Let go of the need to know and fully understand (quotes)


As humans, our need to know and understand runs deep


As human’s, we have a deep craving to know and understand


Science, philosophy, religion and even art are all expressions of our deep need to know and explain

  • I spent my adult life as a scientist, and science is, essentially, the most successful approach we have to try and understand the vast mysteries around. David Eagleman
  • It was the experience of mystery – even if mixed with fear – that engendered religion. Albert Einstein
  • Philosophy, to us, means the inquiry after knowledge of things knowable and thinkable. The Kybalion
  • You can’t do without philosophy, since everything has its hidden meaning which we must know. Maxim Gorky
  • What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know. Bertrand Russell
  • Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life. Immanuel Kant
  • The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. Albert Einstein
  • We live on a minute island of known things. Our undiminished wonder at the mystery which surrounds us is what makes us human. In science fiction we can approach that mystery, not in small, everyday symbols, but in bigger ones of space and time. Damon Knight
  • ScienceReligionPhilosophyArt

Our grasping to know is often driven by our fear of the unknown

  • When I’m frightened of the mystery I’m not actually immersed in the mystery at all. Rather, I’m projecting imaginary monsters into the void. Tim Freke
  • The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety. Henry Louis Mencken
  • Essentially, almost all humans are born with a fear of the unknown. It casts a pall of anxiety which pushes us into the arms of religions and soothsayers and their made-up answers. Mario Stinger
  • One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end. Jiddu Krishnamurti
  • It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. Pema Chodron
  • The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. P. Lovecraft
  • Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known. Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Once men are caught up in an event they cease to be afraid. Only the unknown frightens men. Antoine de Saint- Exupery
  • The unknown is what it is. And to be frightened of it is what sends everybody scurrying around chasing dreams, illusions, wars, peace, love, hate, all that. Unknown is what it is. Accept that it’s unknown, and it’s plain sailing. John Lennon
  • There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to recognize or at least classify it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange. Elias Canetti
  • The unknown

We strive to cover up mystery with classifications and labels so we can say we know

  • You ask what is the use of classification, arrangement, systemization? I answer you: order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject-the actual enemy is the unknown. Thomas Mann
  • There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to recognize or at least classify it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange. Elias Canetti
  • The problem with our time, perhaps, is that we have been seduced by facts and data, at the same time, become bereft of wonder. We want to know it all rather than to understand the meaning of it all for the good life here and now. Joan Chittister
  • Mystery

Often we pretend to know and understand when really we don’t

  • Life is so utterly mysterious it takes my breath away. Yet normally most of us go about our business as if being alive was nothing remarkable. We pretend we know what’s going on, when really we don’t. We act as if we understand what it is to be a human being, when actually it is an enormous enigma of mind-boggling proportions. Tim Freke

The truth is that much of life is a profound mystery and not all can be readily explained


Not everything in the world or life can be understood or explained in words …

  • I still understand a few words in life, but I no longer think they make a sentence. Jean Rostand
  • The world is incomprehensible. We won’t ever understand it; we won’t ever unravel its secrets. Thus, we must treat the world as it is: a sheer mystery. Carlos Castaneda
  • The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. Albert Einstein
  • It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are. Human understanding has vulgarly occupied itself with nothing but understanding, but if it would only take the trouble to understand itself at the same time it would simply have to posit the paradox. Soren Kierkegaard
  • If you understand everything, you must be misinformed. Japanese Proverb
  • I am only a man … who knows that he’ll never understand all that is around him. Carlos Castaneda
  • Those who understand only what can be explained understand very little. Marie von Ebner- Eschenbach
  • The mystery of life is transcendent of all human research. Joseph Campbell

… for much of life is indeed a profound mystery …

  • We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born. Albert Einstein
  • Life is a mystery; don’t waste your time trying to figure it out. Dan Millman
  • I am only a man … who knows that he’ll never understand all that is around him. Carlos Castaneda
  • Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic. Frank Herbert
  • In the rush of religion to define and lay claim to God, we have forgotten that the essence of God is pure mystery. Anthony Lambert
  • Something unknown is doing we don’t know what. Arthur Eddington
  • The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend. Aldous Huxley
  • We are bathing in mystery and confusion on many subjects, and I think that will always be our destiny. The universe will always be much richer than our ability to understand it. Carl Sagan
  • We know so little about our tiny portion of the universe and have observed it for such a minute period of time, relative to cosmic time, that extrapolating this meager knowledge to the entire universe seems highly speculative and perhaps somewhat arrogant. Tyler Miller
  • Mystery

