On Not Knowing What's Next

Post-inauguration teachings from Tricycle:

Dealing with uncertainty in the face of potential catastrophe (like illness, old age, and death) is basic to dharma practice. In Zen especially we have the koan phrase “not knowing is most intimate.” This means what it sounds like it means.

We don’t know what will happen, and we don’t even know what is happening now.

We never know; even when we think we know, we don’t know. Not knowing can make us nervous, even panicky. But when, with our practice, we settle into not knowing, with some wisdom and courage, we see that not knowing is intimate. Not knowing, we have no choice but to plunge into reality as it is.


For many decades American politics has been becoming increasingly spectacular in the literal sense of that word: like a spectacle, a show. Maybe Trump’s expertise as a reality TV star, and the consequences of his style, will finally inspire us to stop being spectators and begin being citizens. This is my hope.

As citizens we will have to pay less attention to political hype and more attention to actual political details.

We will have to be better informed and more critical. We will have to determine when it is effective and crucial to respond to events by writing, posting, agitating, and organizing. We will have to call local and state representatives, registering protests as necessary in the spirit of dharma: consistently, patiently, peacefully, and with respect for all. There will be many opportunities for creativity in our political expression. Staying close to our practice will help us to seize these possibilities.


All this amounts to simple mindfulness. Usually we think of mindfulness as awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Yes, mindfulness begins there. But true mindfulness, from a Zen perspective, involves mindfulness of who we really are, our true selves—which includes all others and the world.

Paying attention to the world with wisdom, caring for the world as ourselves, and acting compassionately for the benefit of others will be our practice now more than ever.


I am not talking about withdrawing from society; quite the contrary.

But socially, spiritually, we can’t be drawn into the craziness. It is our duty to maintain and express a sane view.

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