By Mike Mueller
52 orbits around the sun and I still don’t know anything.
I look in the mirror and see a man with graying hair, crows feet and a softer belly. I see a man who rubs his lower back each morning and takes a little longer to pee. I see a man whose hands now look a lot like his father’s near the end of his life — strong yet spotted and with thinning fingers.
Even as I notice the outward changes of age, inside there is different shift taking place.
My eyes may need the help of reading glasses to write this post, but I see a world large and small, full of surprises and sadness. I see tiny hands, shifting clouds and falling leaves as never before.
My ears don’t pick up everything said in noisy rooms or conversations, but they do hear the subtle emotions in my son’s voice. They hear worry and joy and shock and surprise.
My body may need a little longer to get moving each morning, but it relishes dancing with my lover, no matter how imperfectly or awkwardly. I move with the wind and the music, carelessly and easily.
I can’t say exactly why my body and its senses — which are declining with age — feel more alive now than 25 years ago. I can’t say why I feel this shift inside. I can’t say that tomorrow I won’t feel completely differently. I can’t say that some days aren’t still very hard.
Make no mistake, these perceptions I experience come not because I have avoided suffering, but because I acknowledge its existence.
As I sit here typing this, I can hear bulldozers tearing down a house across the street that had been there for over 50 years. This was a house that gave shelter. Children were raised and launched there. Couples made love there. Laughter and tears were shared there.
Now, it’s gone.
This is our human life. Our bodies serve their purpose, but one day they, too, will be torn down to make way for something new. New love, new laughter, new tears will be experienced and we will be no more.
So what do we do with this?
The impermanence of this life is both undeniable and unfathomable. We don’t know what comes next. We don’t know what this all means. Perhaps it just is and doesn’t mean anything.
I’ve been thinking about what our school’s founding teacher, Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn, used to say often to his students. He would tell them to always retain a “don’t know” mind.
Will I wake up tomorrow? Don’t know.
Why is this terrible event happening to me? Don’t know.
Why is this joyous event happening to me? Don’t know.
EVERYTHING…don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.
Our mind habit clings to the desire of knowing things.
We value knowing lots of things, and we fail to understand why people don’t recognize how much we know. If people knew what we knew, then they would behave or agree. And so on.
So what’s wrong with this? Why all this anti-knowing?
To say that we know something is to identify with an “I” that knows. That creates a separateness between us and everything else in the universe. Separateness is an illusion. Our egos are birthed out of our thinking—out of our “knowing.” This “I” perspective that thinks and knows things is not our true self. Our true self doesn’t strive to know things because it is. It doesn’t have to know anything.
“Don’t-know Mind” is before thinking. It is our mind in neutral, not moving forward or going in reverse. It neither pushes nor resists. Whatever it encounters is OK: Not good. Not bad. Just This.
So what do I know?
Don’t-know Mind is everywhere.
It’s in my son’s voice.
It’s in baby hands and falling leaves.
It’s in my body as it dances.
It’s in everything I see, hear, taste, and touch.
It’s even in the sound of the bulldozer across the street.
It is the uncertainty and impermanence of all these things that imbues them with the sacred quality of “just this.”
Can you find where your Don’t-know Mind is? If you can, then no matter how many orbits around the sun you experience, each one will be Just This.
And that will be all you need to know.
Mike Mueller is a practicing Zen Buddhist and student of the Kwan Um School of Zen. He is also the author of Single Buddhist Dad. He describes himself as a recovering geek and single dad at midlife trying to wake up. He works in the digital marketing industry and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas with his teenage son, Jakob, and canine guru, Jack.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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