Q: I have read most of your books and many others who teach from the same perspective. Your book that I just finished reading has a great discussion about being in a state of "not knowing." I wonder if I focus on not knowing, then how do I deal with the situations in front of me in the present moment. I am a long-time veterinarian and I have patients every day that come in with illnesses that I address. My rational mind formulates data (symptoms, etc), makes plans for treatment and predicts outcome (prognosis). How can I be in this mind-set and at the same time be in a not-knowing state of mind?
A: Thanks for your question. It is a very good one. I would suggest that it is not a question of being in both mind sets simultaneously, but instead a matter of being flexible and able to switch from one mind set to the other as needed. When you need your rational mind and the knowledge and skills you have as a veterinarian, then being able to focus and formulate data and plans is what is needed in that moment. But that same rational mind is limited and might even get in the way in other moments.
For example even in your professional role, there might be moments where your mind alone cannot serve your patients and their owners. When a beloved pet is at the end of their life, and any further medical treatment would just prolong suffering, then it can best serve your patients to just be present in a place of not-knowing with the mystery of death and loss. Your heartfelt compassion and pure awareness is all that is needed in a moment like that.
And in the much larger context of your spiritual unfoldment, the mind is a powerful but ultimately limited tool. Trying to figure out the biggest mysteries with the mind is like using a single tool for every task. A hammer is great for driving in nails, but would you use it to open a jar of pickles? Or to brush your teeth? Or to enjoy a sunset? In some situations, you need to put down the hammer and either pick up another tool or perhaps just be with your experience without any tools or techniques. Similarly, there are times it is appropriate to focus the mind, and then other times it is more useful to drop into the heart, or even beyond the heart into the emptiness of pure spacious awareness.
Use your mind whenever it is useful, and then you might also learn to loosen the grip of your thinking mind when it is not useful. It is not really necessary to somehow stop the mind, it is more a question of holding your thoughts and beliefs lightly and being curious about what else is here besides your thoughts. A closed mind is only useful when it already has the information or answers needed in that moment. An open mind can look beyond its own limited knowledge to meet the uniqueness of a new moment, and can sometimes even touch the infinite.
True transcendence includes everything. Your rational mind is a beautiful mystery and a powerful tool, but there is much more to life that the mind is not able to penetrate. In exploring the deeper mysteries I find the mind can often pose the questions of spiritual inquiry and even direct my awareness inward, but then I need to allow the place of not-knowing to take over. It is only when I can stay open and curious with the intensity and immensity of Being that a deeper kind of knowing will sometimes arise. It can be like the experience when you can't remember someone's name. You try and try to figure it out with your mind, and then finally you give up and a few moments later their name just pops into your mind. It is the same when your mind is trying too hard to figure life out: it is usually only when you sincerely give up that a deeper insight appears.
This life is full of challenges and deep abiding mysteries. Why not meet it with everything you have got? You have a good mind, a beautiful heart and a limitless Being. Why not use them all in your daily life and in your spiritual journey?
I hope this is helpful.