Monday, January 28, 2008


I had an interesting experience at the Zendo yesterday that taught me something about the freedom of not knowing.

I can be insecure about being caught not knowing. If I’m having a discussion with someone and they mention something I’m not sure about -- political or historical facts, for example -- I often let it go rather than asking them for clarification.

I mean, if we’re discussing a book I’ve never read, I don’t pretend to have read it. I’m not that insecure. But sometimes I’m genuinely unsure whether I know something, partly because my memory is so terrible. I coast along and wait for a spark of recognition to ignite in my brain. (And sometimes it does.)

Anyway, on Sunday, as I was entering the Zendo, another guy came in who was visiting from San Francisco. I took him to the cloak room and as we hung up our coats I explained to him a bit about the Zendo. He’d sat before, so this was more practical advice -- the location of the bathrooms for example. I told him where the keys to the bathrooms were, and then a senior student standing nearby said, “and slippers.”

So I said, yes, we also provide slippers to wear to the bathroom, so you don’t have to put your shoes on to leave the Zendo. Then I turned to the senior student and, instead of thanking him, gave him a look that probably conveyed great exasperation.

See, he’d caught me -- “not knowing” something. I mean, I knew about the slippers, but I didn’t know, at least in that moment, to tell the visitor about them.

My reaction was purely defensive. But later, during the dharma talk, I realized how silly it was. “Not knowing,” always my bugaboo, is actually a position of great freedom. To not know something leaves you open to everything.

If I'd been in my rightly not-knowing mind, I would have simply turned and thanked the senior student for pointing out that, yes, we have slippers available. Ah, well. At that moment, I didn’t know to do that!

(Photo: Bronx, January 2008)


  1. Senior student cheekiness is something I would react to, too. Yeah!!

    For witches, the need to know everything translates into spell working and visualization. Nothing can be left to move and open on its own. The years I spent casting spells tied my energy into huge ugly knots. I'm still untangling the mess.

  2. I have the experience of "forgetting that I know" about every day. It makes me embarrassed to have someone like your senior student remind me.
    I always feel the need to explain myself, so that the other person will know that I'm not incompetent. I really ought not matter, but I let it.

  3. Dennis hisses at Chedwick when Ched bothers Dennis.
    Dennis thinks Steve should have turned around, stared, and then Hissed.

  4. I like not knowing being freeing. It actually makes sense!

    I often wonder how dramatic know-all folks really feel--their lives look exhausting to me. They get overexcited it seems, and they seems to be major worriers too. It might be that they can't always help being that way, but being aware, that is the first step?

    Thanks Steve, I feel free just knowing I don't have to know !