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Not Knowing

Do you remember learning something in school, maybe in first or second grade, and getting really excited about it? I do! I can recall the first time all the letters that had seemed jumbled together suddenly made sense and I started to read. It was like opening a magic door. From then on, school became the place where I learned something new every day and I was constantly struck by how much I didn't know. It felt like the more I learned, the more I realized how much more, new information was out there! It was exhilarating and it still is to this very day.

There is a mystery about gaining access to previously unknown facts. While we can look something up, especially now with Google and the internet in general, it usually also expands our minds with some idea that we couldn't even imagine existed.

On the other hand, there is a dark side to this, or, at least there was for me. As a child I couldn't possibly have the knowledge that I now have or even had 40 or 50 years ago, yet I always felt like I was "supposed to already know". My mother's childhood was harsh. She was the youngest of five children born to eastern european immigrants. They were poor and she had a serious illness. When she was around seven her mother died and the following year her father also passed away. She was not raised with warm fuzzies and she would get angry with me when I did something like reach up to touch a hot stove. Instead of explaining something I didn't understand, she yelled at me as if "I should have known better". I'm sure very little was clarified for her as a child and she did what she knew. Consequently, I developed keen powers of observation and I was constantly vigilant so that I wouldn't get caught short not knowing.

In school, my teachers had the specific task of helping me learn and I was blessed with some wonderful, patient, caring instructors. What originally was a kind of survival technique became a lifelong thirst for knowledge. As my quote said in Monday's Pleasure Peek:

"It's humbling, eye-opening, and liberating to suddenly realize that you didn't even know what you didn't know."

Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking we know what we need to know, but even then, life will usually throw a random, sparkly bit of information that makes us go "wow".

There is a lot of attention brought to the concept of having a "beginner's mind" when studying mindfulness and meditation. If we go into any situation, already certain of all the facts at hand, we will surely miss a fascinating detail or two that might even hold the key to a bigger knowledge or that might contribute to our general happiness, serenity, or inner peace. There is a story of an ancient wise man who was approached by a professor who said he wanted to learn from the master. The wise man agreed and offered him some tea. This professor went on to talk and talk about everything he knew and had studied and researched. As he rambled, the zen master started pouring tea and let it fill up the cup and then, overflow all over the saucer and onto the professor's lap. When the professor jumped up and asked the wise man what he was doing, he replied, "I am simply showing you that as long as your mind is so full, no matter what I offer you in the way of wisdom, you will not be able to take it in just like this teacup cannot take any more tea. If you truly want to learn, you must empty your mind and be open to what you don't know."

Understanding that we don't even know what we don't know can be thrilling. Bringing a beginner's mind to any situation can only be illuminating. This is how we keep growing and expanding. This is what I wish for you.


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About the Author




Barbara L Cummings, MS, RN

the Mindful Maven and Mistress of Meditation, is a sassy Queen-ager, mentor, confidante and trusted guide who provides people with everyday life support. 

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