The Magic of Not Knowing

“What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep.”

- David Whyte


Here’s a lesson I keep learning, forgetting, and learning all over again: The place of not knowing is where the magic happens.

I used to think that life’s possibilities were limited to what I could think up. If I didn’t see a possibility, it didn’t exist. If I couldn’t plan for it, then it wasn’t possible.

But life has shown me otherwise, over and over again. So much more is possible than what our analytical, planning minds can come up with. When we make room not to know, not to confine ourselves to the limits of what we can already see — we open the door to possibilities beyond our imagination.

Two experiences I come back to when I need to remind myself of the magic of not knowing:

- 6 years ago, I left my last legal job and finally allowed myself to admit, “I don’t know who I am or what I want to do.” In this place not knowing, a former work contact called out of the blue and asked if I would consider coaching a new leader in their organization. I had previously dismissed the idea of becoming a coach as too farfetched, even though I was drawn to it. That call was a moment of pure grace, opening a door I thought was closed, and leading me to work I love.

- 3 years ago after the 2016 elections, I felt a strong pull toward working with groups and contributing to building community. I applied to a facilitator training program but wasn’t accepted. I let the facilitation idea go, but it kept pulling at me. I eventually signed up for a retreat sponsored by the same organization as a way to keep exploring. There, I met a woman who invited me to join her in facilitating a year-long leadership program for social justice leaders of color. The work with her has been one of the richest learning experiences of my life, and we're now in our second year. I thought the rejection from the facilitation program (the failure of my plan) was a door closing. Instead, it was an arrow pointing to something more extraordinary than the plans I'd made for myself.

To be in a place of not knowing is hard. Our culture tells us that it’s all up to us, and that what’s possible is only what we can see and control. Beyond that is uncertainty, and uncertainty means danger. The conditioning is deep, and I find my first reaction to not knowing is (still!) to cling more tightly to what I can see.

But then I remind myself that the place of not knowing is where the magic is. It’s where we encounter something we haven’t previously imagined. It’s where we can be surprised and delighted and, sometimes, brought to our knees by the goodness of what life has to give us.