Monday, March 19, 2012

The Curiosity of Not Knowing

I am incredibly honored to have Galen Pearl of 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place as my first guest blogger.  I don't remember if I discovered her blog first or if she discovered mine.  Either way, it was delight at first sight for me!  I've been enchanted and blessed every time I've read her blog and continue to learn something new.  So, without further ado, I invite you to read her wonderful guest blog here and then I encourage you to read some more of her wonderful blog entries.  I hope you will be as inspired by her as I am!



The Curiosity of Not Knowing


I was delighted when Therese asked me to write a guest post.  I have long admired the matching of her photography talents with her thoughtful reflections on her photos.  She suggested that I link one of her photos to some aspect of my blog.

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The photo I picked is this one.

The reason I picked it is that this photo drives me crazy!  When I first saw it in her post titled Everything is Interesting When Viewed from the Right Angle, I couldn’t figure out what it was.  My mind tried out all sorts of ideas, but nothing clicked into place.  I felt uneasy and even a bit insecure, thinking everyone but me would be able to identify it.  Even after she told her readers what it was, I still couldn’t “see” it, and that made me even more agitated.

We’ve all heard that nature abhors a vacuum.  Our minds, I think, abhor not knowing.  Most of us have had the experience of mis-identifying something that we see or hear.  For example, one time I heard a noise in the distance that I immediately classified as a train, but a few seconds later I heard more clearly that it was a dog barking.  How on earth did my mind register train when a barking dog doesn’t sound anything like a train?!  The story is told of the man who sat up all night terrified of the snake sleeping in the corner, only to see with the dawn’s light that it was a coiled rope.  At least a rope is more like a snake than dog barking is like a train.

Our minds are not comfortable just resting in not knowing.  Any answer seems better than no answer.  Our minds would rather grasp quickly at a wild guess, and then correct the perception when more information becomes available.  I wonder why that is.  Why is pausing in uncertainty so terrifying that we would rather be ridiculous than unsure?  What happens in that nanosecond between the stimulus and the attachment of a label? It must seem a dark and scary place for our brains to want to move through it so quickly.

In mindfulness training, that nanosecond is called the gap.  In A Course in Miracles, it’s called the holy instant.  An entire universe of possibility is there, an eternity of wonder.  The price of admission?  Tolerating the groundlessness of uncertainty.

How do we do that?  In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron suggests becoming curious, curious about whatever our experience is.  Maybe we feel confused, angry, afraid, happy, excited, bored.  Before we start putting labels on our experience, before we start judging it, before we start telling ourselves stories about it, we can pause, perhaps just long enough to take a breath, and pay attention with open interest and curiosity.

So take another look at that photo.  If you look at it without trying to label it, without trying to figure it out, what do you see?

Therese is right.  Everything is interesting if we pause and look with an open mind.

30 comments:

  1. Very nice writing Galen and lovely picture to guess about...and intrigue.
    I am not so holy about the gap...for survival we needed to get a clue and then fight or flight...the gut called it and in a second or two the brain named it...but the body was already in action. Saved our lives this holy split

    Theresa Thank you for your wonderful site.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Patricia! I hope you'll stop by again! :) I'm listening to Pema Chodrin right now during my daily commute and as intriguing as it sounds to be curious about my own uncertainty and confusion, I'm also a bit more fight or flight. But I keep trying!!

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    2. Patricia, Isn't that an interesting photo?! Therese has an eye for sure. I think this photo is like a zen koan. If I look at it long enough, I'll reach enlightenment...right through that gap!

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  2. I see eternity my friend - I see the viral spiral of life....

    I like what you state for you allow me to ponder this question - the gap - Holy Instant ... the childlike brain that has no limitations - it's the part in us that would love to be more childlike and just say "REALLY?".....

    Great post my friend,
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy, Therese's photo lends itself to that, don't you think? Really? Mmm, so beautiful.

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    2. Galen is too kind! :) And the childlike mind is definitely what I go after in my images. I like to try and see things in a fresh way. This may have stemmed from the timeframe when I couldn't afford to go anywhere and owned a cheap camera with no settings. The only thing I *could* play with was point of view and composition. Max out whatever opportunity presents itself - that is my theory. Or, at least I *try* to make that my theory!

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  3. Hello Galen,
    I love the title of your post. I think seeking certainty when none exists leads to all kinds of bad outcomes. I always have trouble responding to a puzzling question with the honest answer: I don't know. LOL
    Riley

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    1. Riley, Well, when you have a room full of students who are smarter than you, "I don't know. Let's find the answer together" becomes your favorite phrase!

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    2. My day job is working at a law firm in the IT Department. My background is as a teacher (as in elementary school), not in IT. I'm a trainer. And yet, daily, I'm on the help desk. Can you guess what my favorite honest answer is? But law firm employees are often too busy to "find the answer together". Alas, I thank God daily for the internet and the fact that I don't work alone! :)

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  4. HI Galen,
    I have found that living in the unknown is the most powerful place to be. When I surrender to uncertainty something inside me allows for movement and guidance. I am puzzled by Therese's photo, can't figure what it is and that I suspect is the purpose.
    Great post.
    Carole

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    1. Carole, I had to read that first sentence several times and let it sink in. "Living in the unknown is the most powerful place to be." That is some serious spiritual mojo! Thank you for that gift.

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    2. Living in the unknown is where I find myself most lately...for the last 6 years? Maybe because I haven't surrendered to uncertainty yet? I hope to find that power some day... Thanks for the challenge, Carole!

