It was a busy day, and I had a doctor’s appointment. I was taking the elevator to get to the ground floor of the parking garage, listening to messages on my phone as I walked. A man and woman were standing there, chatting, and we all got onto the elevator, together.
There was a sudden, strange silence as we went down the elevator and upon exiting to head into the hospital, I heard the man behind me, grumbling to the woman about people with their cell phones who couldn’t put them down for even two seconds, and she chimed in in agreement and disapproval.
I felt a curious giggle wanting to arise, since the timing of my cell phone use and their commentary seemed more than coincidental.* I smiled as I walked through the sliding doors of the hospital, thinking: Wow. What an interesting narrative for someone to spin, when they just don’t know.
While sure, I hadn’t been chatty with these strangers on an elevator, the facts were these: That my cell phone is on silent, 99.9% of the time. That my entire schedule pivots around our infant daughter, and I work half as much so that I can spend more time with her. That I’m not on my phone even when pushing my daughter in a stroller, because I want to be fully with her, even though she’s too young to know the difference and wouldn’t be able to see me on a phone when she’s face forward in her stroller, anyway. That I shop and cook for my family more nights of the week than not. That when I drive, I don’t text. That I have no games on my phone. That I don’t even have email on my iPhone, save a junk account. That people routinely get annoyed with me because of how bad I can be about returning texts, emails, or phone calls.
In other words–while I certainly use my phone, I’m pretty conscious about how I desire to use it.
Someone saw fifteen seconds of my life, and an entire narrative cropped up about who I must be, because of it.
How interesting, I thought. And then: Where in my life do I do that, too?
This is why Buddhism and so many other spiritual traditions ask you to abandon all “knowing.” When we think we “know” we become limited. We see one slice, we cling to it, we use it to reinforce our belief systems and identity systems without ever questioning whether it might be reflective of an objective truth. Even the concept of objective truth is one that we are cautioned about (Who determines this so-called “objective truth”?).
Instead of grasping on to some idea or concept and making it ours, we’re asked to release concepts–just as you would release the breath on a meditation cushion, not holding on to it because to do so keeps you from breathing, which in turn keeps you from…living.
I play with this, on the regular. I just don’t know. I don’t need to know. I don’t need to cling to the illusion of knowing. I don’t need to have the answer. I don’t need to figure it out.
When we don’t need to “know,” what I find when I’m successful with this practice is that all that’s left is something open and spacious. It’s a different quality of openness or spaciousness ever time, so it’s difficult to describe–more felt than articulated.
And often, too? When I can release the need to know, it’s a relief. I have spent an exhausting amount of time trying “to know,” trying to quantify and categorize and compartmentalize because I wanted some semblance of control (and I wanted control because that’s what would make me feel safe).
The truth that I keep coming back to is that we just never really know, in an absolute sense. It’s always shifting and changing. And “safety” is an illusion. We are actually all walking around in the world, raw and exposed and vulnerable regardless of whether or not we realize it. Tsunamis and volcanoes and earthquakes, real or figurative, teach us this lesson again and again.
So in the absence of knowing, I like to ask myself: Where does happiness take up residence in my body? Do I give it enough room, enough space?
When I’m not hyper-focused on “knowing” in any absolute way, the answer that arises on its own is this: I am here to be happy, to be joyful, and these states are not things “to be done,” they are not something I can “accomplish,” but rather if I make the room for those states then they will come forth because they are there all of the time.
We just don’t know. We don’t even need to know.
*Or not. Who knows? ;-)