[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
This past week, four words have brought me a lot of peace: “I do not know.” On the face of it, the idea of finding peace in not knowing may sound strange. It may sound like a head-in-the-sand stance that recalls George Orwell’s intentionally absurd slogan from 1984, “Ignorance Is Strength.” But let me explain.
The Course often tells us that we really don’t know what things mean or what decision is best in any given situation, so we need to set aside what we think we know and let the Holy Spirit decide things for us. One of my favorite passages on this theme is this great practice from the Text:
When your peace is threatened or disturbed in any way, say to yourself:
I do not know what anything, including this, means. And so I do not know how to respond to it. And I will not use my own past learning as the light to guide me now.
By this refusal to attempt to teach yourself what you do not know, the Guide Whom God has given you will speak to you. He will take His rightful place in your awareness the instant you abandon it, and offer it to Him. (T-14.XI.6:6-11)
What comes up for you when you are told that you don’t know what anything means, that you therefore don’t know how to respond to anything, and that your past learning is useless as a guide for how to respond? This can be a pretty scary idea. How can we survive in this crazy world if all those facts and techniques and coping skills we so painstakingly learned over the years can no longer guide us? Without our own knowledge, what can we rely upon to get through the maze of countless critical decisions that confront us every day?
This passage goes on to give us the answer to this question: the Holy Spirit, “the Guide Whom God has given you. ”Admitting that we don’t know what things mean or how to respond to them doesn’t leave us in a terrifying void with nothing to guide us through life. On the contrary, it opens our minds to the Holy Spirit, Who knows what everything means and how to respond to it, and is therefore the only one who really can guide us through life. Once we realize this, letting go of what we think we know is not a fearful proposition but a liberating one. As the Course says in the Manual: “Therefore lay judgment down, not with regret but with a sigh of gratitude. Now are you free of a burden so great that you could merely stagger and fall down beneath it” (M-10.5:1-2).
This is why the words “I do not know” can bring peace. We’re relieved of the burden of having to know everything. Admitting we don’t know is not a head-in-the-sand stance, but instead enables us to pull our heads out of the dark sandpit of false certainty and turn them toward the light that can guide us truly. Admitting our ignorance really is strength because it enables us to access the knowledge and strength of the Holy Spirit.
The words “I do not know” really helped me find peace of mind this week during an e-mail exchange I had with someone about political issues. This person disagreed with my views in very strong terms and expressed his contrary views with absolute certainty. He was absolutely convinced that he was right, and anyone who disagreed with him was hopelessly misguided.
Now, I have to admit that getting so thoroughly slammed by him disturbed my peace. My ego was all too willing to slam him back. But I caught myself and said, “I do not know.” How do I know who’s right and who’s wrong here? How do I know which political theory is correct? How do I know what all this means? How do I know what outcome is best? How do I know how to respond to this guy? I reminded myself that the Holy Spirit knows everything and has a plan for everything that happens in this world, and I entrusted the whole situation to His care.
It’s difficult to describe how much relief this brought me. Immediately my attack thoughts fell away, and I felt peace wash over me. After asking for guidance about how to respond, I ended up writing this person back and saying that while I still didn’t agree with his views, I wasn’t certain of mine and for all I knew, he could be right. He hasn’t written back, so I don’t know yet how this exchange will turn out. But I do know that I feel very much at peace with it.
How about you? Have you found yourself in situations where your peace is disturbed, where you’re clinging to what you think you know or arguing with people who are convinced that they know? The next time this happens, you might try using those four liberating words: “I do not know.” You might also try the Course practice I referred to above. Though I didn’t use that specific practice in my encounter with the guy who disagreed with my political views, I’ve used it on countless other occasions with great results. May you find the peace that comes from turning your life over to the One Who really knows.