The last page of every Oprah magazine has a short article titled “What I Know for Sure.”
It’s fun to follow this monthly chronicle of Oprah’s reflections on what matters most in life.
But, knowing-things-for-sure is tricky business.
Consider the over-heated rhetoric of your most recent disagreement at work or at home. Was there a lot of knowing-for-sure going on? Looking back, can you see how it was a battle of the knowers—with lots of certainty and plenty of knowing-for-sure to spare?
It’s comforting to know.
There’s a secure feeling that comes with certainty. But, as comforting as it is to know-for-sure; as secure as it is to have the right answers—the wisdom traditions have always considered having the right questions more important than having the answers.
The path of awakening is paved with questions—not answers.
We proceed on the path of awakening as we open to ever-deepening, heartfelt, soul penetrating questions. Our attention shifts from knowing to the uncertain, unbounded experience of what some teachers have called the don’t-know mind.
In the Tao Te Ching, the poet sage, Lao Tsu, describes what it’s like to live with don’t-know mind and follow the path of soul deep questions. He writes:
Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have purpose;
I alone don’t know.
The sage follows the path of questions which lead her into the unknown—into the wilderness of the Spirit—where uncontrollable inspiration and uncontrived guidance lead her to…the next question.
It takes a deep faith to leave the smooth, well-traveled road of knowing.
To exchange the well-worn map of knowing-for-sure for a blank page; to leave the well-lit highway of certainty for the rutted, un-mapped path of the soul.
Why would anyone choose to do this?
When viewed through the answer-seeking mind, such a path seems like death.
“Really?!,” the what-I-know-for-sure mind says, “Would you rather be sharp, bright, and purposeful or dark and dull—feeling your way along without a flashlight?
It hardly seems like a choice for the mind that believes in certainty. And when we listen to this mind, we cling to our certainties—in an attempt to bring the radical creativity of life under our control.
The more we cling, the less secure life feels.
Because, deep down, at the level of soul, there are two things that you really do know for sure.
1) That you don’t-know-for-sure. Really, really, really.
2) It’s not answers you need more of.
So, what do you need?
The capacity to rest in the unconditioned spaciousness of life without answers.
To take your seat on the cushion of your deepest questions…without fidgeting, squirming, or secretly praying for answers.
This is meditation. Meditation isn’t relaxation (though the body and mind may deeply relax).
Meditation practice takes you, breath-by-breath, beyond knowing into direct communion with life.
Breath-by-breath, meditation practice dissolves your current belief system and ushers you into the experience of life un-mediated by beliefs or answers.
It’s not that you don’t get to have any answers when you meditate—you do.
Life is filled with answers. With wisdom. With guidance.
Answers, wisdom, guidance arise spontaneously—and accurately—whenever you let go of what you know-for-sure and rest in the presence of not-knowing.
Every time you do release the mind’s clinging to knowing—an answer will arise.
Whenever you let go of old beliefs and simply rest in the unconditioned presence that is prior to any point of view: an answer comes.
What is an answer?
It is a point of view. An answer is a particular way of seeing and experiencing self, life, and the world. It’s not definitive. Not the whole story.
Even a deep insight. Even a revelation that rocks your world. As transformative and as sacred as these can be—they’re not the end of the path.
Every insight is a rest stop on the spiritual journey.
A place you get to pull over to take in the view. To see your life anew. To see where you’ve been; and maybe where you’re going; but, mostly just to stop and look around.
Sometimes the view is inspiring. Other times it’s disappointing. Regardless, it’s not something you have to know-for-sure. It’s not the end of the journey. It’s a rest stop.
It doesn’t mean you know-for-sure.
Even with a life changing revelation that turns the tables on everything you used to think, believe and hold as true. Even then, it’s not necessary to enshrine this insight as knowing-for-sure.
Just enjoy the view for what it reveals.
More shall be revealed…
You don’t have to grasp for answers.
They come on their own. Points of view naturally arise.
Here’s the key: the depth and transformative power of the insight/wisdom/guidance that arises will be directly correlated with your capacity to rest in not-knowing.
The more you are able to rest in not-knowing, the more the answers that arise will come from the depths of your soul.
So your capacity to sustain a state of simple presence – without prematurely grasping at points of view—opens you to deeper and deeper revelations.
Meditation practice develops this capacity. As you practice, breath-by-breath, day-by-day, you let go of what you know-for-sure and become more and more acclimated to meeting life without any particular point of view. As you open yourself, without knowing, to life—life brings forth ever-new, ever-deepening vistas of insight, wisdom, and guidance.
Image: Author’s Own