The essence of this practice is to give up our false certainties about life and to live in wonder.

We all love certainty, don’t we? We like to be sure about things. We like to know what’s around the corner. We like to know why things are the way they are. Being certain is a place of safety. Living in certainty is like building walls around us. It’s a way of saying “I know what’s what and you can’t touch me. I’m safe.”

However, all too often we don’t know why things are happening and we rush to judgement with a very limited amount of data. We do this partly because we have become accustomed to doing it and partly because to live in uncertainty can be unsettling and make us face our fears.

Because so many of us are in the habit of rushing into forming opinions and building these battlements of belief around us, whenever we encounter people who seem to know differently and have a different set of beliefs, we have a kind of war with them. We have to defend our position and deny the validity of their claims. People rush to judgement on things so quickly – they may not have even heard of something before, let alone consider it, then they read something in the newspaper and instantly form an opinion. They read in the newspapers that immigrants are to blame for rising unemployment, so that’s what they believe – that’s what they know and they are certain of it. And then someone comes along who challenges that view and they are met with the view that “I know what I know.”

The process is: we form our opinions, someone challenges us, we rebuff his challenge (because we know what we know and how dare he challenge us), then, slowly over time we may or may not choose to consider his point of view and reconsider our own, which may in turn lead to a new understanding. This happens on the individual level and also happens on the larger scale. Take Galileo, for example, who could see that reality was not quite what most people believed it to be, and he had far more in the way of data than anyone else at the time. He had studied the positions of the planets and he had concluded that the Earth was not the centre of the universe and that the sun did not revolve around the Earth. Now when he first came out with that idea people didn’t want to know because they knew that the sun and all the other planets revolved around the Earth. It was many years later before his ideas were accepted.

So rushing to judgement and claiming a false certainty about things slows down evolution. The alternative is to learn to live in the “I don’t know”. Living in the “I don’t know” has a huge amount of power and is very challenging. If you live in the “I don’t know” the first tendency that your mind will have will be to want to shut down. The mind, deprived of its false certainty of knowing, will seek to create a new certainty by closing the door to the unknown and shutting down. Another term for living in the “I don’t know” is “living in the question”. Living in the question is not something we can just decide to do – we need to train ourselves to do it. To live in the question we need to reprogram our minds and accept a new set of mental instructions. We need to begin to associate not knowing and uncertainty with being calm and at peace. Currently most of us associate uncertainty or not knowing with uneasiness and unsettledness, but this is just accidental programming, the way that we have learned to be without intending it. Once we have learned to associate not knowing with being calm, relaxed and at ease, we will find it much easier to live in the question and reap the benefits of this way of being.

Beyond that we can see that living in the question can be a very powerful agent for change. Living in certainty is a restrictive type of experience. We close the doors and say “I know all there is to know and new information can stay out.” When we live in the question, it is an expansive state of being. Because we don’t know, we wonder. As we wonder our mind expands. It goes off in different directions as it considers different possibilities. It opens our mind. 

There is power in asking

By claiming false certainties about life, are we effectively repeating the same stories over and over again? Living in the question is a way of being that asks a question. “Ask and ye shall receive”. Because we are so focused on the material world we have become accustomed to interpreting that saying in a material way. We think if that saying is true we should be able to ask for something to be given to us and it will be. But maybe the saying applies more to receiving on a non-physical level than it does to receiving physical objects.

As we ask a question we reach out, possibly to other parts of ourselves. How many times have you asked a question and found that the very act of asking was enough to get the answer you needed? We can ask someone for help and find that the answer has occurred to us before they have even had chance to reply. We can compose an email to someone and find we get the answer to our question before the recipient has even read the email, let alone replied to it. We can even take this further and simply imagine asking the question of someone who might know the answer – this alone can sometimes tell us what we need to know. Furthermore, formulating, defining and clarifying the question can bring a deeper understanding of the subject.

As we live in the question it is like we are drawing other parts of our being into the present moment, into the now. It’s like sending out a rallying cry to the far corners of our being. We are aware, if we think about it, of the part of us that keeps us alive – the part that keeps us breathing and the heart beating without us having to think about it. We know there are these aspects to our being which lie outside of our consciousness. But maybe there are many other aspects to our being which are equally occupied in some way or another. And maybe by bringing those parts of us into consciousness, into the present moment, we can build our presence, become wiser and more empowered.

This is one of the keys with personal growth: we are mostly not here. Parts of our being are elsewhere. This is where the Native American concept of soul retrieval comes in. In that model, when someone is sick, they say that the soul or part of the soul has left the body. It is then the job of the shaman or the medicine man or woman to help to retrieve that lost soul or soul aspect and bring it back into the person’s body, back into his consciousness, into the now. We see this soul loss happening whenever there is emotional trauma which someone is unable to process. Because western medicine puts so much emphasis on the symptoms in the physical body, it does not see that there has been “soul loss”, it simply sees the physical effects of it. These symptoms are then assigned a label or a diagnosis which is usually to invent a new name for a set of symptoms. And so people get labelled as having some new kind of syndrome.

Such soul loss is happening all the time and happens to all of us to a lesser or greater extent – it is simply more obvious in someone who has a chronic condition. We have all lost parts of our being to unresolved trauma and we have all lost parts of our being to living too much in false certainty and not living in the question.

The deeper the trauma and the more the person is unable to deal with it, the more his soul becomes absent. When this happens, what remains is essentially the physical body which is being run by its programs. The person is essentially being run by his mind which is like a ship without a captain – it’s like a car where the engine is running and the handbrake is off but there is no driver. His motion is determined by whatever and whoever happens to bump into him.

Next Chapter: Mindfulness >>

*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***