Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
Let's start with the Zen story that inspired today's Inner Space issue.

Two Zen teachers meet; one is named Dizang, the other Fayan.

“Where are you going?”, inquires the first Zen master, Dizang.

“I’m going on a pilgrimage”, the other teacher responds.

“What’s the purpose of pilgrimage?” asks the first.

“I don’t know” Fayan responds.

“Not knowing is most intimate” replies the first teacher.

As the story goes, Fayan had a profound spiritual awakening when hearing that phrase.
What's so special about not knowing?

Aren't we mostly trying avoid it?

Imagine this: you're in a pitch-black room, unable to orient around the furniture, bumping onto stuff and knocking down objects. You're feeling both scared and a bit annoyed. That's what not knowing does to us. No wonder we have the expression "being in the dark."

But I want to propose something: it doesn't have to be this way. If we learn to imagine and embody this state in a different way, it can completely reshape our consciousness.

We spend most of our lives trying to learn things (although sometimes unlearning wouldn't hurt) or consolidate our knowledge, to go from I don't know to now I get it!

We prefer the safe terrain of certainty. We love to bask in the light of "established truths" and take great comfort to know some things in life are as certain and predictable as the journey of Earth around the Sun or the atomic mass of Silver.

But not knowing doesn't need to be painful or humiliating.

It can induce feelings of awe and make us remember about our interconnectedness with the Universe.

The phrase "not knowing is most intimate" is usually referred to as a koan, which represents a short, often puzzling affirmation in Zen that the practitioner is invited to sit with, by repeating it over and over again, in a trance-like meditation. Koans are used to shake us out of conventional modes of thinking, to show a hidden facet of reality - something that has been there all along but we lacked the sensitivity to see it. The beauty of this one in particular is that it can be applied to itself.

Since you might not know why Not knowing is most intimate, then it follows that...

Not knowing why "not knowing is most intimate" is most intimate. 🤯

Let that sink in.

But a koan is more than a paradoxical statement that we can marvel at for its bewildering qualities. If we allow it, it has the power to provoke in us a shift in perspective, to penetrate the deepest layers of our psyche, beyond rational thought.

This koan invites us to come to terms with the limits of our conceptual knowledge and tap into a more raw and direct experience of life. Think about a time in your life when you a had a profound encounter with joy or wonder, but you couldn't put what you felt into words.

It can also dissolve the line between subject and object, self and other, allowing for a holistic integration with the world. In Zen, this known as non-duality. This koan challenges us to go beyond dualistic thinking, to reject the narrow view of opposites, such as right/wrong, blessing/blight. It calls for us to dwell in that space of oneness with everything.

Not knowing is most intimate also hints at a concept I've covered before, that of Beginner's mind. By letting us luxuriate in the freshness of each moment, without any preconceptions, we open up the possibility of inhabiting a new kind of life.

Knowing is closed business. Done. Dusted. A settled matter.
Not knowing is shaky, open-ended, like floating in the middle of the ocean, without a life raft.

At the end of the day, like all koans, this one is most "useful" when it's internalized, instead of rationally analyzed. So forget everything I've written above and embrace not knowing in this moment, however it feels for you.

Timeless Content

Be Stable Yet Flexible
Ruben (Think Grow Prosper) | 3 minute read
In another issue of this newsletter I've talked about the conflicting sides of our selves - when we want or embody two contradictory things. In today's featured article, Ruben, who runs the blog Think Grow Prosper, shares two conflicting life philosophies: The novelty ethic and the security ethic. At the end, he offer a few insights on how we can harmonize the two.

Picture of the Week

Since today we're contemplating not knowing, I thought it would be fitting to share a picture that isn't straightforward or easy to "read." So I invite you to sit with not knowing while examining this painting. If you're up for it, release your urge to "understand" or "analyze" it and let the vivid colors, dynamic lines and shapes self-organize into a whole that doesn't need to be reduced to a single explanation.

Pro tip: Look at this art work for at least a few minutes.
Transverse Line (1923)
Author: Wassily Kandinsky

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius on living with no options:

You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

Source: Meditations

Question For You To Ponder

What stops you from embracing not knowing more often?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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