In the knowing of the not-knowing, not-knowing becomes the knowing, if you know what I mean?
For the past week, David Whyte and Elvis Presley have been having quite the conversation (in my head). I must say, they're quite the couple!
Elvis has mainly been singing his B-sides, while David Whyte has been reciting old Welsh poetry in his cosy chair near the fire, overlooking some Loch in West-Ireland. But mainly they were having a rather deep conversation on the nature of questions.
It all started with Elvis singing his astoundingly heartfelt and beautiful ‘If I can dream.’
Somewhere halfway during the song, David's ears, eyebrows, forehead and upper body perked up when he heard Elvis singing these lines:
Deep in my heart there's a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer, answer's gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle
But wait, much better to hear it from Elvis himself:
Elvis finishes the song, leaving a trembling silence, made all the more tangible by the crackling fire in the background. After a while, the silence still softly reverberating in the room, David finally succumbs to the tension and remarks:
Trembling Questions! I‘ve been questioning those bastards for a while now. If you are so inclined, here is what I’ve come up with so far: questions create tension.
Elvis, unimpressed, raises one of his eyebrows and starts strumming and humming a very sad minor chord but David, being a poet and thereby quite experienced in people not being impressed and connoisseur of eyebrows raised, bravely continues:
Questions create tension, AND, our conditioned response is to dissolve this tension as quickly as possible. I guess this has something to do with our education (and evolution) and, well, that seems quite reasonable. Have a problem? Solve it!
However, what we don’t learn is that there are questions that don’t really have an answer.
I would even go so far as to say that these are usually The Most Important Questions, or at the very least Very Important Questions, or V.I.Q.’s. They're an irritating lot, really, for they never want to go away. But more on that later.
So, these V.I.Q.’s... yes yes, an awful term, I know, but there isn’t anything I can do about it, they insist I call 'em that!
Elvis shakes his head, scratches his chin and looks around, seemingly looking for the nearest exit, but David steams on unruffled:
So, these V.I.Q.’s create a tension in our hearts, our souls, our being. If one was feeling poetic and wanted to write the most important lyric of his life,* one could describe it as ‘a trembling question, deep in our hearts.’
(*please read this wikipedia page. It's not long and will help you understand what Elvis is singing and David is talking about!)
When confronted with these questions, the question then isn’t how to resolve this tension, but how to live with this tension. In Taoism, ‘not-knowing’ is one of the core concepts and essential parts of life. A foundation of life, even. If you truly experience, that, in the deepest sense, there is no true knowing of what the hell is going on around here, and if you are able to accept this, not-knowing changes from a state in need of dissolution to the actual foundational state of experience itself.
And then, something strange may happen. The tension might still dissolve, just not on the rational level, for this particular understanding is not one of knowledge, but of a deeper knowing, a knowing of the soul. Thereby, you could say that in the knowing of the not-knowing, not-knowing becomes the knowing.
This is that moment where you say the same word over and over and over again, and it completely loses its meaning and you step into the absurdity of language, sounds and life itself. And that is exactly my point! Well, close.
Back to the non-rational logic of attaining knowing (not knowledge) through not-knowing.
In the knowing of the not-knowing, not-knowing becomes the knowing.
Elvis, having sneakily left the building just as the V.I.Q.’s were entering them, now re-enters the room and approvingly nods in David’s direction, egging him on, having no idea what he’s getting himself into. This ‘having no idea’ being the theme of the conversation (or: David’s soliloquy), he smoothly slides back into his chair and into the conversation, neatly tying everything together. Back to David, who has now confused even himself.
Wait, now I am confused, he says. Shit. I’m pretty sure I wrote a poem about this. I’ll get there in the end. Ok. I can do this.
So, Elvis, what I am saying is there are different types of questions.
Some questions have easy answers:
For example: Elvis, are you hungry?
No? Really? Damn.
Well, anyway, let's move on to the questions without easy answers:
Let’s move on, nonetheless.
Finally, there are questions without answers. All questions create tension. But in this latter category this tension stays unresolved, until one surrenders to the unanswerable nature of said questions whereby one may live freely in the actual foundational web of reality also known as not-knowing.
Then, and I feel a poem coming up, there is one final thing I’d like to say about these Very Important Question fuckers.
If the tension of these V.I.Q’s is upheld, i.e. when an easy answer doesn’t come quickly, another way of dealing with these questions is also possible. Namely, by simply (and very childishly) looking away.
Elvis, suddenly forty pounds heavier, starts to shift uncomfortably in his now seemingly much smaller chair. David, unaware of these physically rather astounding developments, finish line in sight, is speeding up:
I say childishly, but depressingly enough it is actually mainstream behaviour of most adult human beings. Why do we do this? Well, fear. For these questions are quite dangerous - their answers may spell the end of the meticulously and carefully constructed cathedral of our well-curated identity: a cosy, warm, safe, strong beautiful cave church where EVERYTHING IS WELL AND GOOD THANK YOU VERY MUCH. And who would destroy their very own cathedral-cave-church? If I were to conjure up such a place it would involve a crackling fire, some Welsh poetry, an artist with a silky smooth voice and ideally a lake, just visible just through the window.
A moment of hesitation, of near-realization even, but then David looks up and sees Elvis, wide-eyed, profusely sweating from his face, arm-pits and strangely enough also his legs, trembling lightly, staring down into his hands folded in his lap. And then, something miraculous happens (again). The surroundings dissolve and quickly resettle into a studio while Elvis slowly transforms into his younger self. They are transported to a pivotal moment earlier in Elvis’ life involving one of the most important, essential, life-affirming decisions he ever made. It is the moment where he stopped looking away, and instead decided to look straight into the trembling question, deep inside his heart, and said YES. Yes to the true song inside that needed to be sung, thereby saying NO to his very own cathedral, (let's call it Graceland), destroying it in the process but actually freeing him. The decision that directly lead to this moment:
(the clip is from the 2022 movie ‘Elvis’ - also, if you haven’t read the wikipedia page yet, now is the time!)
Well goddamn it!, David exclaims. The climax of this whole goddamned whateverthisis was supposed to be my poem! My poem that was the actual conception of this whole shitty charade to start with!!!
Furthermore, we actually listened to this whole song at the start of this fucking thing! And since then I've been babbling on and on about the nature of questions and not-knowing even though I’m a poet, and I’m pretty sure that everything I’ve just said is much more beautifully expressed, and, maybe even more importantly, much more succinctly expressed, in this actual poem that I've actually written! So please, please stay for just a minute more, so I can finally introduce The Poem.
What I wanted to say.
These irritating Very Important Questions. The questions that we look away from. All of us. These fuckers. They actually AREN’T fuckers. Because, like you just showed us Elvis, when we confront these questions, chest up, eyes a-blazing, they turn out to actually be Very Important… Friends. Friends helping us steer clear of our old habits, away from our old identities; friends urging us on, ever onwards towards a truer self, a truer life. Friends, in short, that we have no right to ignore; friends that have patiently waited for us, friends that have every right to stay:
(and now, fucking finally, my poem)
if you move carefully
through the forest
like the ones
in the old stories
who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
(inspired by Elvis)
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