It sounds so innocuous, doesn’t it? It’s right up there with What’s new? and What’s happening?
All these questions require a reply, preferably one of a short, definitive nature:
Fine. It’s going great. Super. Thanks for asking.
Here in America, we love snappy replies. We want everything to be simple, clear, and straight-to-the-point.
But that’s not always possible.
I once had a teacher who told me she loved going to India. She said that the minute she stepped off the plane, she could feel she was in a country that valued introspection and intuition.
America, by contrast, is an extroverted, materialistic nation. We value getting things done. We value those things we can see and assess with our physical senses. And these things have their place.
But there’s more.
This same teacher is the one who taught me the vital importance of this phrase:
I don’t know.
In an extroverted, materialistic society, I don’t know is against the grain. And yet it’s vital to a life of creativity and aliveness.
How boring would it be if our whole lives were already planned out for us? Day by day, month by month, set in stone. And yet such rigidity is often expected by ourselves and others.
I don’t know counters all that.
When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was willing to hang out in the I don’t know because I had no other choice. Staying in this place of openness and ambiguity led me to working on a farm, then studying psychology, then working with teenagers, then writing fiction, then going to ministerial school.
Indeed, my life is a dance of hanging out in the I don’t know, then receiving direction, then taking action, and then hanging out in the I don’t know once again. This dance allows me to remain open to messages from the Bigger part of me, the part that would be inaccessible if I insisted on always knowing what was going to happen next.
Yes, it can be scary to not know, but the payoff is mighty.
So here’s the question:
Where are you with the I don’t know?
Are you totally at home in this place?
Or are you living in the I don’t know, but telling yourself it’s not okay to do so?
Or maybe there’s an area of your life that’s in an I don’t know phase, but you’re trying to force it into premature clarity, imposing structure and answers where they don’t belong.
Or perhaps you’re under the illusion that once you get through an I don’t know phase, there will never be another one again.
I have to admit, I’m sometimes guilty of this last illusion. But the longer I live, the more I see that this I don’t know place is one of the richest areas of my life. I’m seeing that in order to stay intimately connected to the Divine, I need to continually sit in the I don’t know, wait for answers, move forward, and then wait in the I don’t know for my next steps.
Indeed, I think it’s time for an I don’t know revolution!
Someone asks how you are, and you answer I don’t know. Someone asks about your next career move and you reply, I don’t know. Someone asks who you are and you say, I don’t know.
Imagine the freedom! The possibilities! The intricate Dance with the Divine!
What’s your relationship to I don’t know? What have you learned from periods of waiting?