A while back I saw a graphic on the back of a sweatshirt that really caught my attention. It was very simple, two circles, a big one, with a smaller one hovering above as if in orbit around the mother ship. Inside the big circle were the words “Your comfort zone“ and inside the smaller circle were the words “where the magic happens.” There is no intersection between the circles. In fact there was quite a distance between them. As a clown (the no make-up, funny kind) the image really spoke to me, as most often, it’s the improvisational journeys that spark the greatest magic, moment when you don’t really know exactly where it’s leading.

On a more philosophical level, I look at it in terms of knowing and not-knowing, and how challenging it is for people to embrace not-knowing. In this modern world, our comfort zone tends to be what is familiar to us, what we know. To a large degree, one can draw parallels to rational and intuitive mind. How the great majority of people find comfort in what they know, or if they don’t know, at least what they can evaluate, judge, understand. Stepping into not-knowing, where one let’s go of the rational and embraces the intuitive creative world is a leap of faith, of trusting what one doesn’t know. Why embrace not-knowing? Because that is where the magic happens? Not a very strong argument in many people’s minds, even if there may be some truth to that. In fact, one can argue that is the key to being ‘present in the moment,’ to the sought after mindfulness. I am no Zen teacher however I have been hanging around them long enough to understand its value.

The Zen peacemakers when they go on ‘Bearing Witness’ retreats in very challenging places (Auschwitz/Birkenau, on the streets) work with 3 tenets: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, Taking (Appropriate) Action. The concept being that in order to truly witness something, one has to let go of all judgments and opinions and to witness things as they really are. It’s not an easy task, letting go of the rational, thought based reality and embracing, opening up to a big question mark. Can you totally let go of the known and all it’s personal landmarks to embrace the unknown?

Consider a moment when you have to walk through a door into an important meeting where a life changing decision will be made, one beyond your control. It could be a work related event, or a meeting with a doctor, or one involving family decisions––you really don’t know what’s going to happen on the other side, nor if a decision has already been made or if how you walk through the door affects the outcome. How likely is it that you can let go of all your thoughts and worries to be fully present walking through that door?

From the clown perspective, and many others I imagine, this presents itself at crucial moments, such as going on stage. The clown, unlike most stage performers, looks to be interactive with their audience, and adjusts their performance accordingly. They play according to the laughter, amplifying moments the audience finds funny, letting others that aren’t resonating slip on by. They let go of all their knowing to listen, to be aware of how things are working ‘now.’

No matter how practiced a routine may be, the unknown factor remains that of the audience’s response, and to what degree the performance will resonate this time. Embracing not-knowing creates the possibility for a synchronicity of intimacy with audience that opens delight valves full throttle inducing an outpouring of unabashed laughter, of completely letting go, and traveling an effortless road to magical heights we so enjoy floating in.

How does one embrace the unknown? With delight? with glee? with apprehension? With fear? With a calculated formula of ‘if this happens, then’s?’  Does one leave the ‘not-knowing’ behind the curtain where the audience can’t see it. Or carry it on to stage in full display?’ Knowing one’s ‘not-knowing’, knowing how and when to let go of knowing, to embrace beyond the personal to a more universal flow connecting to the wider cosmos.

Can one let go of character, or style, of plans? Is that necessary to delve into ‘not knowing?’ Letting go of attachment to the tried and true is a challenge to all. There is security, assurance in staying within established boundaries, and it would be an understatement to suggest that the global ‘we’ are encouraged to embrace that. In our modern age of distraction, it has never been easier to take refuge in the known. There are screens of all sizes wherever one looks, and listening devices that capture your attention without wires. And yet, that is hardly where the magic happens—that space most often distinctly outside our comfort zone.   Where might that be?

Can one take refuge in Not-Knowing? Only the nose knows.

by Moshe Cohen ©7.24.2019