3 Little Words

by David Battistella | The Focusing Way Podcast

“I don’t know”

What to do with three little words: 


I don’t know. I really do not like to generalize but most of the time in our lives we have a general degree of knowing.  We know what day it is, what time it is, what we have to do on a particular day.  We have skills, we can read, we can write or we can draw from any number of particular individual talents any one individual might have.

In essence, we know “something”.  There is a sense of knowing, or maybe at least a comfort in understanding that some things are consistently the way they are. What I am getting at is what we do when we get to a place of “not knowing”.  What do we do when we get to a place where the question to whether you know or understand something results in three simple words. I don’t know.

The words or more specifically the feelings around the words, “I don’t know”, can spark a lot of different thoughts, and emotions. In a test or in a direct question from your boss, it can instill a sense panic, it can create feelings of inferiority or public embarrassment. In the choice of a leisure activity it might instill in you a sense of adventure, the “not knowing” is filled with exciting possibilities.

So let’s take a look at how we can approach the words, I don’t know.

First, lets consider the word’s “I don’t know” and remember that they are a part of you. Let’s be with that part of you that doesn’t know. That part of you that may not feel it has an answer to something. Let me give you a personal example.

As many creative people, or anyone for that matter, my day is filled with the need to make decisions. Call them creative choices. In the creation of a film there is a lot of internal struggle. Parts are competing to put forward ideas, to structure things a certain way, to make things sound or be a certain way, to consider an overall impression, to consider audience response and so on.

So many decisions need to be made before, during and after, so many considerations need to take place and all of them can take you down a path to a completed film that you and your many parts are happy with and that, with any luck, people relate to.

So it puts you in a constant state of not knowing.  There is a real process that goes on here.  Some of it is based on facts, in my case it is all based on condensing what I experienced or, to be more precise, the version of the things I witnessed that feel true to that which I witnessed.  I see my films as a compression of reality that have people come away with a feeling.

So, my “i don’t know” is not so much based on facts,

but on the facts as I witnessed them. I, me, how I witnessed them.  Just like every member of an audience sits and takes in a music show or a play can not come away with the exact same idea of the performance, I can not pretend that every person has experienced a scene or event the way I have experienced it.

Some people call this the Mandela effect and insist that they experienced or saw things that some others witnessed, but by and large a majority of people remember it (in this case I mean history) differently.

I don’t know, in this case becomes tricky business because you can be very convinced that you not only know, but you saw!

Let’s turn for a moment toward a memory. Do you have a memory of “not knowing” when it was actually exciting? Like really not knowing the contents of a gift you received and have been dying to open. This kind of I don’t know, provokes a certain kind of reaction in us that can be a kind of pleasant torture because an expectation is generated, which something in you really believes could possibly bring you tremendous joy!

Let’s turn now toward an part that says “I don’t know”, because it is afraid.  That is a whole other story isn’t it?  Let’s say a person is afraid of flying.  That fear might be rooted in the part, or a part that says, “I don’t know” what might happen. In this case fear is the result of the unknown.  I don’t know takes on a meaning of an unknown event or sequence of events, projected into a future time a place, with the result somehow being drastic.

This kind of I don’t know sets us on what could be a less healthy process.  One that projects meaning into future-time and unknown events and makes them completely real in the present moment.  The person with the fear of flying can not physically get on a plane.

How does a body practice like focusing help?

Well, first off by rooting us in the body focusing takes us into a present state.  The first thing we want to do here is feel and notice our body and use the techniques we’ve learned through focusing to “root-in”, center, be present, breathe, sense and get in touch with that one in you that is afraid of what it can not know.

We want to take the time to say hello, to be with that one and get to know it better. We invite the sense of it, we might sit with it and listen to the whole story IT has created and wants to communicate.

This is a very important teaching of Ann Weiser Cornell, WE, in this state of presence want to get bigger than this part of us that is seemingly taking control and actually deciding things for us.

Now, I know I used flying as an example of a fear rooted in the words, I don’t know, but this can extend to anything.

I’m using it right know to help guide my sense of rightness of what I want to do next. That question, I don’t know can be a gift in this sense as well, because ultimately the words, I Don’t Know are a complete starting point.  You can actually take the words and use them to your advantage when applied in a Focusing Way.  Just a natural curiosity around three simple words can stimulate a path forward for your life.

And I wish I had a lot more to tell you at this point about where the words, “I don’t know” will next take me but honestly, in this exact moment, “I don’t know” and that has put a massive smile on my face.