[Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness Teacher]
Hello and welcome to another episode of "Mindfulness+". I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thank you so much for listening today. I had an experience recently that I would like to share in service of another mindfulness lesson here at "Mindfulness+". So it goes something like this, I had this idea, maybe even inspiration that there was a topic that I wanted to study really deeply. So I decided I am going to go back to school at my ripe age of 41 years old. I looked at programs, I found one I really liked, I applied and proceeded to hurry up and wait for almost an entire year from that moment that I decided I'm gonna do this thing. In this episode today, I wanna talk about and work with unknowing, a topic that is not unfamiliar to listeners and "Mindfulness+" but I want to talk about unknowing as a moving target. Here's what I mean by this. For the first, oh, I don't know say 9 or 10 months, I thought, yeah I got a good mindfulness practice going here. There's this big question in my life, I don't know if I'll get into this program and if I do, it will change my life and my family's life really significantly. And the prime directive, I'm just going to be clear about where I'm feeling that unease, where I'm feeling that queasiness, where I'm feeling that anxiety in my body. I'm going to observe it with great precision, I'm going to have equanimity with it and allow it to be there, rinse and repeat. So I have done this many a time over the last year and I noticed a distinct shift in the unpleasantness of the unknowing the last month, the last four weeks of my life. It just, it's like the universe ratcheted it up. The intensity got more intense and it was like really game on. And I stayed with the prime directive, more equanimity, more mindfulness, open awareness, yada, yada. just a few days ago, I get an email, that email, admissions decisions, they're out. And it so happens in this case, I got the news that I was hoping for at the level of personality, I got accepted. So all at once a year of unknowing, this intense volume of experience, it's like this bubble that just popped open. Finally, that thing I didn't know, will I get into school and will I move my family across the country come fall 2022? The answer, yes, you will. You're going to school. Wonderful, finally, that itch that I just couldn't scratch. I needed to know something and finally now, I know it. Problem solved, everything's great, right? Oh, but you know better 'cause you are a mindfulness practitioner. And the moment I knew, or let's say maybe four moments after I knew, there were a good three counts of like oh this is amazing, I'm so happy. And then four moments later, I start to think, oh man, I've never moved across the country. I've never moved a family across the country. Where am I gonna live? Whoa, whoa, not only where am I gonna live during school, where are we going to live as a family after school? You see where I'm going here? Unknowing, if you observe it carefully in your life is a moving target. We tell ourselves through narrative and self-talk every day that there are these things we don't know yet. But if we did know them, we could finally relax and chill out. And this was a vivid experience the last few days of my life that I've lived many times and I wanna share it with you so as to illuminate and clarify this very same process in your life. Right now, there's something in your life that you would prefer to know. Maybe you would prefer to know if you will end up getting married. Maybe you would prefer to know if you're married, if you're gonna stay married. Maybe you'd prefer to know if you're going to raise a family. If so, how many children? What about this career, is this the right career for you? Should you change things up a little bit, maybe shift careers? So on and so forth. There's always a question, there's always the unknowing. And we tell ourselves, we just wanna know this thing. If we knew this one thing, it'd be okay. And sometimes in life, we actually get to know it. And the moment we get to know it, the mind inevitably fixates on a new object of unknowing. Let me say that again, inevitably when we know the thing we set out to know, if we get to know it, some things we don't get to know, like the day of our death. I just upped the ante there. But if we do get to know it, ah, we have that moment. Maybe a couple of moments of, ah finally. Oh, that feels real nice ah, and then boom, back to wanting to know again. I don't know this thing that if I just knew, I could be okay. So the mind fixates on a new object of unknowing and the cycle repeats. I had a vivid reminder of this in my life this week. I felt all of this anxiety, is my life gonna change? And then when I realized, yes, my life's gonna change, it went right into, oh, how's it gonna change? Where am I gonna live? Where am I gonna go after school? What am I gonna do after school? All that. The invitation here is to let unknowing just remain a moving target and consider letting go of the fantasy that you're ever gonna throw a dart right at the bullseye of that target and once and for all are gonna know everything you ever need to know. The invitation is to recognize that feeling anxious about not knowing a lot of the most important questions in our lives, right? 