… and parts of life can be a paradox

  • Paradox: A person or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities. Oxford Dictionary
  • Across planes of consciousness, we have to live with the paradox that opposite things can be simultaneously true. Ram Dass
  • Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. Tony Schwartz
  • The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. Niels Bohr
  • We are often uncomfortable with two things being true at once. We want things one way or the other. Brad Swift
  • Paradox

We are even profound mysteries to ourselves

  • The word “awareness” is like a sign pointing back to its actual source. In these reflections, it is sometimes stated that awareness is who you really are. But even that is merely a pointer. Your true nature is an unbounded mystery. No word can capture it. Scott Kiloby
  • The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul? Oscar Wilde
  • I know not whence I came, nor whither I go, nor who I am. Erwin Schrodinger

Often the deeper we dive into knowledge, the deeper our awareness become of our ignorance and the mystery at the heart of it all

  • The further one goes, the less one knows. Lao Tzu
  • The greatest of all the accomplishments of 20th century science has been the discovery of human ignorance. Lewis Thomas
  • Science is the topography of ignorance. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
  • The meaning of the living words that come out of the experiences of great hearts can never be exhausted by any one system of logical interpretation. They have to be endlessly explained by the commentaries of individual lives, and they gain an added mystery in each new revelation. Rabindranath Tagore
  • The world of learning is so broad, and the human soul is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us. Maria Mitchell
  • The fear of an unknown never resolves, because the unknown expands infinitely outward, leaving you to cling pitifully to any small shelter of the known. Caroline Kettlewell
  • Ignorance

No amount of searching is likely to unravel some of the great mysteries of life

  • When all the words have been written, and all the phrases have been spoken, the great mystery of life will still remain. We may map the terrains of our lives, measure the farthest reaches of the universe, but no amount of searching will ever reveal for certain whether we are all children of chance or part of a great design. And who among us would have it otherwise?  Who would wish to take the mystery out of the experience of looking into a newborn infant’s eyes?  Kent Nerburn
  • Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. Max Planck
  • I found it better for my soul to be humble before the mysteries o’ God’s dealings, and not be making a clatter about what I could never understand. George Eliot
  • As to the ultimate things we can know nothing, and only when we admit this do we return to equilibrium. Carl Jung
  • Every branch of human knowledge if traced up to its source and final principles vanishes into mystery. Arthur Machen
  • Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. Eckhart Tolle
  • Human beings have created a mountain of words to explain the nature of reality, but under all the words the mystery of life remains as magnificent as ever. Tim Freke
  • Some things will always remain a mystery at this level of consciousness, and it is right that they should. So do not try to solve all the mysteries. Give the universe a chance. It will unfold itself in due course. Enjoy the experience of becoming. Neale Donald Walsch
  • Truly my opinion is, that all our opinions are alike vain and uncertain. What we approve today, we condemn tomorrow. We keep a stir about knowledge, and spend our lives in the pursuit of it, when, alas! we know nothing all the while: nor do I think it possible for us to ever know anything in this life. Our faculties are too narrow and too few. nature certainly never intended us for speculation. George Berkeley

Welcome the unknown and become comfortable with not knowing


Welcome the unknown

  • The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown. Rene Magritte
  • It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom. Wallace Stevens
  • In one of his poems Walt Whitman announces: It is time to explain myself – let us stand up. What is known I strip away, I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown. Tim Freke
  • To let go of the known for the unknown requires great commitment, willingness, and devotion to surrendering one’s faith to God. David R. Hawkins
  • The unknown

Let go of the need to understand it or explain it all

  • Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand and becoming comfortable with not knowing. Eckhart Tolle
  • As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to love it more and more. Jules Renard
  • It has taken me all my life to understand it is not necessary to understand everything. Rene Coty
  • All of us must cross the line between ignorance and insight many times before we truly understand. David B. Hawkins
  • Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.  Rumi

