Category Archives: don’t know mind

Take Wing!

Bird on nest about the take flight

We all ride the worldly winds of life, but are we flailing, falling or flapping our wings more than we need to? Or do we think we can avoid the winds by cowering in our nest? We can’t. The Buddha’s Eight Worldly Winds (Gain/Loss, Pleasure/Pain, Praise/Blame, and Fame/Disgrace) are a metaphor for life itself. As long as we are alive we will be in relationship with them in one way or another.

In this week’s class, a student brought in a book that contained a partial quote by Pema Chodron: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land.”*

My student was both intrigued by the idea, but disheartened by the ‘no-man’s-land’,  the image of desolate arid emptiness between warring factions. I suggested that it might be the skillful ‘I don’t know’ mind or the First Noble Truth that life is suffering. But as a writer I was bothered by the mixed metaphor of a nest and a no-man’s-land as they seem to have no relationship. So I suggested that if we are always being thrown out of the nest, perhaps it’s because we are meant to fly. Our practice of meditation and our compassionate self-observations help us to learn how to spread our wings and ride the currents of the Eight Worldly Winds that blow through all of our lives. Through our intentions, words and actions we contribute to the creation of causes and conditions, but many causes and conditions are beyond our control. There’s no use making enemies of the Eight Worldly Winds. It’s more skillful to notice our tendencies to chase after some and run from the others, making our happiness dependent on which way the wind is blowing. Seeing that pattern we can choose instead to learn how to ride the currents.

I am thinking about this lately because for the past month I’ve been enjoying riding a current as buoyant and pleasurable as a fresh summer day. I feel a sense of contentment about where I am in my life right now, both professionally and personally, with a sense of purpose but no pressure or urgency. I enjoy doing what I have to offer the world and many people seem to appreciate my offerings. What could be better than to feel that what comes naturally in your life, is also of some benefit to others, whether to one person or to followers around the world?

Then something happened that sent me soaring beyond that pleasurable current, taking my general sense of well being and inflating it with surprise and elation. I was suddenly a bit breathless in the thin air of the stratosphere of amazing possibilities, hanging onto a balloon of hope.

At one point the current dipped. I assumed I was in a tailspin and was ready to crash and burn, relinquishing all hope. Imagining my little balloon lying on the ground, burst and ragged, I quickly turned away, embarrassed, and directed my thoughts elsewhere. But the person who, out of the blue, had offered me a hand-up, did not see balloons, inflation or deflation. He saw the facts. 

I was astounded to see, having read the same email response sent to both him and me, that while I just saw ‘NO’, he saw the offered name and email of the person to reach out to next. Where I saw rejection, he saw opportunity! (Is this a guy thing? Women in my family were taught to ask ‘Who am I to put myself forward in any way?”) Suddenly I understood how he had built a career not just out of talent, experience and an extensive knowledge-base, but out of the ability to see clearly and simply forge ahead. While I had built a tidy safe nest that I was afraid to leave.

This experience was a gift to me. It revealed a blindspot in my navigation in the world. Just like all of us, I am being repeatedly ‘thrown out of the nest’ and am always in a state of learning to fly in the confusing mashup of the worldly winds. And then along comes this other bird who seems to know how to navigate a current that I have always found particularly problematic. And just by flying the current in a natural way, he showed me how it’s done.

Does the metaphor of being ‘thrown out of the nest’ feel familiar to you?
Where in your life are you experiencing that?
What challenge is life giving you that you are either bravely learning to navigate its challenging currents or fearfully clinging to the nest as if you weren’t given wings to fly?

If so, how about this: Don’t cling! Take wing! And if you’re not sure how to fly, observe how others do it. We’re all birds of a feather in this life. Let’s fly together in a joyful murmuration!

Photo of bird on nest by Thomas Pedrazzoli.

*Full Pema Chodron quote: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”

A Triad of Collusion

toxic-symbol-3-poisonsWe have been looking at the Three Poisons, the patterns of reactivity that we humans tend to fall into, thus losing our ability to be awake to this moment. While the Poisons of aversion/hatred and greed/craving are fairly obvious to notice, it is much harder to tell when we are experiencing delusion. As I write this, outside my window is a thick January ground fog. How appropriate! Delusion masks the lay of the land. In class, during meditation, I heard fog horns out in the Bay. It could have been someone’s cell phone on vibrate instead of mute, but it sounded like a fog horn. Either way, it made me realize that as we investigate and discover delusion in our experience, we are a bit like ship captains recognizing fog, sounding our fog horns.

