“God”, “Love”, “Spirituality”, “Enlightenment” – Do you really know what these words mean? I sure don’t.
“Food”, “Toy”, “Chair”, “Sky” – Maybe you know what these mean? I sure don’t.
Now, for any of the words above I could tell you what they approximately mean to me, right now, or what I think other people usually mean when they say them. But I don’t really know what they mean. Every word means something different to everyone else, and, at least for me, even personal definitions can change by the day, even the moment. Even just the mood you’re in can determine what meaning you attribute to things. Think of all the countless poems about roses. We don’t even know what things will mean to us the next instant. So, can you see how fruitless it is to try and pin down the meaning of any word? Think of all the words that have multiple meanings in the dictionary. The word “set” has 119 different definitions!
But I’m not here to talk about words – I’m here to talk about not knowing.
Yeah I’m sure you’ve heard quotes like this one:
“I know one thing, that I know nothing” – Socrates
And maybe you think by repeating it to yourself you’ll know what Socrates knew. It sure is tempting, isn’t it. Or maybe you think Socrates is wrong, and you’re kinda pissed at how glorified this one phrase of his is.
Ok, maybe it makes no sense at this time to just go around saying “I know nothing” – it would just amount to trying to convince one’s self. You know lots of things, right? Like the fact that you’re reading this article right now. What else do you know?
Now, for any of the things that come to mind, if you could comfortably restate it as “I believe (insert thing you just thought you knew in here)”, then maybe it’s important to take a look at what you actually know, versus the things you only think you know.
It’s hard to keep track of the things we only think we know, however. After all, we think we know them, how the heck are we supposed to find the things we don’t know to begin with? And why look for them in the first place?
Beliefs and the Conceptual Bridge
Well, let’s first take a look at how we come up with false beliefs in the first place. Or, perhaps, one way.
In general, when we think of a goal we desire, we’d like to be assisted by something that can reassure us we can get to that goal. For instance, living a peaceful, beautiful life with a minimal amount of pain. Setting off in life, we might not know much at all about how to get there. How the heck do we have a peaceful, beautiful life? Pssh, I bet as a child you knew very very little about how to make that happen.
But then came the ideas. Ideas, from friends, family, books, or maybe your own reasoning. Nevermind if they were right or wrong, you could utilize these ideas to form a conceptual bridge from the starting place to the desired end. A strategy. Maybe you thought that in order to live a peaceful beautiful life, you’ve got to be a good person, do good things. Help others, be unselfish, look at lots of inspirational quotes online, that sort of thing.
Ok, so maybe the strategy worked.Maybe right now you’re living a peaceful, beautiful life. Maybe not. But if you were living a peaceful life, think about how you might feel towards all those ideas that got you to that goal. You might be pretty inclined to take them as the truth, right? And as long as you keep getting what you want, for the most part, what’s the point in questioning those ideas? You’ll keep being good, do good things, help others, etc. And your life will still be peaceful, right?
Now what? Am I coming to break up your party by questioning whether or not the ideas that got and continue to get you to your goal are true? Nah – if my example is the case, I’m glad stuff is working out for you. But you’ve got to wonder – do you really need to be good to live a peaceful, beautiful life? And unselfish? Maybe you do – but you don’t really know it.
You don’t know if you need to follow your strategy to get what you want. There could be other ways. Besides, if you just stick to one strategy, you’re limiting yourself! Maybe you don’t JUST have to “be good” – maybe “being good” feels restricted sometimes, and as much as you’d like peace, you’d also like to feel free! And yeah, you may have come to rely on “being good” to get you peace (continuing the example), but by questioning it, you don’t need to feel like your peace is threatened. After all, you already know a way to feel the peace! But by exploring the possibilities, and looking for the truth of your assumptions, you can free up some more space inside yourself. Perhaps you could be free and peaceful. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
You don’t need to be afraid to want more than one thing. You can want everything! Just explore the conflicts that come up as a result, work through them, find the truth. Change course as needed. Remember that those inner conflicts are gifts, allowing you to explore having more than what you already do.
But if you want something so much, repeatedly, that you’re unwilling to question your strategy for getting it, you’ll severely limit your ability to have more. Maybe you’ll have peace, but no freedom. Sounds pretty disappointing to me.
