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in reverence of the unknown

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

" Comment vivre sans inconnu en face de soi?

How can we live without the unknown in front of us?

René Char - Le poème pulverisé. "

In Mysteries, Yes a poem by Mary Oliver from her book Evidence we can read:

' Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads. '

What is left to do once we begin to marvel at the mysteries of life is to bow our heads in reverence.

Of those who think they have the answers Lao-tzu has these words in the Tao Te King:

“He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know.”

Some claim the standard translation of this celebrated passage is not accurate, closer to the intent of the text we should read:

"He who speaks does not know, he who knows is silent"

Of the not knowing that is speaking and of the knowing that invites to silence Wittgenstein says the following at the end of his Tractatus:

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

Seldom though do we pass much over in silence for we are attached to what we know. But what we know is nothing more than what we think we know; a mere product of our thinking.

Wisdom is not about knowing or not knowing, it is about acknowledging that our understanding is partial at best.

In that light, we need to accept that the answers we find to our most pressing questions about life are anything but definitive.

To acknowledge their provisional nature is to realize that we need to carry them lightly.

And by extension, recognize that the only peace given to us is to settle in the midst of what is perpetually unsettling. Another version of that would be grounding us in the groundlessness of life.

In one of his poems, Paul Celan writes: Wir wissen ja nicht, was gilt / We do not know what counts.

Not knowing what counts means we ultimately have no measure for that which supersedes our understanding.

In his sermons, Master Eckhart has these words: St. Bernard says, ‘ He who would know thee, God, must measure thee without measure.’

Without measure means standing in awe with an open hand and an open heart before the ungraspable mysteries of the universe letting all our certainties fall away.

Without measure, before the measureless provokes a sentiment of awe or shudder that the French philosopher Blaise Pascale expresses in these celebrated words: The eternal silence of these infinite spaces [the heavens] terrifies me. Pensées

Lao-Tzu again: “All are clear, I alone am clouded,”

In Plato’s Apology, in reference to Socrates, we are told: We are only as wise as our awareness of our ignorance. Rendered as the Socratic paradox this becomes: The only true wisdom is knowing you don’t know, or, I know that I don’t know nothing.

Could Yates be echoing this realization in a passage of his poem the Second Coming when he writes?

‘ The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.’

In Zen we simplify this by saying:

Not knowing is the most intimate.

Not knowing is where our inquiry begins and where our inquiry ends.

It begins without beginning and ends without ending; therein lies the path, it covers the entire earth but leaves not a track behind.

No trace left behind is what manifests itself as intimacy.

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