Wouldn’t it be really cool to be able to provide the answers to everything, to remove any uncertainty and to reveal the secrets of the universe:
In the Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be…… 42.
Since I’m yet to reach such or any conclusion, anyone searching here for such certainty should stop reading now, or risk being sorely disappointed.
Beginning to blog was quite a challenge – it was overwhelming to choose an audience, a theme, grapple with the technicalities of actually creating a site let alone find something to say. In fact the something to say was the easy part! Since the only blogs I followed at that stage were one written intermittently by a Buddhist Monk and the esoteric and very minimal Zen Habits, delving into some of the more popular sites for inspiration seemed like a pretty good place to start. Something that came up repeatedly was the advice to provide something your perceived audience would want to know, some kind of pithy advice. Hence the plethora of posts providing easy solutions in a numbered steps to these gritty problems of existence. A quick google of “3 ways to ….” revealed:
3 ways to improve memory
3 ways to improve your sleep
3 ways to reduce stress
3 ways to go (die)
3 ways to reduce, reuse, recycle
And at the end of the page the intriguingly titled:
3 ways you can win the Type 59 in February.
These tag- lines are particularly attractive because the solutions they suggest seem so simple and neat – just adhering to a certain set of rules, changing one specific behaviour, eating or avoiding a single food will lead to certain miraculous and radical change with very little effort. It’s seductive rhetoric.
One of the things I’ve found uncomfortable about putting thoughts in the public domain in this way is that it often seems that in the very action of writing, I’m claiming to have answers, to provide some kind of comfortable how to advice. Accumulating the rather alarmingly termed “followers” only serves to deepen this feeling of dis- ease. I do – in common with most people I suspect, have moments of apparent clarity and it’s tempting at these times to jump onto the 7 ways to have the perfect life bandwagon and rack up those follower numbers… but I learnt long ago the wisdom of viewing these kind of certainties with faint amusment and letting them pass.
There’s Buddhist saying that goes something like this:
“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”
For me this translates to recognising that when I realise something with absolute certainty, when I’ve cracked it, when ( in my case at least) I feel the need to spread the word with evangelical zeal, THAT is the precise point that I need to let go of the idea, to release my grasp on certainty since holding on leaves me closed and rigid, treading the dangerous road of the fundamentalist – and if I’m so strongly right – it means that others are wrong…..
Pragmatically (and this is how I like to live) this means living with the realisation that very often there are no answers – that not only is it OK to say:
“I don’t know”
Very often it’s the wisest thing to admit. Both wise and brave.
Living in this world fully requires embracing pain and uncertainty and dealing with the discomfort and vulnerability that comes with it. Quick fixes, blind following, life by numbers are not an option for anyone intending to really explore what it means to be alive. With age, experience and confidence I’ve become much more willing and ready to admit my uncertainty about plenty of things – it’s liberating to be free from needing to appear to be in control, to trust in a kind of life guiding philosophy that’s very different from the rigid rules, certainty and blind faith. Instead I try to take a much more practical, experiential approach, a process, a messy wonderful and very personal journey. In being vulnerable enough to accepting and embrace the unknowable and unknown it becomes possible to look at the world with real openness, curiosity and wonder.
Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.
Zen Habits has an interesting post this week on change, certainty and grasping for solidity.