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Our lives are filled with not-knowing.

You can’t know how that event you planned will turn out. Or how to make new friends. Maybe you don’t know which summer camp to send your kid to, or how to clean the drain in your kitchen sink. You may not be sure if you want to move forward in a strained relationship. Or you don’t know what to do about a new opportunity at work. Or what to have for dinner. Or what you want to be when you grow up. Or which deodorant to buy. Sometimes you don’t know how you feel, what you think, or what to do. You just don’t know.

For most of us, when we don’t know, we get tense. We want to fill up our not-knowing with figuring out, or rushing ahead, or clenching around a particular outcome that appears optimal.

We don’t notice that not-knowing is its own experience, and a precious one. Not-knowing can have a quiet, open quality, if we let it. It’s the birthplace of wonder.

Sometimes I like to think of not-knowing as the body, mind, and heart finding their way back into balance, so the next step can be an appropriate one on which they all agree.

The space for wonder can feel less available, however, when a sense of time pressure is present, or if a decision feels important.

In these cases, we forget that urgency and significance are also their own experiences.

If you are someone who sometimes struggles with not-knowing, here is a recipe that may help.

Note: you might get the most from this following piece by listening to it and treating it more like a meditation during a time when you’re struggling with not-knowing or wanting to figure something out. To do that, the link is here.

First, notice any sense that you are trying to figure something out. Notice what it feels like to try to figure something out. Notice what it does to your forehead, and your breath, your eyes, your jaw.

Then see if you can notice that at this moment, at least, you don’t know

And then notice what it feels like to not know. Again, check in with your body, especially your breath. Notice how your mind reacts to not-knowing. Is it spinning? Is it busy? Is it loud? Is it laser-focused? Or scattered? 

Notice if there is resistance to not-knowing. You might notice this resistance in the body itself, like your chest feeling tight, or your stomach swirling. Or you might hear the mind saying things like “I don’t have time for this.” or “I have to figure this out.” or “I need to know what to do.” Notice any tension in your physical body. See if you can just let all that be here. (Since it is anyway.)

And then notice again, that in fact, you don’t know. That’s just true, at least for now. Everything else you’re noticing is happening on top of an experience of not-knowing, like sand at the bottom of a rushing river.

Ask the mind if it’s willing to step back for just a moment or two, while you explore the experience of not-knowing itself. Promise that it can resume figuring out as soon as this exercise is done.

If it’s not willing, don’t pressure it. Let it do the job it thinks it needs to do to keep you safe, and come back to this later if you’re called.

If it is willing, then let it drift away while you allow yourself to drop into the experience of not-knowing.

Let yourself not know.

Notice, that you don’t know.

As you do this, you may notice a relaxation. You might also notice a sense of panic or loss of control. You may notice how much you want to know.

If any of that arises, see if you can notice those feelings as feelings and allow them to be here as best you can. Relaxation arising. Panic arising. Wanting arising, in the space of awareness that you are. Relax around them. Make space for them. Let them rise and fall like a musical crescendo or a wave building and crashing on the shore of your awareness.

And then come back to the vast and simple space of not-knowing.

Notice any sense that if you allow not-knowing, it means you’ll never know.

That is usually the feeling behind the thought “I have to figure this out, and soon!” For a beat, let that feel as true as it does.

And then check, when you feel the pressure of I have to, and I have to fast! Does that help you to feel creative? Curious? Open? Or do you find yourself pacing back and forth and back and forth and back and forth over the same mental ground? 

So just for a moment, see if you’re willing to try something new, simply let yourself not know.

Let yourself not know. 

Let not-knowing be here, as innocently as a bird chirping outside your window. Notice it as a present-moment experience. See if you can find some pleasure in it, some relief, some truth.

If wanting-to-know arises again, just welcome it here too, like another bird chirping on another branch. If a sense of urgency arises, or wanting to figure it out, let them sing their song, while you just notice these things.

And then let yourself not know.

Eventually, knowing will arise. Sometimes it will come in the form of mental clarity or inspiration, other times, you’ll simply notice the body has gotten itself into action.

Either way, log these things. Log the way that knowing can arise, without effort, from not-knowing.

Begin to teach the nervous system that not-knowing is just what happens sometimes, and it is safe.

It can even become a delicious reprieve in a world buzzing with abundant directionality.

And just as a reminder, you can come back to the audio version of this post any moment you find yourself in resistance to not-knowing.