But with delusion, more often than not we don’t recognize the fog we are in as fog at all. If it’s a lifelong delusion, how could we know we’re in it? If someone told us we wouldn’t believe them. It is easier for us to see when someone else is walking around in a cloud of delusion. Can we cultivate compassion and understanding for them? When we are able to do that we discover that whatever aversion we may have had for them softens. We’re not buying into their myopic view, but we can feel compassion for them as fellow beings caught up in the suffering of delusion.

Once we have begun to recognize delusion in others, we can gently open to the possibility of the existence of delusion in our own experience. It’s tricky, but having extended compassion to someone else, we have the capacity to extend it to ourselves, allowing us to see delusion without aversion blocking our way. 

Delusion is manufactured and supported by the other two Poisons of greed and aversion. And in turn, delusion provides a blindness that is necessary to sustain craving and hatred.

Say, for example, as I am passing by an ice cream shop, craving arises. Delusion rushes to that craving’s aid by whispering very selective pieces of information, like how much protein there is in ice cream, or the memory of how as a child ice cream was a reward and a sign of parental affection, etc., and so I find myself standing at the counter reaching for that cone.

But before I can enjoy it, maybe aversion rushes in — shame on me, I’m so weak, etc. — supported by more selective bits of information about how much sugar and calories are in this cone, how fat I am, how people will be judging me, making the cone feel like a handful of embarrassment instead of a simple pleasure. Of course with all this going on, there’s not much room for being present with the experience of tasting and enjoying the flavor, texture, coldness, etc. so that I end up feeling both guilty and unsatisfied.

Whether or not you relate to this particular example, you can no doubt find other examples that show how the three Poisons support each other in what we might call a triad of collusion.

There are many more facets to delusion than just providing cover and shame in the purchase of an ice cream cone. There is a difficulty in seeing things as they are and a willingness to buy into stories that under analysis make no sense. These stories can be part of our family mythology that feel like the bond that holds family together. If you think about your family, notice if there are any unspoken agreements about how to explain uncomfortable things. You might think of it as the oil that makes the machinery of family run more smoothly. The story may have begun with the best of intentions, a white lie to avoid hurting people’s feelings or sharing what might be considered shameful truths. But the acceptance and solidifying of the lie into the family story is delusion in action, supported by the two other poisons: craving normalcy and hating to be seen as abnormal or immoral, etc. In class I shared a story from my own family, which is not for sharing on the internet, but it was a good example of the delusion of family mythology.

Our collective cultural mythology is supported by propaganda and our desire to be a part of something positive and powerful, not something subject to human failings. It’s frighteningly easy to prey on our human desires and aversions by fueling it with resonate selective truths or total fabrications. We can be suckers for persuasion if it plays into what we want to believe is true. Facts be damned! Again, it’s much easier to see how ‘the other side’ is delusional. The idea of there being sides may be the biggest delusion of all. Who knows?

Our ongoing investigation is asking, ‘How can I be in skillful compassionate relationship with this?’ When it comes to a body of information, especially the complex intricacies of the family mythology, perhaps the most skillful compassionate way is to acknowledge that we don’t know.

If the story is harming us, it’s worth investigating, getting beyond delusion. This is certainly the case in sustaining a viable democracy. Whether a bit of familial folklore is actually causing harm is debatable. But in either case, it’s skillful to recognize that we don’t know the whole truth. We can see how we have the tendency to cling to what we want to believe, and the tendency to believe anything negative about anyone we don’t like.

Can we see that our happiness is not dependent on any story being true or false? Whether it’s about ourselves, our family or our country, can we acknowledge that we don’t know everything? Can we be open to other views and new facts we hadn’t previously known? This kind of open exploration doesn’t threaten us. Our identity is not built on what we believe to be true being true! We can find a wonderful richness in being able to relax our stranglehold on our precious truths. We can hold them in an open embrace, look at them with a more discerning eye, and know that they do not define us.

