“To know that you do not know is the best. To think you know when you do not is a disease. Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it. - Lao Tzu”
Limiting beliefs aren’t created from ignorance, they’re created from the illusion of knowing. I know for me when I’m unwilling to acknowledge the truth–“I don’t know”– at any given moment, I immediately shut myself off to new knowledge. The ability to admit sincere ignorance is one of the greatest gifts of human existence.
Often when I hear the word, ‘ignorance,’ there’s a bit of a cringe that comes along with it. It’s been warped and used as a device of separation and judgment for so long that this reaction is only natural. We’ve all been conditioned to believe that ignorance is inherently bad. The truth is, the words that we use are given power by how and why we use them. Ignorance simply means the lack of knowledge or awareness. Our ability to admit to ignorance is a unique quality of being human and it allows us to fully realize the potential for something new to manifest.
There is rebirth and renewal in the admission that you don’t have all the answers without internalizing that to mean that you are fundamentally wrong. In fact, the ability to understand one’s own ignorance gives us the will and the drive to be excited by the prospects of what could be, it’s an opportunity to refuel your deepest passion. In the absence of knowing, the possibilities are endless. When we become decisive and think we know all there is to know we lack imagination and create a limiting existence. We place those limits on ourselves and, inevitably, they extend into the world and people around us.
Removing the veil of avidya
You may have heard of the 5 Kleshas before which are known as the roots of human sufferings. The first of the five is called Avidya and this is the fertile ground that each of the following Kelsha’s is able to grow from. The word avidya translates to not-knowing or ignorance. Vidya in Sanskrit means knowledge, wisdom, or clarity, and the prefix ‘a’ means no or not. However, this is deeper than the ignorance we commonly think of. This word also encapsulates confusing illusion as reality, suffering as bliss, and non-self to be self. In Hinduism when avidya is talked about it includes mistaking that which is impermanent to be permanent. Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh says “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” To rid ourselves of living from the lens of Avidya, we must first acknowledge that it is present. Awareness is often the first step in transformation.
There are a multitude of ways to step into awareness and begin removing the veil of avidya. You might consider these a couple of good places to start:
Take a moment to pause with intention
In a moment of pause, there’s an opportunity to recognize what you’re experiencing. An intentional pause and a deep breath might be all that is needed to shift from assumption to curiosity. It’s the lens of curiosity that keeps us open to learning and growing from every experience.
Allow what is rising to rise
Resist the need to change or manipulate an experience into a different or more comfortable one. So often we try to mold an emotion or feeling into something more palatable. This place of allowing is where we admit that we don’t need to have all the answers, yet are willing to learn. It clears the way for us to gain understanding and to be open to whatever shows up.
Hold space for the unknown
In Western culture, we’re exposed to fear-based living, where we are taught to fear that which we don’t understand. The invitation in this prompt is to not only create space in your life for the unknown but to actively invite it into your daily world. Unknown does not have to equate to wrongness or fear; instead, it can be a vast expanse for growth to manifest.
The commitment to continued learning
Before I truly understood the power of ridding my life from avidya there was definitely some resistance. First and foremost, I was unwilling to acknowledge the depth to which this ignorance showed up in my life. Human conditioning creates shame and judgment surrounding the things we don’t understand and I fell right into that spiral. I remember only admitting I didn’t know something when I was sure I’d find the answer out quickly. It took a spontaneous drive across the United States many years ago and exploring places I had never been before to show me the true expansiveness that was out there. Physically seeing new landscapes and this world in a way I had never had the chance to learn intimately before gave me the foundation to admit that I might not know all that there is. That admission this time around came without fear, judgment, or shame because there was so much joy in the exploration.
When we lift the veil of Avidya and step into the power of not knowing, nothing in this world is beyond question or challenge. That simple realization means there is possibility for a new experience to arise at every moment of every day. Looking at ignorance in this way, we understand that even the things we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. There is so much excitement wrapped up in the possibility that everything can be reimagined, relearned, and renewed.
What is gained in this commitment to continued learning?
Consistently seeking new understanding, especially regarding the things we think we know, creates an open landscape out of our lives that is waiting to be discovered. Often that realization can be quite scary, it’s what keeps a lot of us stuck in our habits and patterned ways of being. In the commitment to our learning, we create the space for vast, expansive opportunity, endless possibilities, and rebirth and rediscovery of self.
Above all else, stepping outside of our comfort zone and away from fear-based living gives us permission to understand and know ourselves deeply. The willingness to understand our own ignorance allows us to be renewed and connect with our fullest potential. We always have a choice in the creation of who we are. If we take the time to consistently relearn ourselves, we can reconnect to our truth every single day.