Be comfortable being in that place of not knowing

  • Perhaps someday, modern people will learn that mystery is not the prison of the mind of people, it is their home. Walter Farrell
  • Be comfortable with the state of “not knowing” Become at ease with the state of ‘not knowing.’ This takes you beyond mind because the mind is always trying to conclude and interpret. It is afraid of not knowing. So, when you can be at ease with not knowing, you have already gone beyond the mind. Eckhart Tolle
  • Followers of religions are characterized by the presumption of ‘I know’ via scriptural authority, ecclesiastical doctrine, historical precedent, etc. In contrast, the spiritual devotee of nonduality starts from the basic, more truthful position, “I, of myself, don’t know.” David R. Hawkins
  • Really knowing you don’t know takes some work. It requires you to clearly see that your story is just a story; and to become conscious of the deep mystery at its foundation. Tim Freke
  • The goal is to know how not-to-know. H. Lawrence
  • The possible downside of hearing advanced information early is the intellect’s presumption of prideful ‘I know that’. It is better to hold the information as ‘I have heard that’. To truly ‘know’ is to ‘be’, at which point one does not know; instead, one ‘is’. David R. Hawkins
  • There are situations where all answers and explanations fail. Life does not make sense anymore. Or someone in distress comes to you for help, and you don’t know what to do or say. When you fully accept that you don’t know, you give up struggling to find answers with the limited thinking mind, and that is when a greater intelligence can operate through you. And even thought can then benefit from that, since the greater intelligence can flow into it and inspire it. Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand and becoming comfortable with not knowing. Eckhart Tolle
  • We must know, if only in order to learn not to know. The supreme lesson of human consciousness is to learn how not to know. H. Lawrence

Be comfortable saying “I don’t know”

  • ‘I don’t know’ is an unparalleled source of power, a declaration of independence from the pressure to have an opinion about every single subject. It’s fun to say. Try it: ‘I don’t know.’ Let go of the drive to have it all figured out: ‘I don’t know.’ Proclaim the only truth you can be totally sure of: ‘I don’t know.’ Empty your mind and lift your heart: ‘I don’t know.’ Use it as a battle cry, a joyous affirmation of your oneness with the Great Mystery: ‘I don’t know.’ Rob Brezsny
  • And to me, if you really want to rediscover wonder, you need to step outside of that tiny, terrified space of rightness and look around at each other and look out at the vastness and complexity and mystery of the universe and be able to say, “Wow, I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Kathryn Schulz
  • This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job. But she kept on saying “I don’t know,” and these words led her, not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize. Wisława Szymborska

Become comfortable dropping into stillness and allowing the mud of confusion to settle

  • Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have the patience to wait! Be still and allow the mud to settle. Lao Tzu
  • Be still… And don’t know.  Swaraja

Embrace the creative power of uncertainty

  • One can acquire certainty only by amputating inquiry. Marvin Minsky
  • Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one. Voltaire
  • In detachment lies the wisdom of uncertainty…in the wisdom of uncertainty lies the freedom from our past, from the known, which is the prison of past conditioning. And in our willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe. Deepak Chopra
  • Real dialogue is where two or more people become willing to suspend their certainty in each other’s presence. David Bohm
  • This one question-‘What do I know for certain?’-is tremendously powerful. When you look deeply into this question, it actually destroys your world. It destroys your whole sense of self, and it’s meant to. You come to see that everything you think you know about yourself, everything you think you know about the world, is based on assumptions, beliefs, and opinions-things that you believe because you were taught or told they were true. Until we start to see these false perceptions for what they really are, consciousness will be imprisoned within the dream state. Adyashanti
  • When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. Eckhart Tolle
  • When nothing is sure, everything is possible. Margaret Drabble
  • The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. Erich Fromm
  • Uncertainty is a quality to be cherished, therefore – if not for it, who would dare to undertake anything? Auguste de Villiers de L’Isle- Adam
  • Let go of the need for certainty

Embrace the possibility inherent in doubt

  • The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful is the cause of half their errors. John Stuart Mill
  • Doubt remains open to all possibilities. Anthony Lambert
  • Irrational spirituality has no doubt and is based on a reverence for old ideas. It doesn’t question itself and therefore it is stuck. Tim Freke
  • I beg you, reject antiquity, tradition, faith, and authority! Let us begin anew by doubting everything we assume has been proven! Giordano Bruno
  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. Descartes
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Celebrate mystery