‘I don’t know’ is a powerful liberating phrase. Once on a retreat I spent a whole day discovering the proverbial tip of the iceberg of all the things I don’t know, and seeing my assumptions of knowing fall by the wayside. For example, I was doing walking meditation across a patio of concrete squares, and there were some things I took for granted that I knew about them, but there was so much more that I didn’t know — how thick they were, what was under them, who laid them, where the material came from, etc. etc.

I looked at trees this way and discovered that my ‘knowledge’ about any given tree is only what I’ve been told or have learned from seeing fallen trees with innards exposed, but in fact I know very little about any particular tree — what all is going on inside, what life forms reside there, where the roots actually run underground, etc. The more I investigated, the more I realized I don’t know.

And that was a joyous recognition. Because there’s no way to know everything and I could let go of the presumption of knowing and the need to accumulate knowledge as if there will be a test. I can explore the world following whatever veins interest me, and learn as much or as little as I please, and no matter how much I learn, even about subjects I study in depth, there will always be lots of room for acknowledging that I don’t know, that the information I received is incomplete or misleading. Making room for that possibility, that likelihood, freed me from feeling incomplete for not knowing everything.

So joyful a discovery was this that I wrote a note to my teacher and pinned it on the board saying simply ‘I don’t know!!!’ A few hours later a note appeared on the board with my name on it and inside was her reply: ‘Yay!!!!’

Consider how, if you’ve ever looked through a microscope, you might have been astounded by the worlds within the world we think we know. The world as we know it is totally based on the lens of our own perceptions through senses that, while amazing, are quite limited. The more we know, the more we know we don’t know! So we stop assuming we do. Yay!

‘I don’t know’ may on the face of it seem like a delusional state, but it is not the dulled down ‘duh’ of delusion. Instead it is a sense of awakening to the interconnected complexity of all life’s systems, networks, patterns, infinitesimal to infinite space, all in a constant state of flux, expansion and contraction, in cycles of birth, growth, death, decay that nourishes new life. I am, you are, we all are, a part of all this, and for me that is more than enough to know! Even as I thirst for knowledge, it is enjoying the process of investigation rather than the idea of accumulation and becoming a walking encyclopedia of indisputable truths.

Sensing the infinite and interconnected complexity of life, perhaps we can relax our misguided efforts to be separate from it. We can let go of our need to stand out in a crowd in order to be admired or loved. Each of us is an intrinsic part of it all, radiating and receiving in every moment, a living breathing-thinking-feeling floating, ever-changing field of aliveness we call ‘me’. Whee!

The Pot Hole of Pigeon-holing

My new granddaughter is barely a week old and already she has been pigeon-holed and typecast. Her gender, weight and height have been duly noted and these facts have refined the perception of her parents, extended family and friends. Her physical features have been matched to known patterns. She has her father’s brow, her mother’s ankles, and her great-grandmother’s cheeks.

Like any other mammal, the human is biologically driven to devote itself to its offspring, and the initial ritual of sniffing and checking out to make sure that this offspring is in fact its own, is a natural part of the process of claiming, making the novel and extraordinary understood and ordinary.

The ‘I don’t know mind’ has been tossed aside in the process. Nature abhors a vacuum, and humans abhor a vacuum of solid facts, strong opinions and pigeon holes in which to store them.

But, biological imperative aside, doesn’t that still leave room for this new life to be a wondrous mysterious unknown? Will everything she does in her first week of life have to go on her permanent record? Will all her efforts to come to terms with her environment, skillful or not, be brought up again and again to haunt her?

This is just the beginning after all. She will have a well-documented existence, with photographs, achievements noted in the baby book – whether she is early or late with the various stages of learning to hold her head up, roll over, creep, crawl, walk and talk. Each erupting tooth will be noted, each word learned will be remembered for how endearingly she mispronounces it.

I remember that Josh called a piano a plano and Katie called it a pinano. Josh got his first teeth at four months, Katie at fourteen months – both extremes noted and incorporated into the body of knowledge that attempts to describe their nature. His early teeth got him weaned off the breast earlier than was healthy, thus causing his allergies perhaps? Her late teeth had her used to swallowing food whole without chewing, and she is still a fast eater with indigestion. This is all part of the family lore that weaves a cozy family nest around those who passed that initial sniff test of acceptance into the fold.

