Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

I Really Don’t Know

Some of you are familiar with the Zen story of the university professor who went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor pontificated about Zen, holding himself forth as an expert on the topic. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The tea spilled onto the table and then to the floor. The master kept pouring. The professor watched until he could no longer restrain himself. “Stop! It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied. “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I was reminded of this story recently when I had tea with a friend who spent our whole time together explaining her evolving theories of awakening. While much of what she said was fascinating and thought provoking, I experienced our visit as much more of a lecture rather than a conversation. She seemed uninterested in what I might have offered, or in anything else about me or my life. In fact, I’m not sure it even mattered that I was there.

As I listened, there were times when I couldn’t keep up with the pace of her excited revelations, and I confess my brain drifted in and out of attention to her words. Instead, I became intrigued by the global structure of her analysis, and by her certainty that she had things figured out. There really wasn’t space for dialogue, for sharing, for communion.

On the way home, besides feeling a bit disappointed by the lack of conversation that I had looked forward to, I was curious about my friend’s grasp of the knowledge that she seemed so sure of. I looked down at what I was wearing and laughed. The Chinese characters on my T-shirt (in the photo above) mean “I really don’t know.”

The universe has conspired lately to remind me that everything I think I know … I don’t. No matter where I turn – to family, to friends, to martial arts, to life in general – I am confronted by my absolute ignorance of, well, everything. It is often disorienting and uncomfortable. Sometimes scary. At the same time, it is intriguing, exciting, liberating, and occasionally even fun.

It is, spiritually speaking, where the action is. Outside my comfort zone, on the razor’s edge, is where I see most clearly, if I’m willing to look, my habitual patterns, my stories, my insecurities and fear. It is where I’m given the opportunity to experience the raw beauty and fierce grace of reality, to surrender any illusion of control, to taste the nectar of truth. If only for a moment….

It’s also the place, and perhaps the only place, where authentic connection happens, because when we are in that place of not knowing, we are an open rather than a closed system. It’s where our cup is empty and has space for someone else.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ~Shunryu Suzuki

12 thoughts on “I Really Don’t Know”

  1. esther elizabeth

    Great blog entry — I too don’t know
    I love this reminder In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ~Shunryu Suzuki

  2. I am so happy to read this and remember that I really MUST empty my cup if I want to fill it with more. I love your new blog, and even though I’m already receiving notifications of new posts, I signed up again just to be on the safe side. 🙂

    1. Thanks DJan. I’m glad you like the new website and that you are continuing to get the updates emailed to you. You might find that signing up again results in duplicate emails. I don’t know. If so, I think there is a way to unsubscribe once. Let me know if there is a problem. I definitely have beginner’s mind regarding this new technology — ha!

  3. LOL!
    I Really Don’t Know.
    The best description of my life right now.
    And I think it will like be Really Really Dont Know soon.
    Thanks Beth. You made me smile. Wes

  4. Martha J Orlando

    In dealing with my mom’s illness and infirmities, I long for answers. Only God has them. May we let go and let Him.
    Blessings, Galen!

  5. Mona R McGinnis

    It is true, we do not know what is happening in the deepest sense. And if we can stay with that not knowing, and trust it, and enjoy it, we will be able to experience our life in some fundamentally different way. That’s our miraculous power.
    – Katherine Thanas
    This quote is something that I often refer to. I’m still working on “…and enjoy it”.

    1. Thank you, Mona, for adding this excellent quotation to the conversation. I especially like the connection between trust and enjoyment. Trust is so fundamental to allowing ourselves to release our urge to control. So work on trust, and the enjoyment will follow!

  6. To have a personal revelation about, and totally understand the gravity of “the mystery” is rebirth! But (as we well know), the path that follows is filled with sometime hungry alligators. And if Truth, God, Source, the Tao, (whatever we choose to call it) is foundational (and I think it is) then there must be an inevitable stripping away of our collective junk: cultural, psychological, sociological and theological. As to your friend, she is a perfect mirror to all of us, being unleashed by the creative process (she’s got it all worked out)— then (as we spiritual trekkers have learned through experience) the honing and whittling away process begins — Ouch! — aimed solely at of our unyielding pride.

    It’s clearly not easy to admit that after almost 50 years of searching for, and inquiring into Life’s mystery, I’ve come up mostly empty handed. Yet, this ineffable journey appears to have a life of its own — Ha! And it seems near impossible to abandon. And why would we? Yep, it’s fascinating, and wondrous, but at times scary, tumultuous, painful and nonsensical. But then again isn’t that what makes life so intriguing and beautiful. We are all in the hands of the beloved and the beloved resting in us.

    May we be as still as a candle flame, knowing the workings of the “Light of Love,” unveiled to your friend, is working a timeline of perfection in us all…

    1. Always good to hear from you, BKT. Your description of searching for 50 years to come up empty handed is one so many of us can relate to. And yes, the journey does seem to have a life of its own that we have bought our ticket for and we are on the ride! Whatever it takes — right? In the hands of the beloved indeed. Beautifully said. Thanks for stopping by.

Comments are closed.