Why it’s important to realize it when you don’t know
All this being said, I’m sure there are lots of things you can think of that you, if you were being honest about it, might suspect are true, but you aren’t totally sure. You believe it. Those are the things that can stop you if you aren’t willing to admit the truth: You don’t know if your belief is true or false.
And that’s ok! Because if your belief is false, it means there’s a greater truth you don’t know about yet. And isn’t that exciting? I mean, the unknown is kind of fun. For instance, I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow, or even what I’ll write for my next paragraph. I don’t know what I’ll be hungry for dinner, how I’ll feel in a minute, or even what I’ll do about my own feelings! I can have lots of suspicions about it, but those are just ideas.
And ideas can be a good thing. Our ability to think, imagine, and consider the possibilities enables us to grasp at a way forward towards a goal we might not otherwise be able to reach. Whether or not the goal is worthwhile is another matter, but all the same, ideas help us.
However… if we want the goal so bad that we lean completely on our ideas to take us there, then we’re not showing a willingness to receive the real results, ones we might not like. We get “tunnel vision”, only looking at the goal instead of how to sort through all the things that pop up where we are now.
I’m not saying a lack of willingness is bad, either. Maybe we don’t want to get caught up, bogged down in all the mundane details of a situation. But at least consider that your own “tunnel vision” (which I get all the time, by the way), is being created by your fear of not getting to the goal you want. There’s lots of stuff along the way, and if you don’t pay attention to it, well how are you going to move on to the next step? Ideas may give us possibilities, but reality gives us feedback. Take in the feedback! It also helps you : )
But admitting that we really don’t know something can be very useful. Like with any recognition of the truth, it can help us to reassess the situation, and figure out how we’d like to respond to it. Maybe you don’t know what that response will bring, but do you really need to know if a strategy will work before you implement it? No – in fact, you can’t know! In that case, the real question is, what will you do when your strategy doesn’t work? What happens when your ideas fail to get you what you want? Uh oh, isn’t this another strategy? : P
So how do you respond when things don’t go your way? Personally, I get very frustrated, most of the time. But later I might reconsider how to handle it more peacefully. There’s lots of ways to handle things, and different sides of you handle things in very different ways. What’s the best way to handle things? I don’t know. <—-There’s another one!
See? By admiting “I don’t know”, I don’t have to posture myself and defend what I know deep down I don’t really know. Feels kinda nice. It takes the pressure off.
And if anyone reading this gets angry at me because I seem to know about this seemingly important issue before they did, just remember: I may disagree with the things I say here by tomorrow. I’m just sharing my thoughts – I’m not gonna make some kind of all-or-nothing stand with them. Aka don’t be so mean about it. (Ha – how pathetic does that seem?) But if what I talked about sparked some thoughts in you, if you found some value in it, I’m glad. And if you completely disagree with me about things, I’m also glad. Well not quite as glad. I don’t want to appear like some kind of wannabe Socrates. I’m just me. Like you just want to be you (probably). We’ve all got our imperfections, the things we’re unable to do, and all the things we don’t know.
So let’s remember that, and learn to laugh at our own steadfast dedication to standing by the things we don’t really know. It can get so darn serious sometimes, compadres. Talk to you all later (most likely),
Bonus Activity – Question a False Belief
So you want to find one of those buggers, huh? Let’s get to it.
- Think of something you strongly suspect is true and want to be true, but you’re not totally sure if it is. Write it down.
- Next, write down what life would be like if the thing you think is true is actually not true.
- Why do you want it to be true? What goal is this belief a part of? Write down whatever it might be – it could be a fear, it could be to fit in, it could be because you want to justify the way you’re currently living. Just be honest and put down any and all reasons that come up. If you don’t care if it’s true or not, start back at step 1!
- How else could you address what this belief currently addresses? For instance, if you want to justify yourself, maybe you need to search for the truth of your motivations so you can feel more at peace with them. Treat yourself gently my friend. You don’t need to change everything at once, or blindly. Do what feels right. Also, remember that just because something isn’t true, doesn’t mean its opposite is.
- At the end of it, can you be more at peace with not really knowing what you strongly suspect? If so, I hope you feel more relaxed because of it!