But is this who we are? Are we the sum total of our report cards, our teachers’ and fellow students opinions? Are we, as studies often show, a product of our sibling placement, whether we’re the oldest, a middle child or the baby? Are we our grade point averages, our diplomas, our credentials or lack thereof? Are we all living under the weight of our accomplishments, our failures, our faux pas that did not go unnoticed, our favorite music, color, gem stone, animal, genre of book or movie, or our preferred style of dress or home décor?

Will this new life I have been holding in my arms as she sleeps, her dear little mouth and hands in constant movement, be plastered with so many labels she forgets who she is? Will she read the labels as directives of who she should be? Will she struggle to win the affections of her first grade teacher by conforming to the ideal of a good student? Will she struggle to win the admiration of her playmates by being funny or daring? Will she struggle to win the love of a young man by being sexy and willing? Will she struggle to win the approval of her employer by becoming her job title or by foregoing her own moral bearings for the company’s bottom line?

How will she know she is not all the labels put upon her? That she is more than her gender, her ethnicity, her nationality, her preferences, her foibles, her perceived strengths and weaknesses? If she is like most of us, she will come to believe that it is the labels themselves that those around her love. If she is like most of us, it is these very labels that she will love or hate about herself. She will be ready to name her favorite and most hated body parts for the degree to which they conform with those she sees in the media or the most popular girl in class.

Will she feel, as we often do, somehow lost in this naming process?

This is how life is. This is what we do for each other, whether we are parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, coworkers or friends. We mirror each other. Because it’s hard to see ourselves, we rely on the mirroring of everyone around us who, in their response to us show us if we are brave or cowardly, smart or dumb, interesting or dull, beautiful or plain, big or small, fat or thin, old or young, agile or clumsy. We do this in ways overt and subtle, through our words, our expressions and our choice of whom we spend time with and whom we avoid.

When we think about the Buddha’s call to practice Right or Wise Speech in our relationships, we understand the power of our words. In this mirroring process, where we in a word or phrase sketch the whole character of a person, we fall off the Eightfold Path that leads to the end of suffering. Not just the person we are describing’s suffering, but our own. We can feel this, the heartburn that follows a meal of labeling a person, claiming to know them, or to know how they must be feeling in any given moment based on causes and conditions. If a person is in mourning, we assume that in every moment they are in misery. When in fact every moment, every second, has a vast array of fleeting emotions and thoughts. When a person has a new grandchild, we assume that in every moment they are thrilled, euphoric, over the top deliriously happy. And even though these assumptions are not totally incorrect in both cases, they are not allowing for the person to be fully present with the actual feelings that arise.

Perhaps the person in mourning just enjoyed a lovely conversation with an old friend or just took a walk in nature, and in fact was not in that moment caught up in a sense of loss. Perhaps the grandmother had just received news that a friend’s husband had died, had just discovered that her credit card had been used on a spending spree in a foreign country, or was worried about another family member’s health. So even though she is totally over the top thrilled beyond belief at the gift of this new life, it is not for any one else to name or claim to know how she is feeling right now.

We have all experienced this sense of disconnect when someone says, “You must be so…fill in the blank: thrilled, devastated, heartbroken.” And yet our need to label and pigeon hole is very strong, so we find ourselves doing this as well.

When we thrust this pre-determined appropriate emotional response to a situation on those around us, we give the other person the clear message that that is how they should be feeling, leaving them no room to say how they really are feeling. Then they may have a sense of failure or shame of somehow not living up to expectations of others because the named emotion is not the predominate one in this moment.

This is just something we say. It’s the accepted expression of love and concern in our culture. So when we recognize it we don’t have to make ourselves wrong. We can just acknowledge that it’s a product of this need to label, to known, to make connections, to organize the untidiness of life into some semblance of order.

But if we truly want to end suffering for ourselves and others, we can look at it from the standpoint of Right Speech. And what are the three guidelines to determining right speech? The first is “Is it true?” How does this assumption of a particular emotion or this assignment of a particular trait hold up under the light of the truth test? Not very well, we have to admit. Because the truth is that we don’t know. We can’t know how a person is feeling about any given situation. Bringing our assumption into it is not truth, it’s just assumption. Often the truth is that we don’t know. But how often do we believe that? Not often enough!

