Wisdom of Not Knowing

Published by Susan Gillis Chapman on

” He who knows nothing is nearer the truth

than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”

Thomas Jefferson

When I came across this quotation my first thought was: ” how do I know which one is me? ”  When my mind is filled with falsehoods and error I’m usually the last to recognize this, let alone admit it.  And how do I know when my mind knows nothing?  At the same time, something feels right about this quotation– it’s just easier applied when pointing the finger at someone else.

Meditation helps.  As much as I’d like to attach my identity to peaceful, insightful states of mind, I’ve learned to simply notice how the mind opens and closes, how it flows and freezes, how it gets caught up in opinions and then relaxes into not knowing.  This detached noticing creates space for self-compassion to arise in response to all the ways we suffer, including the suffering of being a know-it-all.  It is so embarrassing to creep out of the cocoon of rigid opinions and falsehoods.  But what kind of courage does it take to turn on the light and be willing to see I’ve been wrong about something?

Everything that applies to the mind also applies to our conversations. The three components of our natural communication system are Awake Body, Tender Heart and Open Mind. So here we’re talking about the open mind part, the willingness to exchange toxic certainty for the groundlessness of not knowing. And some situations are more conducive to this kind of exchange than others.  In a fear based, competitive environment it isn’t easy to expose our vulnerability.  So we’re tempted to keep up appearances and cling to our opinions without questioning them.  So, to discover the wisdom of not knowing we need a ‘green zone’, an environment that values openness and provides the compassionate space that welcomes growth and change. Before we can offer this to other people, we need to create this gentle, unconditionally accepting environment for ourselves.

It’s an interesting discovery to realize that emotional vulnerability is the lubricant that makes our mind flexible. To risk seeing our falsehoods and thinking errors we need to feel encouraged, not criticized.  The mind of not knowing is like a child, like a wild animal, wide-eyed with wonder but sensitive to silencing.

How amazing it would be if our society shifted overnight and we woke up to find the the Wisdom of Not Knowing was the dominant value in our world.  Instead of defending our rigid beliefs, what if we all simply opened to each other, listened and made room for a wide range of voices. What if we joined together in a flow of creative solutions rather than the dead end of our political platforms.  Along with open mind comes tender heart and awake body.  How great it would be to restore this natural ec0system of human dignity.  OK, where do we begin?


Susan Gillis Chapman

teaches part time for Green Zone Institute and for Karuna Training. Susan is a retired Marital and Family therapist who has been practicing mindfulness meditation for over 35 years.  She is the author of the book The Five Keys To Mindful Communication and a contributor to The Mindful Revolution, edited by Barry Boyce. Her website is: http://www.susangillischapman.com. Read more about Susan here.