The Thought That You Know Better
September 15, 2020
Certain words echo in the heart for years, filtering through the consciousness and developing slowly, like an old-fashioned film in a darkroom. My spiritual guide would sometimes read aloud to his students from The Tibetan Book of The Great Liberation (Ed., W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Oxford University Press, 1954, 1968). This is ostensibly a translation of an original text attributed to the legendary Tibetan guru, Padmasambhava, given centuries ago and hidden away to be found during this age. I have heard these teachings and read them myself, more than once. On one particular occasion, in a tent on the mountaintop at the Abode of the Message, a Sufi retreat center and community, Shahabuddin read the entire selection aloud to the assembled group.
For a flash of a moment, I felt what had been read reverberating in my being at a deep level. The moment vanished inexplicably and I was left puzzled. When the session concluded, I approached Shahabuddin and asked him, “What stands between hearing it and getting it?” He immediately answered, “The thought that you know better.” I just took this in and walked away, turning the words over in my mind. It was so simple, yet so much to think about contained in just a few words. Over the years since, I have reflected this simple yet complex concept. The thought that I know better shows up in so many ways. This reaction is a barrier to the deeper understanding I am seeking and causes me to question and open my thinking. When I believe I know better, I have the chance to stop and ask, what am I preventing myself from learning here? What makes me think I know better?
What goes on here? The ego stirs itself to assert that it knows something that (probably) it does not. This surface awareness wishes to be knowledgeable. In order to learn, we must empty our cup of the self, expand into that openness and allow possibilities that haven’t been there before. We can eschew confirmation bias and the tendency to fit incoming information into preconceived notions, building structures that make us comfortable but which solidify into mental prisons. Being uncomfortable can be the bell of awakening to something new, to the development of a more expanded and deepened perception. Releasing the thought that I know better allows me to be present to the opportunity to grow.
I don’t abandon my ideas entirely, but I check them so that I can try to see where the fault lines lie. In my journey to become anti-racist, I have to confront the thought that I know better about people’s experiences that I actually know nothing about, so that I can open to a clearer and receptive understanding. In my relationships, I try not to assert myself so vociferously that I can’t hear what the other person is saying. Spiritually, I must continue to be open to deeper awareness, concepts and unfoldment for the same reason. In our search for understanding, the thought that we know better is always likely to be an impediment to actually knowing. I don’t always succeed in this, but these words have become guidelines for my inner life.