A few weeks ago I walked into a dinner party, confirmed to the host that yes, I would like a cocktail and was met with this: “Guess she’s not pregnant yet!”
It wasn’t the first time. Since getting married over a year ago I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve asked when are you going to start trying? how many do you think you’ll have? or my favorite what big trips do you guys want to take before you have kids?
“TBD,” I say most times, and that’s the honest truth. It is to be determined by R and me. We talk about it openly, often. End of story.
Except that it’s not, at least in terms of how all the questions affect me after I brush them off.
Every time August 7th hovers I start to think about what I want and have to say to mark the year, and every time I have an answer; this time was no different. Five days ago I sat down and typed what felt like the right first line: Today is my 32nd birthday and I’ve never known less about my life.
Yes, I was thinking about the kids question. It’s a big one, and it comes at my often. But there’s also the will I really make it as a writer? question, the will we stay in LA? question, the will we ever own a house stress? and countless other unknowns. They’re really adding up these days, so much so that I subconsciously view my entire life as one big question mark.
But as I thought about what would follow the “I’ve never known less” line I realize that it’s not true. I know things. I have answers. They just don’t cover the next five to ten years.
Today I’m not ready for a baby. Today I have pages of my first novel to give a re-edit. Today I am living in LA – tomorrow too. Today we cannot afford a house, but we are saving. Today I know that all I want to do is spend a day shopping and relaxing in Topanga Canyon before celebrating with friends and family, which is exactly what I’m doing. This is the stuff of my life, and I’m damn lucky to know it as well as I do.
Of course, we are living in a future-obsessed world, and I am a future-obsessed girl. My greatest security comes from control; My greatest fears come from the unknown. I used to keep a cut out of this little Mary Engelbreit quote in a tiny frame on my white wicker bed stand so that I would see it every morning and every night.
Spinning around questions that cannot currently be answered is a waste of my time and energy – two things I desperately need. Worrying about things I cannot possibly control yet is a fool’s errand, and if there’s anything I like less than being out of control it’s feeling a fool. I am sabotaging my today on behalf of a future self that hasn’t taken shape. And if Marty McFly can destroy his present by messing with his past then can’t I mess up my future by trying to decide it in my present? (that sentence makes tons of sense in my head).
I don’t know and you know what: that’s not my job. I am not a clairvoyant. I don’t even believe in them! My job is to know myself today, and, maybe for sake of outfit planning, tomorrow. And, most importantly, my job is to love that woman no matter where she currently stands on having children, being a writer, living in Los Angeles or owning a house. And I do love her, which is the luckiest part of all.
So today is my 32nd birthday. I know what I know (thank goodness). I don’t know what I don’t know (of course) and there’s not a damn thing I can do about either. What a massive and awesome relief.
Happy birthday, Jessie! Thanks for the insight 🙂
“Don’t know. Don’t know. Repeated regularly, it almost becomes a mantra in response to what we think or believe. This phrase can open up a space in the mind, helping it to relax and rest. The little phrase, “I don’t know,” is very, very powerful.
One Zen story proclaims, “Not knowing is most intimate.” I understand this to mean that what is most essential is not understood through the filter of our judgments, past knowledge, or memories. When not-knowing helps these to drop away, the result can be a greater immediacy-what some might call being intimate.
The practice of not-knowing needs to be distinguished from confusion and debilitating doubt. Confusion is not a virtue: the confused person is somewhat lost and removed from life. With doubt, the mind is agitated or contracted with hesitation and indecision. These mind states tend to obscure rather than clarify. Furthermore, confusion and doubt are generally involuntary. Not-knowing, as a practice, is a choice meant to bring greater peace.
But lest we take the not-knowing practice too far, Suzuki Roshi said, “Not-knowing does not mean you don’t know.” It doesn’t require us to forget everything we have known or to suspend all interpretations of a situation. Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.
As a Buddhist practice, not-knowing leads to more than an intimacy and open mind. It can be used as a sword to cut through all the ways that the mind clings. If we can wield this sword until the mind lets go of itself and finally knows ultimate freedom, then-not knowing has served its ultimate purpose.”
adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, February 10th, 2004
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