It’s OK For You to Not Know


Galaxy NGC 5866. Credit: NASA/ESA

I used to be one of those people who always had to have an answer for everything, you know, a “know it all.” Then one day someone told me “You’re not at smart as you think you are, and you’re not fooling anyone.” The nerve!! But it was true. So I stopped being a person that had to have the answer and started letting other people come up with the answer. That was a lot easier!

Sometimes I still find myself needing to come up with an answer, figure it out, or worse, make something up. But lately, I’m attempting to cultivate the peace and freedom that comes from saying “I don’t know.” I’ve been giving myself permission to not know. And you know what?  I’m feeling pretty good about being a “not know it all.”

These days it’s almost a sin to not know. “What?” you often hear people say, “You didn’t know that?”

Seems like everybody needs to know everything. On Facebook, you can find out what people are eating, like, right now. You can tune in to the news any time day or night to know what’s going on.  We need to know what happened, what they said, how they said it, we need video so we can see what it looked like. I need to know exactly what you’re thinking, and why. We absolutely need to know the score, the winner, and why J.Lo and Marc Anthony split up. Our culture is obsessed with needing to know. There’s no room for the mysterious anymore.

Yet, life is the greatest mystery, in that most of life is unknowable.

“Where do I come from?”
“What does it mean?”
“Where am I going?”
“What happens when I die?”
“What does the future hold for me?”

These questions bedevil us because they force us into not knowing, and that can be uncomfortable; we want to know, and now!

However, there can be great value in not knowing.

Not knowing gives us the space for possibility. In Zen, it’s called beginners mind. When we know, or when we think we know, we sometimes close ourselves off to further knowledge, to alternate points of view, and to the fertile realm of imagination.

“Yeah, I know.” –  end of conversation. You don’t need to tell me more, case closed. But if I can say, “I don’t know”, then there is room for enlightenment. My mind can be open and receptive.

In the space of not knowing, we can come to know ourselves. We can be present to what comes up in the face of not knowing. What is it that creates the incredible need for you to know? Why do you get so upset when you don’t or can’t know? Do you really want to know? Look in the mirror.

We want to know the way and have clear direction. We need to know what it’s going to look like. We demand to know what’s going to happen. We strive for that feeling of certainty, that it’s going to work out the way we want it to.We’re searching for that sign, the arrow pointing, the explanation of why. We can prepare, we can plan, we can strategize and we can research. But sometimes life doesn’t give up it’s mysteries so easily, and we are faced with the cold hard fact that at times, we are lost, directionless, clueless, surrounded by fog, and completely, utterly and totally not knowing. And that’s exactly what needs to happen. Why? Because it’s happening.

In that murky place there exists the possibility of accepting,  and maybe even celebrating the not knowing, and that means accepting and celebrating life.  There can be great peace, when we give up trying to figure it out. We can become free from the need to know. There is great power in the knowledge that all of our existence takes place between knowing and not knowing.

It’s essential and necessary to not know. There is no knowing with out the not knowing. What kind of life would it be if we always knew? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be life (it would probably be a Hollywood movie.)

Of course, there is great value in knowing as well. But think about it, isn’t it more fun sometimes to not know? Then you find out and it’s anti-climatic: “Yeah, I knew it.”

Isn’t it more interesting to not know? (“What’s that guy’s name? Don’t tell me! Let me guess…” )Aren’t you more driven by the not knowing? (“I’ll find out even if it kills me!!” )

Can we be ok with not knowing and savor the mystery? Is it possible to get comfortable in the required space of not knowing? What can happen while we wait for the answer to be revealed to us, knowing that it may never be? Maybe the richness of life.

Knowing and not knowing: what is more powerful? I don’t know.

10 replies
  1. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I am glad you are working on the know it all thing because my early training as a teacher taught me to let exploration be the start of every new skill. But if you know the outcome where is the adventure… Not knowing is the start finding out is the adventure and sharing the knowledge is the greatest answer… rb

    • Teresa
      Teresa says:

      I love starting my day reading your articles! It is like when someone is teaching us something and we want to question. There are times when we just
      need to just say, “O.K.” !

    • Teresa
      Teresa says:

      I love starting my day reading your articles! It is like when someone is teaching us something and we want to question. There are times when we just
      need to say, “O.K.” !

  2. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    Thanks Brother Ted! Faith is belief without absolute proof or “knowing” If you have a strong faith then the world’s tribulations don’t affect you so much. Also. of course ignorance is bliss!

  3. Linda Blits
    Linda Blits says:

    So true and very timely considering this current climate of uncertainty and the fear it’s generating world wide.
    As we are bombarded with 24/7 news media overload, thanks for the reminder that “not knowing” can be rich with possibility!


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