The second guideline is “Is it useful?” Not really! If it makes the person get caught up in comparing mind instead of being able to stay present with their own experience, that’s not useful at all. In fact, it’s obstructive, veering them off their present course into a quagmire of confusion and emotional discord.

Is it timely? No. Since in every second a person has a panoply of emotions, hitting the mark on naming just one is more chancy than roulette.

So must we always be watching what we say? While awareness of what we say is useful, watching it as if on a fault-finding mission will simply create suffering. Instead, we give ourselves the gift of slowing down, being as much in this moment as possible, and allowing our natural curiosity, compassion and love to guide us. The words that arise out of that state are less likely to be habitual, more likely to be in tune with whatever is going on.

In this state we have less urgency to label and file our experience, feel less rushed to get on to the next exciting thing. Unrushed, we settle down and sink into the experience itself, without the need to label or draw conclusions. We can relax into not knowing, and not needing to know. We can simply be present.

This is just one example of how this labeling process goes on way beyond the realm of report cards and early defining of characteristics. We are constantly providing each other with feedback. But is this feedback accurate? Each of our perceptions are distorted by our own associations and interpretations, our own misperceptions based on feedback we have received from a whole league of equally unreliable sources. What is received may have some truth in it but is not a clear reflection.

This labeling process is like being trapped in a fun house with hundreds of wavy mirrors giving us faulty information about who we are. So the question is not which mirror is correct, or what is the cumulative adjusted equation of all this provided information. The question is: which way out of the funhouse?

Meditation provides a door out of the fun house. By coming into awareness of physical sensation, we access this present moment. In full awareness of this present moment, things can get very simple. Very clear. A spaciousness arises that makes room for the tangle of distortions to be seen, known, examined and perhaps eventually released.

When we talk about No Self, (a concept that this class came upon in studying the book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson while I was away and has asked for clarification) we are talking about letting go of our attachments to the labels we have been given in our lives. Last year I read to you something I wrote in 1995 called The Dance of the Seven Veils. Since you have been meditating for so much longer now, I will read it again, to see if it answers any questions about this concept of No Self.
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The Dance of the Seven Veils
An exercise in letting go

The first veil is the you that is defined by material possessions. These possessions reflect your taste, your financial status and your values. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The second veil is the you that is defined by your achievements, your failures, your badges of honor and your battle scars. The title you hold, the awards you have won, the degrees you have earned, the good deeds you have done, the guilt you bear, the pain you have suffered. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The third veil is the you that is defined by your relationships with others. Your roles as son or daughter, sister or brother, father or mother, husband or wife, friend, lover, student, employee, employer, citizen. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The fourth veil is the you that is defined by your beliefs. Your religion, your political affiliations, your judgments, the angers and resentments that shape your judgments, your assumptions about other people. To the degree that these define you, they confine you. Let them go.

The fifth veil is the you that is defined by your physical, emotional and psychological traits. These are what you were born with: your gender, your race, the fundamental aspects of your personality. To the degree that these define you, they confine you.
Let them go.

The sixth veil is the you that is defined by your body’s very existence. It is your perception of your skin as an encapsulation and barrier. To the degree that this defines you, it confines you.
Let it go.

The seventh veil is the you that is defined by mind. It is the you that maintains resistance, through fear, in order to exist as a separate consciousness. To the degree that this defines you, it confines you. Let it go.

Now who are you? Beyond the barriers of all your veils of identity, beyond the veils that create shadow, mask and distortion, suddenly all is clear. Who are you? You are One. One with all that is, a manifest expression of the joy of oneness, undefined thus unconfined, free, expansive, beyond the beyond. Yet completely here and now, always in this moment.

Now as you dress in your veils, lovingly drape yourself with these manifest expressions of self, full of richness, full of clues. But never again will you mistake them for you. The authentic you, merged with the all that is, with God beyond personification, you that is light energy source and receptor, transmitter and receiver. You that is released from the limits of fear and knows the infinite power of love. Behold your true self. One with all that is.
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You’ll notice that we remove the veils and then we don them again. After seeing the truth that we are not the veils, we can wear them more lightly. Instead of a constricting straight jacket, these labels weave together to make a filmy gown that gives us freedom to dance playfully. We can don the labels with which the world defines us and know that this is just part of the experience of living this existence, but it is not the be all end all of who we are. Who we are is both much more complex and more simple than all these labels would have us believe. Who we are is not how we measure up in possessions or accomplishments or strengths or interests. Who we are is not attached to our stuff, our relationships, our beliefs or our preferences, but our moment by moment experiencing of this gift of consciousness and the spaciousness of not knowing. We can relax and dance in the mystery.

