Friday Night Zen: Don’t Know Mind

:: Submitted by Emily Buckley ::

The topic for one of our recent Friday Night Zen meet-ups was “Don’t Know Mind,” a foundational Zen concept that has especially good applications for the divisiveness has run rampant through our country and planet.

Often, we go through our lives feeling certain things, or wanting to feel certain things. Feeling how we WANT to feel (safe, happy, loved, etc.) creates a feeling of security, when the reality is that things are always changing. While we have some control over our lives, it’s not as much as we may think. The reality is that life unfolds in ways that we sometimes wouldn’t have predicted.

Sometimes life presents us with things we don’t want. Sometimes, the things we thought we didn’t want can become huge blessings, though, often they can be really difficult or unpleasant. Either way, it’s all fuel for the fire of mindfulness. 

Opportunities to practice with people, places, things, or situations we don’t like can be the greatest teachers.

Here is an excerpt from an article by Ratnadevi from the Buddhist Door Global website:

“For me, Not Knowing is far more than a warm-up for more considered and carefully crafted literary output, more than an innocent, frisky child-phase prior to respectable, savvy adulthood. Not Knowing, even in its negative formulation—similar to Keat’s “negative capability”—is an inspired and positive way of being human, implying qualities of honesty, receptivity, openness, and prejudice-free largess of spirit that we could do more with in this divided and stressed modern world. I could have made “openness” the title for this piece, since, on the whole, being exposed to positive terms has a more beneficial effect. But we are firmly primed to reach—more or less irritably—for “fact and reason,” and an important aspect of this quality that I am interested in is the undoing of this tendency.”

After a period of trying too hard, I frequently experience it as a great relief to let go of the need to know what I think and what I should do, of that burden of identification with “me.” Reminding myself of Not Knowing in meditation practice drops me into deeper layers of peacefulness and bliss; in communication it frees up curiosity and allows attunement; embracing it in an emergency situation can help one to stay calm; and in a creative project it opens up a larger array of possibilities to draw from and invites synchronicity. 

Most aspects of my life are improved by Not Knowing, and I have a hunch that this might be true for the planet as a whole. What tries to claw back certainty and control, again and again, is fear. And what nevertheless steers me into the direction of Not Knowing is boredom with the repetitiveness and tidiness of the known.

Like this morning, when I felt some resistance to my morning routine of stretches and exercises, it seemed tedious and pedestrian. “Not Knowing,” I said to myself, and my legs started to swing in more unusual circles, making my spine arch and twist in ways that led to astonishing head positions. Very soon I started to feel engaged again, plugged in to ever-present life energy, flowing like the unpredictable eddies in a wild stream. In tandem with this piece of writing, keeping my theme in mind—or in hand, rather—I doodle with pastels and pencils, letting words and shapes emerge of their own free will, as it were.

Here are some questions we explored during our Friday night session and I invite you to reflect on them for yourself as you consider what it means to embrace Not Knowing:

+ Do you feel that you are often thinking of the future or past? What are some things you do to bring you back to the present moment?

+ What does “don’t know mind” mean to you?

+ What are activities that you do where you feel very much in the present moment?

If you’d like to join us for rich conversation, community, and practice, be sure to join our meet-up and get on the list for reminders about our twice monthly meet-ups and special events!

Emily has been practicing at Clouds in Water for about 7 years, and has recently also began  practicing in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhan Hanh. She works as an Early Childhood Special Education teacher with 3-5 year olds in Saint Paul Public Schools. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and doing pottery.

Clouds in Water Zen Center is a vibrant urban community in the heart of Saint Paul, Minnesota. We practice in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition, dedicated to awakening the heart of great wisdom and compassion. We welcome people of all backgrounds and faiths.

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