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)