Laurel has started attending a “Power of Now” group here in Salem, which discusses, and tries to put into practice, Eckhart Tolle’s philosophy. In his book, "The Power of Now," Tolle speaks of the wisdom of living in the present moment, which, really, is the only moment in which we can live anyway.
Unarguably, most of life’s anxieties, fears, and problems vanish when we either forget about those that have already occurred in the past, or stop ruminating about those that might occur in the future. Laurel likes the people who participate in the Power of Now sessions, and I’m happy that she now has her cult to be a part of. Now I can kid her in return when she teases me (in a spirit of lighthearted marital fun) about my own spiritual cult.
All this has gotten me to thinking about another angle, the Power of Don’t-Know (leave off all but the first word, and the last three letters, and we’re left with the Power of Now—which is interesting, because Don’t-Know and Now may be close to the same thing; I don’t know, though). I suppose the war in Iraq has something to do with this pondering also. Almost everyone is so sure their view of the war is the correct war, whether they are pro-war or anti-war.
More broadly, I heard on a BBC news broadcast that one-half of the United States population believes the U.S. has a special place in God’s heart. How do they know the contents, and spatial positioning of the contents, of God’s heart? Beats me. Guess they know something I don’t know, because I’d have to answer, “I have no idea,” if presented with that question.
At a recent meeting of our monthly Salon Discussion Group, I said, “More and more it bothers me when either liberals like Michael Moore or conservatives like George Bush claim they know the complete and total truth about what should be done with Iraq. Aren’t the world’s problems much more complex and difficult to pin down than these simplistic yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad dichotomies imply?”
Per usual, when I make a wise and seemingly indisputable comment such as that one, I waited for the group to erupt into a standing ovation in praise of my sagacity. And…I kept waiting. The response was non-deafening. A little later, someone said, “If there is an extreme position held by one side, the other side has to take an equally extreme opposite position, or nothing will change.” OK, that makes some sense politically. But I’m not sure it makes sense philosophically, or realistically.
I still believe in the power of Don’t-Know, but it is hard to put into practice. When some people are engaged in a vigorous debate about some social or political problem, and they turn to you to learn your opinion, see what happens when you say, “I don’t know. I haven’t a clue about what to do.” Boring! Move on to someone else with an interesting opinion. But, the medieval Christian mystics framed an entire spiritual philosophy around such themes as “learned ignorance,” (Nicholas of Cusa) “the cloud of unknowing,” (anonymous English preacher), and “nothing, nothing, nothing” (St. John of the Cross).
Maybe the Power of Don’t-Know needs to be more highly esteemed. I remember Huston Smith saying, in one of his books, that he had encountered a Zen Buddhist friend who told him, “I have a new koan: I could be wrong.” Beautiful.