ON NOT KNOWING
“The single greatest lie we tell ourselves, blindly and endlessly, is ‘I already know how things are.’" So somebody wrote, a few years ago. How boring it would be to know everything already! - or rather (because no one in fact knows everything) to think that I know everything. The world would be an old place, a second-hand place. I would be going around thinking and feeling (and probably - to the disgust of everyone - saying) things like: I already know what I am, and I already know what the world is; I already know what God is! But of course the world is perfectly new every moment, so it is impossible to know it already! All I know is my memories, and the limitations that go with them. ‘But what about the power of logical reasoning?’ you say. Well, someone defined logic as “the art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human understanding.” We mustn't confuse reality with our ideas about it. That way lies madness. Chesterton once said that a lunatic was not someone who had lost his mind, but someone who had lost everything except his mind!
The only thing that memories can do is repeat themselves over and over. This is how life loses its wonder and magic for many or even most people. How awful to think: I already know what kind of person this is; I already know what this place is; I already know what this situation is about; I already know what kind of experience this is; I already know what pleasure is; I already know what pain is; I already know what 'relationship' is; I already know what being alone is; I already know what success is; I already know what failure is… and so on, endlessly!
Yet we don't really know. How could we? To be awake, to be open, to be innocent, to be free, is to be ready for what is just happening now; and what that truly is cannot be known in advance.
Even when we have had a moment of clear sight, there is a tendency to slump back to old mental habits and assumptions - like the ‘default mode’ on a computer.
Jesus spoke about “dying to oneself in order to live.” This means dying to one’s old self in order to be alive with the life that God is giving me just now. It involves putting to death that awful ‘know-all’ in me who spoils the freshness of existence moment by moment. It involves abandoning strategic and ambitious thinking, especially in matters of the spirit. Even many ‘holy’ people are capable of no other kind of thinking. Faith is about innocence; that is why Jesus said we must be like children.
Somewhere deep in us there lurks the secret hope that what I want can be made secure and permanent. This has never worked, yet we continue to hope that maybe next time something will lead to permanent happiness. That is what must be surrendered: not because it's bad, or immoral, but simply because it doesn't work. It doesn't work because life is not like that. In life, nothing ever stays the same, even from one moment to the next.
What do you really want? If you want peace, then be peace now, instead of dreaming about it or just remembering it. If you want love, then be love now. If you want freedom, then be free now. There is nothing real in the way.
Donagh O'Shea OP