Leave some room for mystery in your life.  It doesn’t all need to make sense

  • The world’s a puzzle; no need to make sense of it. Dan Millman
  • Life is a mystery; don’t waste your time trying to figure it out. Dan Millman
  • I am only a man … who knows that he’ll never understand all that is around him. Carlos Castaneda
  • Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic. Frank Herbert
  • Leave room for mystery. It doesn’t all need to make sense. Danielle LaPorte
  • Mystery is the soul of existence. Kedar Joshi
  • Leave room for mystery. It doesn’t all need to make sense. Danielle LaPorte

Celebrate and embrace mystery in the world around you

  • Dance on the edge of mystery. Alan Cohen
  • A cosmic celebration can be localized within you when you realize that life is not a problem to be solved but a magnificent mystery to be lived. Michael Bernard Beckwith
  • Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Rachel Carson
  • Dissolve into the deep mystery. Be one with the deep mystery.   Be in love with the deep mystery.  Tim Freke
  • It is a universal condition of the enjoyable that the mind must believe in the existence of a law, and yet have a mystery to move about in. James Clerk Maxwell
  • It takes a certain amount of intelligence and imagination to realize the extraordinary queerness and mysteriousness of the world in which we live. Aldous Huxley
  • Our practice is not to clear up the mystery. It is to make the mystery clear. Robert Baker Aitken

Let go of the need to cover up mystery with superficial words and labels

  • Words, no matter whether they are vocalized and made into sounds or remain unspoken as thoughts, can cast an almost hypnotic spell upon you. You easily lose yourself in them, become hypnotized into implicitly believing that when you have attached a word to something, you know what it is. The fact is: You don’t know what it is. You have only covered up the mystery with a label. Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg. Eckhart Tolle
  • Let go of the need to always name and label

The real mysteries of life are meant to be lived and experienced, not just solved intellectually

  • Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. Rainer Maria Rilke
  • The real mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, it is a reality to be experienced. J. Van der Leeuw
  • Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. Thomas Merton
  • I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it. Harry Emerson Fosdick
  • Only a weak mind seeks ultimate answers. Agnes Thornton

The rewards of letting go of the need to know


Being comfortable with not knowing raises our level of consciousness…

  • Becoming conscious of the mystery of existence is an extremely simple way to step out of my conceptual story. When I’m stuck in my dramas, I remember that in reality I have no idea what is going on, as life is always so much more than I can possibly understand. Then if I dive deeply into the mystery, my state of consciousness begins to change. Tim Freke
  • Great leaps in levels of consciousness are always preceded by surrender of the illusion that “I know.” Frequently, the only way one can reach this willingness to change is when one “hits bottom,” that is, by running out a course of action to its end in the defeat of a futile belief system. David R. Hawkins
  • I want to invite you to wonder so deeply about life that you find yourself in a profound state of not-knowing… and to experience what happens to your state of consciousness. Tim Freke
  • The ultimate gift of conscious life is a sense of the mystery that encompasses it. Lewis Mumford
  • Consciousness

… leading to deep spiritual awakening …

  • The simplest way to start becoming deep awake is to wonder… to look at the world with amazement… to be conscious of the breathtaking mystery of existence… to recognize that you really don’t know what life is. If you wonder deeply you’ll come out of your story and into the mystery of the moment. Tim Freke
  • The Taoist sage Lao Tzu explained that ‘in the pursuit of learning we come to know more and more’. But if we want to awaken, we need to ‘know less and less until things simply are as they are’. We need to let go of all our beliefs about life, which obscure the wordless reality of what-is. Tim Freke
  • The touch of an infinite mystery passes over the trivial and the familiar, making it break out into ineffable music… The trees, the stars, and the blue hills ache with a meaning which can never be uttered in words. Rabindranath Tagore
  • We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. Annie Dillard
  • Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful. Lao Tzu
  • When I see beyond my ideas about life, there’s a wonderful feeling of oneness with all that is, since it’s only my concepts that make me see things as separate. Tim Freke
  • When I wake up, I can see that my story is just a story. If I look deeper, I discover that hidden behind my story is the pristine, virgin, untouchable mystery. And that’s when the mystery experience spontaneously arises. Tim Freke
  • When we become conscious of the deep mystery, the mystery experience spontaneously arises. Tim Freke
  • You need to step out of your mind into the mystery of the moment. Your thoughts won’t stop, but they will fade into your peripheral awareness. Tim Freke
  • Awakening

