“What is wrong with not knowing? You need not know all. Enough to know what you need to know. The rest can look after itself, without your knowing how it does it. What is important is that your unconscious does not work against the conscious, that there is integration on all levels. To know is not so very important.”
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
Not-knowing is fertile ground, not a barren wasteland. Before we can discover anything fresh and new, we need to rest into a relaxed but attentive state of not-knowing. Not-knowing is the foundation on which the conceptual arises and falls.
This may be obvious, but if we’re honest, we’re not very comfortable with not-knowing, are we? Avoiding the apparent ignorance and ambiguity of not-knowing, we instead look for confirmation of what we believe we are sure of, therefore defeating the purpose of spirtual inquiry. At the same time, avoiding ambiguity has a function. Not-knowing is death to the mind, and death is the most extreme and final form of not-knowing.
Ego is preoccupied with (and actually formed of) desire and fear and fabricates a world of superior and inferior people; nothing frightens it more than emptiness and uncertainty. Ego’s biggest fear is the realization of its illusory nature, a far worse death, it thinks, than the body dying. That is to say, believing in difference keeps it alive; its mission is to divide and conquer. In identifying with ego we fear the unknown and attempt to convince ourselves of certainty.
But not-knowing, in spiritual practice, isn’t necessarily the absence of knowledge; it’s a natural foundation on which knowledge comes and fades away. Spiritual maturity involves an uncensored letting go, not a perpetual amassing. You don’t even need to let go. You are the natural release.
We know nothing; not really, anyway—just a bunch of inherited stories. When we confess this, when we stop projecting our (necessarily) limited knowledge out to the world, then we just know. The only authority is this moment. This is the end of control and hope to the mind. We’re not the mind; we are the Aliveness of this moment, so this isn’t resignation or passivity. It’s realizing not-knowing, which is the only way to encounter life authentically and to inquire into it.
Is any concept, belief, or idea absolute? The mind thinks in absolute ways about the relative, causing the relative to masquerade as the absolute and the absolute the relative. A world of relatives (or duality) has no true absolutes. The mind-made separate self detests not-knowing; it desires more certainty and fears the loss of certainty. How does not-knowing make you feel? While asking yourself this question, notice how your mind spins time-based stories to move away from this apparently ambiguous moment. Here’s another question: Is anything actually certain?
We may feel anxious at first when we ask this question, and this is why we need readiness and willingness—courage.
When our sincere curiosity rises, and our expectations fade, we can live life as it is with equanimity. We become alerted to fascinating subtleties and discover an effortless fulfillment that is unqualified and forever present. This moment, which is bursting with raw wonder and richness, holds all the authentic responses to our inquiry.
Self-inquiry starts with not-knowing and ends with not-knowing, which is synonymous with what I call ‘deep knowing’. Courageously shifting our focus of consciousness from knowledge to the state of not-knowing unfolds a space for fresh insight to present itself and this can be facilitated in nondual therapy. Hence, the end of dualistic isolation requires us to get through the barriers that anxiety represents, to say yes and recognize our expansiveness. From here, the future is a presently appearing story unfolding in the space of now. Our fear of the unknown gradually subsides as we meet the present moment without trying to avoid or grasp the next. Grounded in the immediacy of our Being, natural intimacy and integration – nonduality – with life can awaken.
Yes, it can be terrifying to embrace or even entertain the unknown but it can also be fruitful. Find a nondual therapist who can hold a safe space for you to explore what you take to be true and certain about yourself and the world.
Nic Higham is the author of ‘Living the Life That You Are: Finding Wholeness When You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’. He is based in Leicester, UK where he offers nondual therapy and coaching based on the teaching of Nisargadatta Maharaj (Nisarga Yoga). www.nisargayoga.com