Making Space for the Unknown

[This is Part 2 of a 3 part series. If you missed Part 1 – “What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know” – find it here.]

Have you ever had a brilliant idea in the shower? Or while sitting on the toilet? For me, my moment of insight comes every Wednesday evening when I go for a solo run. It took me a few weeks to pick up on the pattern, but at this point it’s undeniable.

The first time it happened, I was sweating through a mid-May jog when it hit me: I need to write Rosa a letter. Due to a language barrier, Rosa and I had only exchanged a few words over the three years we’d been neighbors. But a few weeks earlier she’d walked past our house looking extremely downcast. “My son,” she said, “police shoot him.” I could see the pain in her face and felt the inadequacy of the words I offered in response. I wanted to do something to comfort her, to extend love in the midst of her suffering. But then the moment passed and was subsumed into the usual activity of my week. It was like it never happened.

How many moments like that have been lost in the abyss of my subconscious? Or maybe the better question is, What was it about my evening run that brought that memory to the surface? And, How can I cultivate a life where the important moments – the insights and ideas that seem to come from beyond me – don’t get lost?

Here’s my experience: the insights come when I make space for being instead of consuming. The more I consume – music, Netflix, news, podcasts, magazines, social media, text messages, app notifications – the less space there is for anything else to break through. How can I hear the voice of God or even my own inner voice when there’s so much other noise in my life?

I really think it’s that simple. Simply put, that is, not simply done. Because cutting back on consuming requires giving up what’s become a way of life for most of us in the age of technology – namely, multitasking. Multitasking is the sickness of a consumer-driven society. I’m not satisfied with consuming one thing at a time, so I consume many, and the negative effects are compounded. I think awareness is growing about the inefficiency and harmful effects of multitasking, but we still do it. It’s so easy to listen to music while driving or text friends while watching tv, so why not?

When I first started using the language-learning app Duolingo, I fit the 2-minute lessons into every nook and cranny of my day. I used it in bed when I first woke up, while eating meals, even during bathroom breaks! And why not? I was making the most of the time! But you know what else happened? My anxiety skyrocketed. The whole week, for “no particular reason,” I felt irritable and couldn’t focus on anything. The reason, of course, was that I had filled up every space that had previously given me a break from consuming. Instead of giving myself downtime to process the insane amount of stimuli our brains gets in the average day, I was pouring more information in.

That night back in May, I wasn’t trying to have a moment of insight. But when I cut out the noise and entered into a space of being, that memory of Rosa came to the surface. And as I ran and the tears fell, I knew with certainty that I would reach out and that the connection would be meaningful for both of us. A few nights later, as I sat in her home and she showed me pictures of her son, each of us trying to speak the other’s language, that vision was fulfilled.

Getting access to “what we don’t know we don’t know” is not something that we can control. There is an element of mystery to the journey of self-awareness that doesn’t allow for a formula of “3 easy steps.” But in my experience, the more I make space for being instead of consuming, the more connected I feel to myself and God and others. And it’s in that place of connection that life (creativity, awareness, compassion, inspiration, empathy) is found.

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For Reflection:

  1. When do your clearest insights come to you?
  2. Take a moment and think through your day – how many moments are you being vs. consuming? How often are you consuming more than one thing at a time?
  3. What connections do you see between your level of consumption and your level of anxiety? Do some of your daily habits increase your anxiety? Do some help decrease it?

Additional Resources:

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Making space in our lives for being over consuming is one way to get access to “what we don’t know we don’t know.” But it’s not the only way! In the final post of this series, I’ll share two other practices that are essential for growing in self-awareness.