I remember years ago, being in a room with a spiritual teacher. A friend and I had organized a workshop with him. He was a very wise man.

Towards the end of our evening, a guy put up his hand to ask a question.

“Terry, I wake up every morning, and I don’t really want to be alive. There’s so much pain. I was an alcoholic for many years, and I’ve been sober for many now. But I’m just so unhappy. I don’t know why I’m here. What do I do?”

It was one of those questions that makes the room go deathly silent, as everyone reels from the depth they’ve just been plunged into.

Terry paused a long time. And then he said.

“I don’t know. I don’t have any advice for you. I don’t know what the answer is. But I will offer you a prayer.”

And he did. And something entered the room as he did. I can still feel the shivers now.

The question was too big to answer. And so he honoured it by opening his heart, and blessing this man, and his suffering, and all of us who are suffering, and don’t know what to do about it.

And I’m glad he did. And I’ll never forget that moment.

We’re taught to know the answers

Because intelligent people know the answer. Successful people know the answer. Popular people know the answer.

And if you confess that you don’t know, then it must mean that no one likes you. Or you’re a failure. Or dumb.

And who wants to be dumb and alone?

So we fake it.

I fake it.

It might be a small fake. Just brushing over the cracks lightly, and hope no-one noticed.

“You know, like in that amazing film, ‘The Cross and the Armadillo’, you know the one I’m talking about right?”

“Uh. Yeah of course.”

Except you don’t.

Or maybe it’s a big fake. Pretending to be this whole other person. The one you think you need to be to get the things you think you want. And it’s been happening for years.

And at the bottom of it all, it just hurts.

It hurts to fake it, because it robs us of the natural nutrition that we get from being real.

But to be real we have to be vulnerable.

“I don’t know.”

And the more there is on the line, the less our pride wants us to confess to it.

You’re the coach, you should know

You’re expected to know the answer Ewan.

You’re supposed to guide them through this with surety and confidence. You’re the coach.

You’re expected to get them results, no matter who they are or what they do.

So what’s the answer Ewan? Your client is in front of you, and they’re scared and stuck. They need your help. What are you going to do?

I don’t know.

But you should know! Oh man, you’ve got yourself into a sticky spot here haven’t you? You told them you could help them, and now they really need your help, and what do you have to say?

I don’t know.

Oh dude. You’re fucked. This is so far from being ok. Better fake it. And fast. Otherwise this whole house of cards is going to come crashing down. What’s the answer?

I don’t know.

Sometimes I wish I said it more often

During an interview earlier this year, a woman asked me how my coaching was different to other business coaches out there.

I was about to deliver some kind of elevator pitch. Because I thought it was a good question. And I thought a good coach would have a good answer to it. And I wanted to be seen as a good coach.

But for some reason I paused long enough to find something more true.

“I don’t know.”

Because I didn’t really know how other business coaches worked.

And sometimes I wish I said that more often.

Because when I realize I don’t know, and also realize that my unawareness is real, and not an error, it opens up this huge space for my curiosity to flow into.

Authentic ignorance.

Saying “I don’t know”, because I truly don’t, even though the rules in my head say I should.

Saying “I don’t know” because it’s infinitely more true than pretending I do.

Saying “I don’t know” because it gives me a blank page to paint a new consciousness onto.

Smash the statue and the pedestal

Don’t hide your ignorance.

No need to pretend you’re more than you are.

Every time you try and fit in, you negate the way you stand out.

You just keep propping up the crumbling statue of some fake guy, which you glued together from ideas of how you’re supposed to be, and what you’re supposed to know.

It’s not real.

Smash the statue. And smash the pedestal you’ve been trying to pretend you’re standing on.

You are so wonderfully ignorant of how fucking beautiful you really are.

Though that’s not a mistake.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ewan Townhead

I hope you enjoyed the article. If you're interested further in my work, you can find out more about me here, and my coaching here.

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  1. Avatar

    I love this Ewan! Saying, and admitting ‘I don’t know’ is so powerful. I often find though that when I use it others judge it as negative – for example when I was more nomadic than I am now I’d be asked ‘where are you staying next?’ if I answered ‘I don’t know’, they’d assume this was bad, or a problem rather than a statement of fact. If I have an intention, or vision of something I’d love to create and someone asks me how I’m going to make it happen and I reply ‘I don’t know’, it’s frequently taken as a negative statement… even though I know I don’t have to know…. but when I opt for stating this to myself as well as to anyone else it can be with such a relief that often things start to change in that moment. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ewan Townhead

      Exactly. It’s just a cultural blind-spot that says ignorance is undesirable. But we internalize those voices. And think it’s us that doesn’t want to say it. It’s not. It’s us that DOES want to say it, and all the rest is judgemental chatter.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Love this post, Ewan! And…what is very clear to me is that the Spiritual Realm is part of every realm, just unrecognized and not Realized. I’ve begun, finally, to realize that a lot of my writing is for Future Time… Love to have you read the one for this week (to be posted Monday) called “The Trimesters of Our Lives” on our new website http://www.CalledByLoveInstitute.com. For me, it is a clear example of something written for Future Time.

    Reply
    • Ewan Townhead

      Post the link when it’s live dear one.

      I’ve been thinking about time frames a lot recently. Both how as my time-horizon expands to greater swathes of time, so my present moment awareness deepens. And how when put in the context of “life’s work”, failure becomes irrelevant (because it’s inevitable) and curiosity and expression become paramount.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Wow! Gems of wisdom in this post.
    It’s the belief in a concrete “I” that gets us into trouble. When we believe that we have a permanent sense of self, we forget that this is an illusion. We separate, feel non-connected and must prove, as an individual, that”I know the answer”. The root of this concrete “I” is the delusion of self-cherishing. It’s a sense of entitlement, and is detrimental to our feeling connected to others.

    Ewan, I love your thinking in regards to coaching. You have great reminders. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ewan Townhead

      You’re so welcome.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    I remember that day Ewan. Great lesson and great blog. I have shared.

    Reply
    • Ewan Townhead

      Ah! I’d forgotten you were there. Quite a moment.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        It was a good day!
        I have a dream that our politicians will learn to say “I don’t know” in a way that will open up real collective inquiry into how to find solutions rather than just try to get one over on each other. 🙂 I suspect many of them will have to climb the spiral a little before that can happen though 🙂

        Reply
  5. Avatar

    What a beautifully written piece. I was directed to it by my good friend and colleague Gaston Schmitz. I would love to re-publish your thoughts on this, fully attributed with links, on my own blog one day. Let me know if this would be OK with you. Really wonderful writing.

    Reply

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