… and leading to the realisation that answers often lie within, not without

  • For over ten thousand years we have looked up to the sky for answers. We’ve sent spacecraft to Mars and beyond and continue to build even bigger machines to find the “God particle” or the elusive critical piece of the puzzle that somehow is never solved. We’re like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who went on a long journey in search of the Wizard, only to return home . . . and find that the answer was inside her all along. Robert Lanza

Being comfortable with not knowing lifts the discomfort of confusion

  • What does it mean to be confused? “I don’t know “ is not confusion. Confusion is: “I don’t know, but I should know” or “I don’t know, but I need to know.” is it possible to let go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are? In other words, can you cease looking to conceptual definitions to give you a sense of self? Can you cease looking to thought for an identity? When you let go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are, what happens to confusion? Suddenly it is gone. When you fully accept that you don’t know, you actually enter a state of peace and clarity that is closer to who you truly are than thought could ever be. Defining yourself through thought is limiting yourself. Eckhart Tolle
  • Confusion

It’s better to live without knowing than to have the wrong answers

  • I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar. Richard P. Feynman
  • I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. Richard P. Feynman

It’s better to have a mind opened by mystery and wonder than one closed by false knowledge, sterile concepts and superficial understanding…

  • I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it. Harry Emerson Fosdick
  • I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief. Gerry Spence
  • If you try and penetrate with your limited means the secrets of nature, you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.’ Albert Einstein
  • Sometimes I become so lost in my dramas that I don’t notice the underlying mystery of existence. And then life starts to go dead on me. Tim Freke
  • Step out of your story and into the wonder of life. Enter a state of profound not-knowing and immerse yourself in the mystery of the moment. Tim Freke
  • Still, there is mystery in our lives, but when we find out who we are, those infinite mysteries are no longer intimidating, they become enthralling and captivating, a wondrous kaleidoscope of Life’s limitless novelty and variation. Roger Stephens
  • The mystery of life is so enormous it takes my breath away and leaves me speechless. It’s not some riddle I will one day unravel, but real magic to be marvelled at. It’s not a darkness my intellect can illuminate, but a dazzling radiance so splendid that my most brilliant ideas seem dull. Tim Freke
  • We’re experiencing this moment through a filter of concepts. We’re living in our ideas. We’re telling ourselves a story about who we are and what life is, and we’re confusing this story with reality. But the story is not reality. Reality is the mystery of existence that exists before all of our ideas about reality. Tim Freke
  • What is life? I don’t know. Yet the more enlivened I feel, the less I need to know and the more I want to rejoice and praise. All of my philosophical ideas, as the Zen masters say, are just fingers pointing at the moon. What is the moon? It’s beyond words to express. But just look: How beautiful and mysterious it is. How bright and clear and glorious. The finger become uninteresting when I see the moon. Words are superfluous when I get the meaning… I no longer need to analyse everything. I just want to hold the whole world in my careful hands like a newborn baby. When I taste how sweet it is to simply be, I just want to appreciate the miracle of the moment and dissolve into the mystery. I don’t know what’s going on. All I know is that I love it.  Tim Freke
  • When we finally recognize that we truly know nothing, there is an exhilarating feeling of freedom and an overwhelming sense of wonder. Tim Freke
  • Wonder

… especially crusty knowledge that clouds one’s eyes from perceiving wonder and beauty

