What You Don’t Know that You Don’t Know

In my counselling practice I begin in various scenarios with describing a pie with three pieces. One piece contains ‘what you know that you know.’ The second piece represents ‘what you know that you don’t know.’ Finally, the third piece houses ‘what you don’t know that you don’t know.’ It turns out that the biggest piece by far is the third. It is also the piece that offers the most opportunity for growth and understanding. So I end up exploring this realm of possibilities in psychotherapy as well as in my personal life.

This process works very well when used in conjunction with the book, “The Fifth Agreement,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. In this book, his sequel to ‘The Four Agreements,’ Ruiz issues a challenge for us to be skeptical of all ideas that we believe. He explains that almost all the truisms that we embrace, including who we think we are, what we are capable of and what is real vs. imaginary, are only someone else’s ideas that we received somewhere along the line. Michael Brown, author of ‘The Presence Process,’ writes that these messages begin ‘in-utero’ as pre-language communication, transmitted chemically and energetically.

Meanwhile, we have learned to survive in our environment; discerning our world through our senses. As toddlers we trust our eyes, ears and body in exploring our world. Then as we grow up, we realize that not everything that exists can be experienced in this fundamental way. Science teaches us the actuality of physics, chemistry and biology in the substance of things. Faith and intuition has us experiencing a ‘knowing’ that belies what we otherwise accept as true. All-in-all, we still rely heavily on our basic senses, especially sight, to assess our reality.

Yet what we see comprises only a small fraction of what exists beyond that. As the Macedonian philosopher and mystic, Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov has explained,

What is essential is always invisible, beginning with life. Do we see life? No, only expressions of it. We do not see thoughts and feelings either, but we see expressions of them on people’s faces, and above all we see the fine deeds or the crimes they produce in the world. Look around you and reflect: everything around us shows us the limits of what we see and the vastness of what we do not see.

With Aivanhov, there is a detached and perhaps humble flavour to approaching the totally unknown dimension of our awareness—the what we don’t know that we don’t know. By suspending our knee-jerk reactions and judgments based solely on our basic senses, we end up being curious rather than insistent. The pace of life slows from an urban scurry to a more reflective rhythm; in tune with the heavens, the earth and everything natural in between. We end up meditating  (listening) rather than praying (talking).

At the same time, much of our contemporary lives have been conditioned by the scientific method of observation. To be credible in our left-brain society, we assess most things according to quantity versus quality. Success is often measured in terms of how big it is, how much money is being made and/or how many people are involved. Science ends up being subsumed in that dance. As a casualty of the left-brain hamster wheel’s dynamic (let us call it old science), right-brain treasures such as imagination, beauty, kindness and faith are often relegated to the realm of irrelevant or ‘fluffy.’

With the separation of science and religion, people struggled with the paradoxes that were created as a result. Science seemed to go one way while faith went in another. While science tackled ‘what makes the sky stay up?’ religion grappled with ‘why are we here?’ In the meantime, human beings have always reached for integration and alignment.

How do we marry seemingly divisive parts of our awareness? How do we keep an eye on the ball while appreciating not only the game but also why we are playing?

Going down the proverbial rabbit hole, Dr. Amit Goswami, theoretical quantum physicist, has solved the paradoxes of the old science. In an integrated ‘new science,’ he posited that consciousness is the causal variable in all observable phenomenon. In a nutshell, Goswami asserts that consciousness creates matter. This flies in the face of the current worldview which is that everything is matter based; that matter is causal. It is a provocative theory that the scientific community has dismissed out of hand since it does not reinforce the status quo. Yet his revolutionary paradigm not only explains the existence of God but also reconciles scientific knowledge with faith based wisdom (while eliminating the paradoxes of the old science).

We seem to be creeping up on God through scientific discoveries. Last year, Peter Higgs used a particle accelerator (the Hadron Collider) to discover the ‘God particle.’ This elusive and infinitesimally small particle finally explains why everything, as we know it, exists. Because of the nature of the God particle, Tim Meyer (another particle physicist) pondered, ‘Maybe this particle is interacting with something in more than four dimensions.’ I am happy to hear that science seems to be finally catching up with widespread religious tenets (including the interconnectedness of all things) held for centuries.

Now we come full circle to the scientific discovery that there is no nucleus to an atom. Nothing is solid. Rather, everything in matter exists as potential relationships. In keeping with this awesome scientific premise, scientists have also discovered that by simply observing something we condition how it appears. Does this sound like we are Godlike co-creators or what? Wonder and gratitude seep in around the edges of our awareness as we try on these layers of insight.

Delving into the ‘what we don’t know that we don’t know’ requires that we are open to being wrong about some basic premise that we have accepted. For example, people used to believe that the world was flat. That idea was accepted as a fact and dissenters were tried as heretics. So while the door to new horizons in thinking is often barricaded behind ignorance, a few brave souls run the gauntlet for the sake of progress.

It seems to me that our challenge, as individuals in search of awareness, is to be informed while also to be discerning about who and what we believe. At some point, that part of the process hopefully includes taking stock of what we have swallowed as fact. Judgements about ourselves and others, what is possible and not, plus the why of it all become opportunities for reevaluation.

To keep it real, we also need curiosity, skepticism plus an open mind and heart. What that looks like in our ‘paint by numbers’ picture is daring to mix colours (included in the kit) to make your own colours. Try painting outside the lines, especially when you are scared to. With any luck, that will take you into the ‘what you don’t know that you don’t know’ place of discovery. Take the time to periodically step back from what you have been painting. Reassess what has been working and what has not. Keep the former and get rid of the latter. And make sure that you dip your brush in love—it enlivens your colours.

Helena Green is a Registered Professional Counsellor in Nanaimo specializing in relationships, grief & loss, personal growth & seniors/caregivers.