Monday, October 20, 2014

What is an Experience of Not Knowing?

By Jon Dunnemann



A perceiving is in itself pure, i.e., impersonal and real.
- Wei Wu Wei

Late last week, seated in my private space, there alone I came to the realization that I have been an anxious person from early infancy. However, I do not know the cause for this. Must a reason be made known to me in order for me to eliminate this lingering emotional condition? I think not.

In The Book of Not Knowing - Exploring the True Nature of Self, Mind, and Consciousness, author Peter Ralston informs the reader of the following:
...the work of understanding must be done by you, the reader. You've got to delve into your own experience. It doesn't become real merely by reading about it. Having an insight into your experience is not something you do on a whim, or merely by obtaining a chunk of knowledge. It takes looking into your inner workings, and as you, and... [it] starts with admitting that much of what you seem to know is only stuff you believe--perhaps have always believed--but have not personally experienced. Sometimes it takes the courage to say, "I've been pretending to know what everyone else seems to know, but I don't." It takes the courage to embrace not knowing as a real and present experience. This takes repeated efforts, which may be why Zen masters keep talking emptying your cup. 
The main challenge of getting to a state of not knowing is that we always look for something to be there. When you ask yourself. "What is the state of not knowing?" you'll search for something that is that state. Try it and see what occurs. Although there really is a state of not-knowing, it isn't filled with anything, so there's nothing there. It's not that one's experience vanishes, or that all perception stops, but whatever is perceived or known in this moment is recognized as distinct from the state of not-knowing. Not knowing is what is not known. It's what is not perceived or experienced in any way, so attention on this state finds nothing. It is open, unfilled; empty, in a sense. A true experience of this state, however, is more dramatic than you would think. Outside of an experience, all we have of not-knowing is the concept of a state devoid of knowing, or the idea that something is not known. These are ideas, thoughts about it, which are not the same as the actual experience of not knowing. Such an experience frequently comes as an awakening. You may feel vulnerable or have various reactions to it, but when you look closely you'll see that the reactions aren't the state; they are reactions. Not knowing is simply a lot of nothing, but this can be a very powerful experience.
It is the emptiness within the cup that makes it useful.
 - Lao tzu


Yesterday, as I approached an 18 month old little girl at work to place a hospital wrist band on her right arm I sensed her anxiety, discomfort, and worry. Reflexively, I sought to assure her with my posture, tone, and consoling words. Because she had not quite become comforted or convinced that all would be well, I began stroking her arm and then held her face and head ever so gently in my right hand. Surprisingly, she leaned into my hand,  rested there, and ceased any further attempts to cry.  Humbled by her response, I looked at her father's face which displayed both surprise and relief over his daughter's response. In that moment, there was no separate me, only all of us as having become one and the same spirit.

Is this the missing element needed to comfort my soul, and yours as well? Perhaps we all could benefit more by learning how to be more self-caring, self-compassionate or self-regarding. Fortunately, I am presently in an occupation where my outward practices continue to feed my motivation to give new attention to my inward practices.
Whatever your occupation in the world, be there and do the best you can. Make your life a meaningful one.
- Ron Rathbun

Master Yourself
Love yourself and be awake -
Today, tomorrow, always.
First establish yourself in the Way, then teach others,
And so defeat sorrow.
To straighten the crooked
You must first do a harder thing -
Straighten yourself.
You are your only master.
Who else?
Subdue yourself,
And discover your master.

(adapted from the Dhammapada, translated by Thomas Byron)