'Cause at the end of the day, we don't know a lot of the most important questions in our lives. How long am I going to live anyway? That's pretty important. I don't know that any of us can answer it with any certainty. Can we really notice that anxiety of not knowing life's big questions and rather than doing what I did a lot of the last year, trying to know, waiting to know, telling myself I cannot wait till mid-March of this coming year when I'll finally know, just appreciate that this, we could call it a particular kind of anxiety is not a problem to be solved. It's not an anxiety we want to drive away by finally figuring out all the stuff we hope to know but rather the anxiety is just a sign that we're alive. We're embodied sensitive beings and as long as we're embodied sensitive, awake beings, we are going to feel a certain level of anxiety about the open nature of reality. The open nature of reality. We tell ourselves if we know, if we just knew it it'd be okay. And so the mind imposes its constructs and its boxes, its parameters over this boundless space of unknowing. We pretend to know things we don't know, we pretend to know more than we actually know just to not feel this feeling of aliveness. We call it anxiety and we call it a problem. That's what I wanna say. Now of course there are forms of anxiety that don't fall into every day, neurotic anxiety and this that's a different protocol. There are treatment options for severe debilitating anxiety. But what I'm talking about here is the everyday anxiety that most of us fantasize about not feeling. And what if we just felt it? What if we knew deep down that no matter what answers to which questions we come across, there's still going to be unknowing in our lives. There's still gonna be things we don't know. So let's try dropping the claim here that there's something we can do about this basic unknowing. Let's notice where the target's moving, what do I want to know so badly today? What did I wanna know yesterday that I know today but I'm already anxious again? Let's just practice with this, let's include it in our experience of being alive and see what life feels like then. Settle in. Let the body organize into a posture that allows you to be very awake, but also relaxed. Feel the ground beneath you, the support of the ground beneath you. Let the spine be straight. The breath drop into the belly. Stay with us for a moment. Deep belly breathing. There's a certain stillness, a peace in the body that just is for no reason. The body and expression of nature knows how to rest. From this place of stillness and rest, go back in your mind 10 years. Call up where you were in life 10 years ago and recall, what was a question? Something you didn't know the answer to at the time that you really wanted to know the answer to. Something in your life, an uncertainty. Go back to that time, where were you in the world? Where did you live? Who were you with? How did you feel in the body at that time? What were the feelings present in your heart, the thoughts in your mind? Life was rich then as it is now, but I want you to focus on 10 years ago. Anything that was making you anxious, something you didn't know about. What was uncertain in your future at the time? Yeah, that's it. Call it up in the body, remember what that felt like. You don't have to interpret it, you don't have to understand the sensation. Just using your memory, your capacity to visualize, call up a flavor of that anxiety, that uncertainty in the body as it lived in you 10 years ago. Reacquaint yourself with that embodied experience. Presumably 10 years later, right now, you know a little more about that question than you did 10 years ago. Maybe not. If not, stay with the uncertainty, stay with the anxiety, the unknowing by all means. But if you did live into the answer to that question, feel the way in this moment that that piece, that knowing has already given rise to a new question, a new inquiry, a new source of uncertainty, a seemingly new source of uncertainty. In other words, what is it now in your life right now, what don't you know that you would love to know? And if you just knew it, you'd tell yourself that you would finally stop being anxious and you could relax and you could make a few plans. Pick one thing, it might be many things, pick one. Pick the one that makes you the most anxious in this moment. You don't know, but you tell yourself, you need to know if only I knew. And now I want you to drop the content, drop the story, quit pretending like this thing you don't know the answer to is actually the source of your anxiety. Quit telling yourself that you're only anxious because of this one thing and just be anxious for no reason. Anxious not in a pathological sense, anxious in the way of open unknowing excitement. Anxious in the sense that as we start to be more honest about how radically open reality is, we realize we have no idea what's happening on so many levels and that freaks the mind out. It freaks the personality out. So we race to come up with plans, contingencies, what can we control? Don't do it. Stay open, relax in the body and feel this aliveness. Expose to the radically open nature of reality. Stay here. Maybe even try doing it with a half smile. Of course the mind is going to find problems but at the level of naked raw sensation, is there any evidence of a problem in this moment? Sure, it would be nice to know when the pandemic is finally over. Sure, it would be nice to know if I should invest in real estate or wait another couple years or whatever else. Sit as don't know, can't know. And feel how stable you actually are here, on the ground of being itself. Whatever you actually need to know will be provided in the moment. Any sense of anxiety, just evidence that you are alive and increasingly embracing of the open nature of reality. Thank you, great practice today. Oh I needed that, I need that every day. I bet you do too. I hope after today's lesson, practice, you feel a little more space, maybe a lot more space with all those questions you thought you needed to answer right away. Maybe you don't need to answer 'em, maybe you live into the answers in good time. And in the meantime, there's no problem to be solved. I'm Thomas McConkie. This is "Mindfulness+". Hey, if you enjoy us, share us, let your friends know about our show, leave us a rating. Thank you always to our sponsor, skylight. We'll be back with more next week.