Have you ever been totally convinced about something that you later found out wasn’t true?
Have you ever thought something happened that actually didn’t, or been wrong about someone’s motivations? And don’t even try to get out of this next one, because I know we’re all guilty of it.
That thing? Thinking we know what someone else is thinking.
Have you ever realized how many problems this causes in your daily life?
Until I started doing a form of meditation called The Work a few years ago, I had very little understanding of how often I made assumptions about the world around me — and about the people in it.
But the more I do this Work, the more I realize just how little I truly know. As it turns out, I don’t know everything! In fact, I can’t really know anything.
Instead of that being a source of stress for me, oddly enough, my experience has been the opposite. Admitting you don’t know is actually a huge relief.
As Byron Katie, founder of The Work often says:
“‘I don’t know’ is my favourite position.”
Each time I meditate, I’m reminded of why that’s such a sweet position to be in.
We often confuse not knowing with foolishness or stupidity. Not knowing has become a source of shame and embarrassment in our culture. Our society is structured in such a way that people are supposed to know certain things.
Managers are supposed to know all and see all. Teachers are supposed to know what each child needs and also know how to reach each child in order to provide them with the best education possible. Parents are supposed to know what’s best for their children. We expect this of them, and because we expect it, it creates a certain rigidity and box for those people to live out of. They are looked down upon if they make a mistake or aren’t doing everything perfectly. But the fact is, nobody is perfect. Those people we expect to know everything are actually just human beings, like the rest of us.
Society is full of harsh critics with near impossible expectations. It’s no surprise that when the average person is presented with the option to either face criticism and an angry public, or act as if they’re perfect and all-knowing, many people choose to pretend rather than be honest and open, for fear of looking stupid or not being liked and respected.
The thing is, nobody can know everything. Nobody can get through life without making mistakes. So, we’re going to fumble anyway. We’re going to be criticized and judged and fall on our faces, and pretending that we’re perfect and fighting to the death to prove that we didn’t make a mistake is pure pain.
We can judge others and criticize them and make assumptions about why they do what they do all we want, but we can never know for sure. We’re not them. We aren’t having their experience, thinking their thoughts, living their life, or feeling what they feel.
We often think we can know someone else’s intentions and we make up our own conclusions about why they’ve taken the actions they’ve taken. Sometimes, though, the things we make up and assume about them are actually hurtful — to both them and us.
When we do The Work, we open our mind just enough to realize, on a deep level, that we cannot be sure that our stories about them are real. We can’t be 100% sure that what we’ve concluded about them, or what we’ve made their actions or words mean, is actually the truth.
That person could have had a completely different experience of the same moment in time from the one we had. Chances are, they did! Their perception may have literally had NO resemblance to ours, even though both people were there.
It’s actually quite amazing when you start to realize this!
Rather than thinking that we already know, and therefore shutting off any further possibility of learning or discovering something new, it’s actually much kinder to yourself and others to open the mind to the “I don’t know” position.
As I’m beginning to discover the more I do this Work, that’s where all true learning stems from. That’s where compassion is found, kindness is accessed, and love is allowed to win.
I promise you: admitting you don’t know is not as scary as it seems at first!
But the only way to learn this is to experience it for yourself.