  • Soon the child’s clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions. Simple free being becomes encrusted with the burdensome armor of the ego.  Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn.  The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise.  After that day. . . we become seekers.  Peter Matthiessen
  • We can invest so heavily in our beliefs about life that we forget that we really don’t know what life is. We can become so caught up in our opinions that we miss the breathtaking mystery. And when this happens, life becomes mundane and empty of wonder. Tim Freke
  • It’s like when a romantic relationship loses its magic. He used to see her as a sublime mystery, but over the years he’s adopted a lot of limiting ideas about her. Now he’s put her into a conceptual box, so she feels cramped and confined.  I find that it’s the same with life. When I put the mystery of existence into a conceptual box, the magic goes.  Tim Freke
  • We’ve become bamboozled by our beliefs, and this has blinded us to the primal mystery. We’ve become so engrossed with our stories that we’ve lost the plot. We’re eating the menu, not the meal, and that’s why life can taste so bland. Tim Freke
  • PerceptionWonderBeauty

Knowing that we don’t know keeps us curious and open and constantly questioning

  • The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer– they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer. Ken Kesey
  • Can we learn to become more learning-oriented individually and collectively, rather than ‘I know’ oriented? David Bohm
  • Every sentence I utter must be understood not as an affirmation, but as a question. Niels Bohr
  • The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Albert Einstein
  • CuriosityOpennessOpen-mindedness

Preconceived notions and opinions are locks on the door to wisdom

  • Preconceived notions are the locks on the door to wisdom. Merry Browne
  • The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new. Pema Chodron
  • WisdomOpinion


The illusion of knowledge is the greatest enemy of knowledge

  • The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Stephen Hawking
  • It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. Mark Twain
  • Beginner’s mind


Knowing that we don’t understand is wisdom and paradoxically allows us to see more clearly

  • We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding! How many greater things might he be seeing in the meanwhile! Henry David Thoreau
  • The fact that you are willing to say, ‘I do not understand, and it is fine,’ is the greatest understanding you could exhibit. Wayne Dyer
  • To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; not to realize that you do not understand is a defect. Lao Tzu
  • Understanding it all requires not understanding it all.
  • Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding. Ambrose Bierce
  • Understanding is the knowing of misunderstanding. Zivarnna Smithies
  • Don’t try to understand! It’s enough if you do not misunderstand. Nisargadatta Maharaj
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Only by first appreciating the mystery of something can we come to truly know it

  • Until we accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing. Henry Miller
  • The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. Anaïs Nin
  • The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Stephen Hawking
  • To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge. Benjamin Disraeli
  • The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand. Frank Herbert
  • Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. Kahlil Gibran
  • The fundament upon which all our knowledge and learning rests is the inexplicable. Arthur Schopenhauer
  • To know anything well involves a profound sense of ignorance. John Ruskin
  • To know that you do not know is best. To pretend to know when you do not is a disease. Lao Tzu

The great paradox is that when we embrace the mystery, often a deep knowing beyond words arises

  • At the heart of all we think we know is the deep mystery. And at the heart of the deep mystery lies a deep knowing that is so immediate it can’t be mediated by words. A silent certainty that all is well. An unshakeable conviction that all that really matters is love. Tim Freke
  • I am deep awake and intensely alive. I am swimming in the numinous stillness of the deep mystery.   There is a deep knowing of the what-is before words.   There is a primal love of being.   I am dissolving into the mystery experience.  Tim Freke
  • I find myself immersed in the deep mystery. Then something astonishing happens. The inarticulate question of the heart dissolves into the ocean of mystery. And I feel I’ve found the answer I’m looking for. But this answer, like the question, is more of a feeling than a thought. I can’t really express the inarticulate question, because it’s too deep for words. I can’t really express the inarticulate answer, because it’s too deep for words. Tim Freke
  • In my experience, when I know that I don’t know, there’s a wordless knowing of what-is before words. A silent knowing that arises in the mind as intuitive wisdom. A passionate knowing that arises in the heart as boundless love. Tim Freke
  • It is one of the great paradoxities of life that not-knowing leads to the ‘deep knowing’ that the ancients called ‘gnosis’. As the poet Robert Frost writes so beautifully: We dance around in a ring, and suppose, But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.  Tim Freke
  • Who does not know, knows; who know, does not know; It is known to those who do not know, It is not known to those who know. Kenopanishad
  • To ‘know’, it is necessary to drop the limiting impairment of the illusion of knowing ‘about’. David R. Hawkins
  • When you realise you know nothing, you then know something worth knowing. Steven Prayeur

