Saturday, February 28, 2009

Knowing Not Knowing

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.
~ Alan Watts ~
One of the hardest concepts for each individual member of humankind to wrap his/her head around is knowing not knowing. We live in a world in which knowing is supreme -- the time, our age, how much money is in the bank, our address. Smart people rise to the top. Those who think they know run the world.

But too often, smart individuals aren't necessarily wise individuals. Wise people are those few who accept knowing not knowing. In fact, the more they know they don't know, the more they don't know they know.

Yes, I know that sounds (in the common vernacular) like unmitigated gibberish, but knowing not knowing is pure science and poetry. It is the only part of existence we can each be sure of, then again, can we be sure of anything?

Acknowledging knowing not knowing is a tad bit scary. The one common fear that our species shares is the fear of not knowing that which we cannot know, the unknown. In those quiet moments when we are deep alone within our souls, we grasp that the unknown is ten times ten times ten more than the possibly or potentially known.

So, for me, the greatest irony of ironies is that in our materialistic world the wisest of the wise -- those who fully embrace knowing not knowing -- are the people most likely to swept aside. The people most likely not to be listened to. The people most likely not to be used as societal models.

But they shed not a tear for knowing not knowing deflates the ego and so, what's there to cry about?


  1. Get a life! You know NOTHING :)
    Damn you are getting good...
    Knowing Not Knowing.
    Forget it: nobody is going to understand that concept, apart from the handful that do.
    Words can not convey it. Words speak to the intellect, and in so doing, practically guarantee that what is understood on this is gibberish.
    I know what God is.
    But if asked, would have to say something like:
    "Can the created know the creator?"
    Obviously one can, or I would not, but the word "know" can not convey the nature of the concept.
    "Knowing" actually is a verbal paradox.
    And paradox is at the heart of true "knowing".

  2. Crow,
    I like the way you turn a phrase! "Knowing actually is a verbal paradox". I'm going to remember that one, not just because it sounds so cool, but because it's so true.

  3. There is nothing to know even. Knowing something is not what it seems, not only is it not truly known but assumptions made, much ignored, and by knowing one thing the vastness left unknown is, well, vast.

    Only when completely empty can it all be present.

    As for the ones who think they know and go on to take office to tell others what is best for them, they are the biggest frauds.

    A truly wise leader would not.
    (yes that is a complete sentence).

  4. I've never been a fan of Alan Watts. But I just wrote that quotation down in my journal. Good stuff that. True.


  5. Tao,
    I have nothing to add. You said it very well.

    Personally, I'm a big Alan Watts fan. His writings really make me think anew.

  6. Hmmm, it has been many years and I was a different person then...perhaps I should give him another try. Any specifics suggestions/recommendations as to hos best stuff or what speaks to you the most in his writings?

  7. Hi
    I found you at "Matters of Integrity". You write beautifully and deep and profoundly. I thought I would say "hi". So, "hi".

    I have journeyed long and hard to where I am at today. My blog speaks to such endeavors. In regards to meditation, reflection and 'soul-searching' if you will. I do so through my feet. Hang on, give me a minute to 'splain'! :-)

    Years back, after a tragic event, somehow I knew that if I took off my shoes, and walked on the hard surfaces with rocks and gouges and other distractions I would focus on my feet and hot "him", and/or where I hurt. It worked. SOme divine intervention showed me to do this. ANd to this day, when times are troubling, and I need to "step away" and find my way, I walk in our brook, barefoot, atop rocks and branches and other brook objects and feel it all through my feet. In time I am drenched in distinguishing the various influences and my mind clears and I can re-define. It is a bit trickier in the colder weather, it takes far less time, that's for sure! :-)

    So heres to feet!

    I really like your site.


  8. Forest,
    What appeals to me in Watts' writing is a real knack of taking everyday concepts -- things we take as a given -- and turning them on their head.

    To offer but one example. In western society, we value the rational intellect of the mind. For Watts, the mind is to be held with great suspicion, while the brain (wholly different from the mind) should be valued.

    For him, the mind is our consciousness -- that thing that clutters up the brain with desires and wants. Our brains do a magnificent job in maintaining our lives WITHOUT any conscious contribution on the part of the mind (i.e., we don't have to "think" about food digestion).

    Thanks for your kind words and sharing your experience re the "rocks". We each have to find our own way to center ourselves and your way shows great imagination and the willingness to "think outside the box".

  9. RT,
    Ah, now you're jogging my memory and I think I remember why I didn't connect with Watts. I tend to be suspicious of types who are suspicious of the intellect. I'm a big fan of reason. But thanks; I'll still consider giving him another go.


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