Dani Shapiro
February 20, 2017

On Not Knowing

I recently hung a piece of artwork in my office, made my my friend Debbie Millman.  In a simple black frame, matted in white is a large page of what looks to be notepaper, and written in Debbie’s wonderful script in a corner of the notepaper are these words:

this, just this, I am comfortable not knowing.

All lower case, and in the corner, as if the artist is whispering, even though her hand is strong. 

I bought the piece on a whim.  I had been having trouble working in my office.  In fact, I had been having trouble spending time in my office at all.  Some inner shifts in my psyche had made it difficult to write in the place where I have always written.  And so I had moved my whole operation downstairs to our library, where I have spent the last number of months curled in a big chair, my laptop on my lap.  (A masseuse recently asked me if my work station was ergonomically correct and I burst out laughing.)  I have been comforted by the thousands of books that surround me in the library, and the view of fields spreading out in the distance.  But still, whenever I have been in my office, my eye falls on Debbie’s piece:

this, just this, I am comfortable not knowing.

I have spent my life wanting to know.  Needing to know.  Love, health, success, happiness – I have grasped at these the way we all do, thinking that if I only do just the right thing, think hard enough, do well enough, I can will all my desires into being.  So why, then, do I feel a a profound sense of comfort each time I glance at Debbie’s words?  comfortable. not knowing.

This afternoon I unrolled my yoga mat for the first time in a very long time.  Something about these inward shifts in my psyche, along with a shoulder injury, have made it difficult to practice each day the way I have for nearly twenty years.  And so when I stood on my mat and began my practice, there were poses I couldn’t do.  My body didn’t want to twist quite so far, my hands most definitely did not wish to meet in namaste behind my back.  I did manage to stand on my head, but my shoulder twinged and I thought better of it.  My practice definitely was not pretty.  I was glad there was no mirror in which I would see just how out of alignment I really was.  But do you know what?  As I continued to move through the asanas, as I listened to new music on Spotify, as the fire crackled in the fireplace, it occurred to me that this was the yoga.  this, just this

Nothing, not a single thing in my life, has happened the way I thought it would, the way I thought it should.  Actually, scratch that.  Some things have gone the way I thought they should — at the time — and those have always been my greatest mistakes, er, opportunities to learn.  Marriage, motherhood, my writing life, my teaching life, my closest friendships, my house in the country – each of these grew out of not knowing. 

That little word – comfortable — strikes me as the key.  That softening.  That ease.  Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.  My favorite Sabbath prayer.  If I can continue to open my eyes to what is – this,  just this – I will not miss the miracles.  None of us will.  And even though the news is grim, the world is haywire, and life is relentlessly challenging, miracles are always everywhere.