Letting go of what we know can increase understanding

  • Guarding knowledge is not a good way to understand. Understanding means to throw away your knowledge. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality. Thich Nhat Hanh
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Not knowing is often at the heart of art, creativity and inspiration

  • Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. Julia Cameron
  • Mystery is not founded in ignorance; mystery is founded in imagination. Spencer Baker
  • Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. Karl Von Clausewitz
  • The capacity to be puzzled is the premise of all creation, be it in art or in science. Eric Fromm
  • Confusion is the welcome mat at the door of creativity. Michael J. Gelb
  • Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties. Gail Sheehy
  • Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. Erich Fromm
  • Dive again and again into the river of uncertainty. Create in the dark, only then can you recognize the light. Jyrki Vainonen
  • Every creative journey is marked by patches and even long stretches of bewilderment as, disoriented and upset, you realize that you don’t know what to do next. These patches of not knowing just can’t be avoided, unless you refuse to create. Eric Maisel
  • Keeping that not knowing is the best way to interface between the known and the unknown at the kind of edge of creativity and science. Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Keeping your mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful secret of unleashing your creative potential. Michael J. Gelb
  • One doesn’t arrive — in words or in art — by necessarily knowing where one is going. “In every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know.  Ann Hamilton
  • The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. Julia Cameron
  • The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended. George MacDonald
  • The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. Albert Einstein
  • The search for certainty and security is an attachment to the known. The known is the past. There is no evolution in that. Uncertainty on the other hand is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom. I relinquish my attachment to the known and step into the field of all possibilities. Deepak Chopra
  • Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity. R. I. Fitzhenry
  • Uncertainty, on the other hand, is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom. Uncertainty means stepping into the unknown in every moment of our existence. The unknown is the field of all possibilities, ever fresh, ever new, always open to the creation of new manifestations. Without uncertainty and the unknown, life is just the stale repetition of outworn memories. Deepak Chopra
  • Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know. Wisława Szymborska
  • When art is rationally dissected, this usually kills it dead, since its role is to take us out of the adult mind and into the poetic imagination. Tim Freke
  • You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Clear thinking at the wrong moment can stifle creativity. Karl Lagerfeld
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Even the discomfort of confusion can be greatly rewarding if we allow ourselves to rest in it

  • ‘Confusion is the last stop on the way to clarity,’ he told me. ‘The part of your mind that thinks it knows it all is butting up against a bigger idea. It’s only a matter of time until the smaller thought gives way to the greater. Don’t fight it. Just try to enjoy the ride. Alan Cohen
  • Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm. Charles Caleb Colton
  • Confusion is the welcome mat at the door of creativity. Michael J. Gelb
  • Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen. George Saunders
  • Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Mary Shelley
  • One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Chaos is creativity, and creativity is chaos. Leo Babauta

Let go too of the need to be understood


Being understood by others is a wonderful gift

  • Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul. John O’Donohue
  • Sometimes it is only a True Friend who knows what we mean when we try to speak. Somebody who has spent a lot of time with us and listens carefully to what we are trying to say and tries to understand. Cressida Cowell
  • There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else. Brad Meltzer
  • Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood. George Orwell
  • In the end there doesn’t have to be anyone who understands you. There just has to be someone who wants to. Robert Brault

However, realise that often in your life you will be misunderstood – and that is ok too

  • Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • To be understood is to prostitute oneself. Fernando Pessoa
  • As soon as we start putting our thoughts into words and sentences everything gets distorted, language is just no damn good—I use it because I have to, but I don’t put any trust in it. We never understand each other. Marcel Duchamp
  • No one could possibly understand my purest feelings, but I couldn’t care less; My deepest yearnings are nobody’s goddamn business anyway. Novala Takemoto
  • Not being understood may be taken as a sign that there is much in one to understand. Alain de Botton
  • So long as you live and work, you will be misunderstood; to that you must resign yourself once and for all. Be silent! Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


  • What happens if we put aside our ideas for a moment and enter a profound state of not knowing? What happens if we step out of confines of the conceptual mind into the spacious openness of the mystery? Tim Freke

Related essays and excepts


On a lighter note

  • There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. Douglas Adams
  • The universe is simple; it’s the explanation that’s complex. Woody Allen
  • At first I was uncertain but now I’m not so sure. Walter Heisenberg