Bringing Awareness to What We Think We "Know"

Lately, I have been curious about all of things that I think I “know.” We all move through the day based on what we think we “know.” For example, we know when we need to wake up, we know what we have to get done, we know how the people in our lives will act, and we know how we will act.

But how much of what we think we know is real? Let’s get curious about that together!
I’m going to start with a personal example that is relatively easy. Sometimes I don’t do household cleaning tasks because I “know” that they will be a hassle. I am sure you can all relate. I “know” that cleaning the bathroom will be a hassle, so my intellectual mind buzzes with confirming stories about how big of a hassle it is to clean the bathroom. To be honest, the thinking is more exhausting
and discouraging than the cleaning.

But have you ever had the experience of just doing a cleaning task without too much thinking and then realizing that it wasn’t that much of a hassle? I definitely have, and it’s such a surreal experience! When I’m not caught up in knowing that cleaning will be a hassle, I just do it and move on with my day pretty easily.

However, like I said, that’s an easy example. Sometimes what we think we know can really cause us to suffer. Growing up, I was a competitive swimmer. I truly loved the sport and swam for many years. My swimming career came to an abrupt end when I quit in the middle of my second year of college. I spent decades thinking that my decision to quit this team was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake. I knew it. One day, one of my mentors (Amy Johnson herself, actually!) asked me, “What if quitting the team wasn’t a mistake?” I was completely flabbergasted. I actually laughed out loud.

“What do you mean, ‘What if it wasn’t a mistake?’” She then asked, “How do you know it was a mistake?” I had no answer. Of course, the only possible answers could come from my busy and all-knowing mind: “Well, you’re not supposed to quit in the middle of a season. It would have been better to have been on the team for four years. My life would have unfolded so much differently if I had stayed on that team.” Picture this: my mind was like a toddler having a tantrum…shaking her fists and screaming out everything that she knew to be true about this situation.

But how can I truly know any of this? I am becoming aware that my life could not have unfolded differently, and that we cannot know anything for certain. Events happen in our lives, and then our intellectual minds tell us what we know about these events.

I think that we can find a lot more ease and peace in our lives when we hold what we know much, much more loosely. Even just loosening my tight grip on the story, “quitting the swim team was a mistake,” has brought me so much ease. It’s like I have stopped carrying a heavy burden.

I also like sharing the experiences of my son Jack, who is a classical pianist. He has been playing the piano for virtually his entire life. Boy, is his thinking filled with what he knows! He knows how many hours he has to practice. He knows what repertoire he needs to learn and how quickly he needs to learn it. He knows what he has to accomplish while he is practicing. He knows that his way of practicing has a direct connection to how he will perform. He knows that there are good ways of practicing and bad ways of practicing.

When Jack has a tight grip on what he knows about being a musician, his world is very constricted and stressful. There really isn’t room for any creativity at all. But when he gets curious about what he knows, things open up dramatically. One of the most interesting questions that we have explored together is, “What if your practicing does not affect your performances as much as you think?” If there are musicians reading, I’m sure that your minds will start screaming, “Of course practice affects performance!” But how do you know for certain exactly how all of that works?

I’m not suggesting that you should just stop believing or change what you think you know. In my case, I had a closely-held story for a long time that quitting my college swim team was a mistake. It doesn’t make sense to try to convince myself that I should have quit the team or that it was a good thing that I quit when I did. That’s just a different story. There is nothing fresh there at all.

But what if we can just rest in the more relaxed space of, “I don’t know.” I don’t know if quitting the team was a mistake or not. The whole concept of “mistake” is pretty flimsy when you really consider it. How do I know what a mistake really is? It’s fascinating…the more you inquire into what you think you know…the more you realize that you really don’t know anything!

Try this. Pick one easy thing that you think you know. You know what kind of bread you like to buy. You know when you have to get a certain task done. You know how a co-worker, family member, or friend is going to act today. How do you know for certain? How does it feel if you operate from the perspective that you really don’t know?

If you can, look at a bigger life issue that you think you know well. A habit. An addiction. A relationship. How can you be absolutely sure that what you "know" is true?

When I get curious about something that I think I know, I feel my energy shift. It’s interesting, I feel lighter. I almost always get a small smile on my face, and I become more open to seeing the possibilities in my life, rather than the limitations that are created by what I think I know. It feels so much more expansive to see possibilities in our lives rather than limitations.

Thank you for reading today. I would love to hear your own insights or questions so please reach out to me if you feel nudged to do so. Until we meet again, I will leave you with one of my favorite phrases: Easy as it goes. I hope you experience ease and well-being as you move through your day and gently explore what you think you know. I want to repeat: gently explore! You need and deserve kindness and compassion, especially from yourself.

Photo Credit: Todd Steitle on Unsplash: "A snowy owl in the wintery landscape of Alberta, Canada in -35 degree temperatures."