clarity in unexpected places

After spending a weekend with Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the greatest gifts he gave me was the piece of advice:

“Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to be able to sit in not knowing.”

So often in life we feel like we need to have the answer and the truth is, often times we don’t have it.

This is especially true in parenting, relationships and well, I guess many aspects of life.

The more we are unsure of ourselves or don’t have the answer, the greater the insecurity. When we feel insecure, the mind goes into overdrive trying to reach into the past and draw on experiences to anticipate the future.

So what we come to realize is that we’re actually not in the most important place which is here. There is no other time than now and no other place than here, but we spend so much of our mental energy in the past and future.

Not that either of these places are “bad,” in fact it’s adaptive to learn from the past and anticipate the future for some very obvious reasons.

It’s just that it all happens so unintentionally most of the time and can lead us into greater states of stress, anxiety, depression, addictive behavior and reexperiencing of trauma.

I recently found myself in a state of confusion where I truly didn’t know the answer to something that was very important to me and I felt held a great deal of urgency.

Jon’s advice allowed me to open my eyes and heart to myself and gave me instruction to just sit for a few minutes in this state of confusion and unknowing. As I did this I realized I had been putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself which contracted my ability for creativity. In this space there was clarity and an opportunity to engage this work differently that would give me a chance to be more open to creativity.

It’s not always the case that we’ll gain clarity if we allow ourselves to be with “not knowing” instead of needing “to do” something about it. But in the long run, I believe this is a way toward greater wisdom in our everyday lives. It just seems counter-intuitive, but that’s ok, maybe our intuition isn’t always right.

The fact was, I simply wasn’t being present to my experience and I was identifying with all the self-judgments that came my way and it wasn’t working.

So what seemed paradoxical to be ok with not knowing was in fact the entry into the room of clarity and knowing.

Try it out sometime.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from



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    Last reviewed: 12 Oct 2010

APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2010). How Clarity is Found in the Most Unexpected Places. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from


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