We don’t know much of anything and, as we discussed last week, that is a very liberating acknowledgment. Our brains are busy trying to assess and assimilate information from current conditions and past experience, trying to find a match, so we can plaster a label on it and file it away, because without an efficient filing system, we get easily overwhelmed.

But maybe not all information has to be assimilated and assigned a file drawer. Maybe we can just let ourselves float a bit in the moment and allow our curiosity to run free and our file clerk to take a much needed vacation on a white beach with balmy breezes.

This is the gift of meditation: A step back from the fray of needing to get caught up in the thick of the sniffing, checking and labeling. To just be open to what is.

Through meditation we relax into the mystery a little more, and become more fluent in the language of the I Don’t Know mind. It is the most beautiful language of all, for allowing what is to retain its mystery is a great gift. Allowing ourselves and others to simply exist without labels or expectation grants a certain gracious gratitude for life as it is, however it is – a mysterious gift we are continuously unwrapping in no hurry to end the experience.

The Don’t Know Mind

At this moment in my life, a grandchild is about to be born. I don’t know when. I don’t know for sure anything about this baby. We assume she’s a girl because an ultrasound early on indicated that was the case, but we can’t be certain. And all the other possible variables in life are held in a wonderful womb of mystery. Who is she? What will she be like? All I know is this sense of waiting.

We all have moments in our lives like this, where we are waiting to hear. Perhaps we have applied for a position or a program, and we are waiting for acceptance or rejection, not knowing if we will be elated or disappointed. Where every ring of the phone, checking email or looking in the mailbox could be pivotal, changing the whole direction of our lives.

The nature of this moment is quite clearly the state of not knowing. We see clearly that this is true because there seems no way around it. But in fact this is true of every moment in our lives. We never can be fully sure that the next moment will be the way we imagine it.

Last week my husband and I had long-held tickets in hand for a flight home from Mexico, but it turns out that one leg of our flight had been cancelled. The airline left a message on a cell phone that wasn’t operative because we were out of country, so we didn’t know that our trip home was in question.

We didn’t know.

We had our ticket in hand that promised us a flight, and believed it meant something. But it meant nothing. It was just a piece of paper, not a promise at all. We didn’t know.

Fortunately, we found out in time and were able to do a work around and we arrived home on the day we planned, just by way of different cities. And even then, there were things we didn’t know. The gate stated on our boarding pass was 19. We waited there, but then an announcement was made and all of the passengers on the SFO bound flight were to go to gate 34. We waited there, assuming we would be boarding from that gate. Why wouldn’t we? It was a natural assumption, just as it’s a natural assumption that we will wake up the next morning, or that our car will be where we left it. Our lives are based on such reasonable assumptions. But then, an announcement was made that we should all go to gate 29. A hundred people together shuffling around their baggage and babies, their cell phones and cameras, sharing this experience of ‘I don’t know.’ This was not that big a deal, but it just illustrated so clearly about these assumptions. And this particular set of illustrations could have gone on and on, as there are about 70 gates at the Mexico City airport!

Once on the flight, once up in the air, once homeward bound, the future seemed a little more certain, a little more clear. We relaxed into knowing we would be home soon.

Then suddenly all the lights went out. Now this was not a shifting from ceiling lights to low lights. This was suddenly barreling through a pitch black night in absolute darkness. It only lasted about five seconds. Not long enough for voices to rise. Just long enough for the truth of the situation to make itself known in that dark silence: We don’t know.

We don’t know what the next moment will bring. At some level we all understand this, but we don’t acknowledge it. Not to ourselves and not to each other. None of the crew explained this event, nor to my knowledge did the passengers discuss or acknowledge that brief close up glance at the truth. Life aboard the plane went on, cabin attendants pushing their carts of meals and drinks (All free, even alcoholic drinks! A little plug for good old Mexicana!)