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  5. Therese, In the midst of responding to comments here, I thought I would add my own and thank you for inviting me to guest post on your blog. I have always loved that photo, and I had a great time writing something about it. You can see from the comments that others are also intrigued by it, as I was.

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    1. I am humbled and honored that this image has inspired so much deep thought and insight. Thank you for everything, Galen! You are a true inspiration! :)

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  6. I enjoyed the challenge on this one and I am still looking at the picture and it hasn't click with me yet. Perhaps, I am in the gap of not knowing. I do believe there is a fear of the unknown and it helps so much to know. However, life sometimes doesn't give us the answers quite that easy. Thanks for an enlightening post today. Blessings!!

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    1. LeAnn, I know! Even after knowing what it is, I can't "see" it. Deep life lesson here for sure! Blessings to you, too.

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    2. I wish I had taken a "normal" picture of the bench too. I always remembered those mystery pictures as a kid. You know those close ups that you had to figure out what it was? I loved those, but sometimes they just stumped me. If you're too close, you just can't figure it out. If you step back, you see it better. Hmm... I think I just taught myself something.... :)

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  7. I am amazed by the photo and I am still guessing what it might be - it keeps pulling me back

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  8. Hi Galen,

    I certainly like to know about things that I come across. While I dislike not knowing, I realize that not everything needs to be made known to me so I am fine with not knowing the unimportant stuff. But if something does have the ability to affect me greatly, then I will do all I can to find out more. That said, I have no problem looking at things for the first time without focusing too much on labels. I guess it is about getting into the right frame of mind for me.

    That said, I have no idea how that picture is a park bench. It would be great if there were the original picture of the park bench somewhere to compare. Otherwise, it looks like a funny tunnel to me haha!

    Thank you for writing this lovely article Galen and thank you for sharing it Therese!

    Irving the Vizier

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    1. Irving, Yes, I know you like to know! Maybe Therese will post a picture of the entire bench so we can see what this is. Or maybe she will leave us with the mystery.

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  9. Hello and how lovely that Patricia posted a link to this post on my blog Galen! I think her reasons were that we now find ourselves responsible for the welfare of our 29 year old nephew who has Asperger's and other problems but in fact, for completely different reasons, the post was very timely. On Sunday, one of my daughters took me to PCWorld. She drove, she parked, I was not really paying attention. We got out of the car, walked to the store and I was miles away in my head. For a brief second I saw, not the doors to PCWorld but the doors to Marks and Spencers. (Very similar, must have been a flash of colour that confused me)Instead of waiting and double checking, I blurted out, "Why have we come to M&S first?" Immediately I realised my mistake. Too late, my daughter and her boyfriend were falling about laughing. Oh dear, I really should have kept quiet...I didn't guess the photo by the way - definitely not Marks and Spencers? Debbie :-)

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    1. Debbie, I'm so glad that Patricia gave you the link. I do have two adult sons with autism, Actually a son and a foster son, so we definitely have some common ground!

      The M&S story is great! Thanks for sharing that.

      I hope you will keep in touch.

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  10. Galen I love the post very thoughtful indeed. I can not even begin to guess what the photo is of. I will have to study this more.

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    1. Bonnie, Even knowing what it is does not help me "see" it. So fascinating!

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  11. In my adult years, I equate not knowing to having a mind like a child. It is the opportunity to investigate what it is that I am looking at, dealing with, etc... As a child, I saw the tree as something more than a tree. I knew what it was and yet, I remember taking the time to look at the bark, the leaves.. smelling the sap, tasting the pollen form the buds. ...and there was no anxiety about it. As I got older, I realized that I would get anxious about not knowing something in detail and actually get caught up in the anxiety. It took me a long time to realize that all I need to do is take a step back, breathe and get in close to look closely without placing those immediate assumptive labels.

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    1. Ajen, Your comment reminds me of Suzuki's "beginner's mind." Jesus, too, recognized that the children understood what the adults didn't.

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  12. Dear Galen! Was away for a couple of days - hence the delay getting here. Your post brings home several wonderful thought points here - but the biggest one is "pause". If only we did that most times rather than rush in with assumptions and judgments! I wonder why a majority of us lose some of the great qualities we showed as children - namely, curiosity and a positive receptiveness to new things. I think it is probably because we think (and assume) we "know". Also, in most situations that don't appear important enough, we tend to want to get it over with, so we can mentally check it off our list. The mindfulness diminishes. :-)

    This post is very thought triggering, Galen! And the photo you chose - I'll be thinking of it for a while!

    Thank you, Therese! I am so glad I am here.

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    1. Vidya, Like Ajen, I think you have touched on a wonderful model for us...children! I think children often live in the limitless possibility of the holy instant. And I agree--the photo captures our attention. I've been thinking about it for a long time!

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  13. Hello Galen,

    I could not figure out what the photo is either....until I read somewhere in the comments that it is supposed to be a park bench..LOL!

    It used to be that I needed to know what the future holds for me. I would go for all kinds of readings just to be sure. But lately, I am more prepared to sit with not knowing. Also I believe that nothing can be accurately predicted. Many things can change. For instance, I had changed so much over the years and would not have forseen being in the personal development field myself.

    I certainly like your advice about pausing and allowing the moment to reveal itself to us, instead of labeling and telling stories too quickly. It is how we can truly come alive in each moment.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

    Also thanks to Therese for her intriguing photo! Great one there!

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