trying to understand everything that happens to me. I have a deep sense of “needing to know” and am constantly analyzing. I hope to some day soon be able to let go.

    — Added by MariaDasilva on January 31st, 2010
  • As a scientists I usually enjoy and cultive “knowing” and only for the last few years I’ve found the more rofound and deeper joy of not knowing, to be open to a deeper and higher level of understanding. I’m going to share this article with my university friends as an invitation to a new way of knowledge!

    — Added by sandrashalom on February 16th, 2010
  • enjoyed this post very much. I have been considering ‘not knowing’ and just generally letting go as a kind of vague but very appealing notion over the last few days. this post just put it all into words for me.

    — Added by paulinemyself on February 20th, 2010

Share Your Thoughts

You must be logged in to post a comment.