It wasn’t until we were all wearily assembled around the baggage claim at midnight that I heard one man say to another, ‘So, how’d you like that blackout?” People chuckled. It was now a story to tell, grateful that it was just a blip of a tale, not like the ones that make the news. Not like the flight to Hawaii our friends took years ago, where the skin of the plane peeled away and they were flying through the blue sky and clouds with the wind beating upon them.

We all know these as stories about other people. It is human nature to be fascinated by them, perhaps because at core we want to know the truth, even as we hide from it in our own lives. In someone else’s life it gives us the truth, but allows us the delusion that it doesn’t actually apply to us. We can go on believing that our lives will play out as planned, even as others do not. This idea of not knowing seems so scary. We feel that knowing is a level of control over our situation. But it’s not.

On the shuttle trip home from the airport, our driver was a gruff woman, short tempered with other drivers and with passengers as well. (Somehow this is our traditional re-entry into the US after being made soft by the sweet nature and patience of the Mexican people.) This driver was impatient and grumpy. When a passenger would dare to offer information to make finding their house easier, the driver would say, “I know, I know!” as if the idea of not knowing was a mark against her, or a threat to the integrity of her very being. This happened in each case, and in each case it turned out she didn’t really know and had to make sometimes dangerous last minute modifications to correct her course. As the last passengers to get out, I felt so badly for her, trapped in her defensive fortress of ‘knowing’ that I tipped her generously. She was surprised, and she really struggled to say thank you, another threat to her fortress: gratitude. Had she sensed how badly I felt for her, she would have probably punched me out.

Thinking we know is painful, even dangerous. In this tight defensive stance, we are cut off from resources – like the bounty of information the passengers had about how to get to their homes. Thinking we know, we are narrow focused to the point of blindness.

Imagine trying to find your way across a field while peering through binoculars. Obviously you could easily trip over what’s right in front of you or be eaten by a hungry bear right to your left side. But this is kind of what we do in our lives when we think we know the future. We fall in love with our plans and trust in the promises of pieces of paper that say what the future will hold. We believe that the binoculars give all the information necessary. Clearly they don’t. We never ever have all the information.

While in the Mexico City airport, I was trying to get news of the potential tsunami from the 8.8 earthquake in Chile. My brother lives in Maui and I wanted to know that he was safe. I was in a place it was difficult for me to check news, so I kept looking for people that seemed to be connected to the internet and asking, “So how’s Hawaii?” Turns out it was fine. My brother and friends had a fun party upcountry and that was that.

He told me when I talked to him that he knew it would be a non-event. And I said, well, I appreciate that knowing that, you still took sensible precautions. He said well there was one potential event that he would not have time to take precautions for: Apparently a big chunk of the Big Island could drop into the ocean one of these days, and if it were to do that, he and his neighbors wouldn’t have time to run upcountry, let alone plan a party.

One potential event that could catch him by surprise? Only one? Really? This from a man who has had his fair share of unexpected news come across his phone over the years. Yet he names the one event he would be unprepared for, the void in his known universe. And this is what we all do. Perhaps we each have the scary thing we name that we keep as a Talisman to ward off all other unknowns.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Ah! How liberating is the I don’t know mind! The Buddha always encouraged his followers to rest in the moment and discover for themselves what was true. He didn’t encourage them to rest in the future, to vest in the future. He didn’t encourage them to trust his findings but to find their own, moment by moment.

To think we know what the next moment will bring is clearly erroneous. We don’t know! Pretending we do is a great weight. Acknowledging that none of us knows may seem scary, but it is also freeing.

One thing we get free of is being locked into expectation and disappointment. Thinking we know how things will turn out, we live partly in the future, conjuring up fantasy. Then when reality hits, we are stuck in that place in between, comparing, contrasting, complaining. We make ourselves miserable over and over again.

When we have these moments where so clearly we can see that we do not know, like this moment for me awaiting a grandchild – when we have these anticipatory moments, we can see them as a gift. They remind us of the truth of EVERY moment, not just this one. Every moment is pivotal. Things turn on a dime. Knowing this we can release into the sea of change, learning to surf the constant ebb and flow of causes and conditions. Learning that staying fully present in THIS moment is always the best course.