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That Bias Against Not Knowing
If you’ve lived long enough, there is a deeply transformative event that has probably happened to you.
I call it “breaking open.” It’s when your worst fears, your deepest separations, and the destruction of your most cherished beliefs lead you to such a deep despair, you begin to question everything you knew to be true.
You realize you don’t have any answers—you have nothing to offer, and a survey of your life reveals no value whatsoever.
The first time this happened to me, I was in a difficult marriage riding alongside an existential mid-life crisis. I didn’t know what to believe anymore. I didn’t believe in anything—certainly not myself. I felt like there was no “me” there anymore.
What finally returned me to a functional ego was a book by Dr. Gerald May, The Dark Night of the Soul. In it I found a sort of spiritual rock to cling on to while I rode out the existential storms of my life. In time, I found comfort in the embracing of that dark night, as it revealed to me the depth of my feelings, the breadth of my not knowing, and the cosmic panorama of who or what I might be.
The second visit to the dark end of the street was the loss of my partner. Her death broke open my heart, where I could see all the ways and hidden recesses of my resistance to loving, and the terrible regret I now had that I never truly shared myself with her.
It hit me much harder than I had expected, or I should say her death was not what hit me so much as the realization that I never let myself love her the way she loved me.
The further shock was seeing how I lied about it and denied my own heart. Why was I seeing this now after she’s gone? I cried, I writhed in the remorse, and I went deep into the grief of how I had lost my own heart.
These two journeys laid me out spiritually, prostrate on the rocky shore of the threshold to divine communion—a kind of ego destruction where nothing is important, and yet it all seems to have impact.
What got me reminiscing about these adventures was a talk by Miranda MacPherson called, “Ego Relaxation.” She describes her own “breaking open” of her spiritual practice that reduced her to an extreme state of not knowing. Not knowing who or what she was, not knowing if she had anything to offer the world or herself.
She finally came to an awareness that these profound states of not knowing are also part of who we are. And, in fact, are a gateway to our own divinity. As corporeal beings living in this dualistic world of opposites, we form biases in favor of knowing. We avoid and fight our own ignorance and take definitive steps to transform our ignorance into knowledge. Culturally, not knowing has negative consequences and is all twisted up with trust issues and existential security.
We diligently seek “answers” when we don’t know something and mistakenly carry over that habit into our spiritual life where there is a whole other thing going on. We get confused between ego knowing and the awareness of self.
The ego says it knows what and who we are—it knows what we’ve done and why. It knows what love is and is certain about its own potentials and purposes. These are all ego constructs, and they are the solid basis upon which we build our sense of what is real and what we are willing to experience.
The conflict arises when we attempt to connect to the universal. We don’t reference ourselves as being everything, because then there is no individual-ness, no point of reference between who we are and God. MacPherson points out that this is where the real spiritual work begins.
We can begin to acknowledge and relax all the ego constructs; we can begin to seek to deconstruct all those decisions and choices about who and what we are, admitting the truth that we are everything, and yet are nothing. Our life is created simply because we exist, and yet what we are is an ineffable single point from which all things proceed.
By laying out the ego and allowing it to be just as much a part of our being as the rest of our life, we allow a transcendence of the dualities of living. Our identity can be more truly seen as a loved and loving character, an avatar if you will, in this game we have gotten so caught up in.
Your identity is loved. Who you are at any moment is loved. And through that love is the eternal connection we all have to each other.
You can check out the podcast version here.