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Befriending the Unknown

We often know, we just don't know how.

Once, I worked with a client, an automotive insurance agent, trying to get at the heart of what he really wanted. We sat in my office, the light from the window shining on his chewed fingernails. After discussing many practical options for what he could do differently in his field, he surprised me by saying, “Well, what I really want is to develop an app for airplane pilots.”

Before he even paused to inhale, the tidal wave of personal thinking came flooding in, and he added, “But how would I support myself financially? Who am I to create an app? Will airplane pilots be offended?”

Photo by Ali Abdul Rahman on Unsplash

This is typical. There is the initial, curious wonderment coming from wisdom: Wouldn’t it be cool to create this app? Followed by a string of rational and logical reasons not to listen. The intellect obscures the original nugget of possibility. Suddenly, the known is covered up by a whole mess of insecure thinking and unknowns.

We often know—we just don’t know how.

In these instances, what can happen is that the whisper of wisdom is tossed on the scrap heap and we go about our day stuck in a mess of thought, feeling unfulfilled. When we don’t know how, we tend to wrestle in the in-between.

Why do great ideas land in the shower, while washing the dishes, or folding the laundry?

When our attention is not hyper-focused on our personal thinking, there is space for new thought to come through. Fresh ideas occur to us from the blue sky, the space beyond the clouds of our thinking.

So often we get stuck in our creative pursuits because we have expectations or judgment around the project. The dreaded Writer’s Block is merely believing in the lofty expectations that our writing has to be perfect, meaningful, or transcendent. What feels like “no new ideas” is insecure thinking that has taken up solid space in our awareness.

When a thought like I am not talented/experienced/whatever enough, comes into our awareness, that thought seems meaningful. So we spend more attention focusing on it. Pretty soon our nice clear mind is filled with thinking about our thinking. And there is no room for fresh ideas.

It takes courage to NOT know and to let the creative process unfold. In fact, it often happens that a musician or writer creates a hit record or a best-selling book on their first try. Remember the Macarena or Mambo Number 5?


What may be happening is that with beginner’s mind, when their “hit” came they most likely did not possess a lot of thinking around whether they could achieve something or not. They weren’t hovering over their own shoulder judging everything that came out of their pen or their playing on the guitar. They truly didn’t know better. Then after their fluke, they struggled to repeat the success for the rest of their career because they were trying too hard to recreate something that had come naturally the first time—precisely because they weren’t trying.

When we are blocked by old thinking, it feels like stuckness. The stuckness alerts us to our old patterns of thinking. In any moment, we can drop the thought and come back to the space of openness, clarity, and insight.

We tend to resist the unknown. Yet “I don’t know” is the perfect starting point for any new venture. When we stop trying to figure everything out, we wake up to this truly marvelous, mysterious moment and open up to possibility. We don’t actually live our life; we are being lived by life.

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