The Power of I don't Know

By JP Sears, Holistic Coach

What would it mean to you if you learned how to keep yourself an open vessel for discovering new possibilities and experiences for an enriched life?  At times when I find myself feeling like a closed vessel, it seems to me that the gifts that life offers to me just aren’t being received.  One way that I catch myself closing off to the possibilities and discoveries that life has to offer is by standing in the realm of “I know”.  Because one of life’s paradoxes is that in order to discover anything, we must first acknowledge that there are unknowns, I find that standing in the realm of “I don’t know” opens me up to receive what life is offering.

Make no mistake, this realm of “I don’t know” that I speak of isn’t the one of aloofness or indifference.  It is the “I don’t know” of humble curiosity that allows the dualistic nature of life to feed us new and enriching experiences.  So how can we deepen our lives and embrace the realm of “not knowing” that seems so counter to what many of us have been taught in our past? We’ll explore the possibilities below.

Living in an “I Know” Box

Whenever I find myself saying “I know” about something, I notice a subtle part of me that feels as though it’s suppressed and trapped in a box with the lid closed.  Whenever we believe we’re in a place of “knowing” about what is going to happen in life, we create a sense of security for ourselves.  The feeling of security comes from the blanket of illusion that we actually do “know”.  We create this blanket of illusion and cover ourselves up with it because it feels pretty darn safe underneath.  The seductive part to this illusion is that much of the time we don’t see it as an illusion – we actually think that we see is the absolute truth. 

What will my day be like tomorrow?  Out come my illusions from the part of me that needs the security of thinking that I actually know.  Not knowing is too threatening to this part of me, so it constructs an idea of what my day will be like and by God it will do its damnedest to shape my day in such a way that it will fit my preconceived notion.  While there are many benefits to the structure that a planned day brings, like anything in life it is easy to fall out of balance.  What would happen if we could have our preferences and reach the objectives that we have and yet say, “I don’t know” toward how they unfold and blossom?  Would we be a bit more receptive to the spontaneous contributions that life presents to us for an enriched experience?

As another example, if we’re talking about a subject such as health and I say, “I know all about health,” I close the lid to allowing in new knowledge and ideas.  Perhaps a more powerful perspective would be, “There are some ideas I hold about health and there is much about health that I don’t know yet.”

When we can approach any situation with a balanced “I don’t know” attitude, we automatically become open to the realm of possibilities and experiences that are far beyond what our minds can comprehend.  This is represented at the top end of the inverted triangle you see below.  The higher we ascend toward the curious realm of “I don’t know,” the broader the spectrum of life possibilities we open ourselves up to.  Rooting ourselves at the bottom of the inverted triangle imposes a self limiting lock to the possibilities that could otherwise come into our being.

New possibilities, circumstances beyond our comprehension, and spontaneous intersections of life that can offer a great benefits, growth and opportunity for life enrichment cannot easily penetrate the closed lid of our self-created box of “I know”.  We’re limited to what is already inside of our box.  And while a part of me would like to believe that my box is pretty full and contains all that I need, my humble truth is that what life offers for me to discover outside of my box is much more mystical than what is already found in my box.   

Feeling Safe and Valued by “Knowing”

Many people, including myself, learned to associate shame with not knowing.  In school if we “didn’t know” we received low grades and were labeled “failures.”  When asked a question by a parent we would often times make up an answer if we “didn’t know” in order to avoid the painful shame of “not knowing”.  So right from the get go, many of us learned that we needed to “know” so that we could have our self-esteem validated.  If we didn’t “know” we experienced the shame that we associated with “not knowing” up to the standards we perceived of our parents, teachers, and friends. 

For me, it is very important to invite myself to have compassion for the parts of me that learned that they needed to “know” so they could feel safe and valued.  Though the self-limiting box of “I know” has its consequences, an important step to opening the lid is to recognize how part of us benefits from it by owning a sense of safety and value associated with being inside with the lid closed.

The curious attitude of “I don’t know” magnetizes new experiences into our lives.  Anything new is relatively unknown to a part of us.  What is unknown is not within our control.  And anything not within our control is threatening to the ego.  Our egos feel safest when they are in control, so they readily create a sense of control by attempting to stay within the realm of “I know” and avoiding the unknown and the fearful realm of “I don’t know”.  When we “need to know” in order to feel safe and we create the illusion of “I know” we become very rigid and closed off to the possibilities of what could be. 

If we allow ourselves to become conscious enough we can begin to recognize when the box of “needing to know” that we constructed for our emotional safety as a child transforms into a prison for our adult self. 

Opening to New Discoveries with “I Don’t Know”

When a curious kitten is investigating a flower garden for the first time, there is so much for it to discover.  As it navigates through the garden it finds the thrill of chasing insects, examining flowers, crawling through the plants, and maybe even stumbles on some catnip!  The curious kitten goes about with a shame free attitude of “I don’t know” which allows it to open up to the new possibilities and experiences that the garden has to offer.  If you put this same kitten into an environment for a few years where he learns to associate shame and fear with not knowing, then he may look at the with the attitude that “I know about that garden.”  He therefore closes himself off to the new discoveries that the garden has to offer. 

Whenever I go into a self-growth/healing session with a client, I strive to operate from the kitten’s curious attitude towards discovery.  I have found that when I go into a session with a client where there are hidden emotional wounds needing to be discovered and healed, the process is extremely limited if I take the position of “I know what to do with this client.”  I become limited to what I already know about the client, which really isn’t much.  The reality is that I need to first not know in order to create the opportunity to find out. 

In a session with a client, being present with an “I don’t know” mindset holds the space for what needs to be discovered.  Taking the “I know” mindset automatically projects me out of the present moment into either the future or past, which is far removed from the space of the present that facilitates growth and healing.  If the space of the present is filled with the illusion of “I already know,” then there is simply no room for anything new to come in to the picture, for thinking that I know is thinking that the picture is complete.  Acknowledging that there is much that I don’t know, the picture automatically opens up to the possibilities of magnificent insights.  For the work that I do with myself and with clients, this is quite an important concept because growth and healing, as I know it, requires being open to new insights that are beyond what my mind already has a comprehension of.

Life is wise.  It always teaches us what we need to know when we need to know it as long as we know how to listen for it by emptying ourselves of believing we already know.

Lifting the Burden

Mental and emotional stress generated by the “I know” mindset not only burdens our minds but also creates a tremendous burden on our physical bodies.  We create for ourselves these illusions that we know how things should be, when we actually never truly know how they should be. When it turns out that life circumstances unfold differently than we thought they would, we resist what truly is by trying to cram what “is” into the mold of what we thought it was going to be.  Life has an infinite amount of power behind it, yet we will literally resist life to it fit it into our mold until we are physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausted. 

Imagine a big wave surfer.  If the surfer is holding in his mind the preconceived notion that a wave will take a certain shape and move at a certain speed, he is likely to not be a big wave surfer very long! If the surfer tries to surf the actual wave when it comes along according to how he thought it would be shaped, instead of how it actually is shaped, the power of the 30-foot wave will quickly swallow him up and turn him into fish food!  The surfer who waits in the water accepting that he doesn’t know how the next wave will take shape and is open to how it unfolds will always be riding in harmony with the power of nature rather than having to try to resist an un-resistible force.  Lifting the “I know” chains off of our neck can be a tremendous de-stressor for our bodies and minds.


Enjoy the moment-to-moment spontaneous discoveries that life constantly reveals when we embrace the spectrum of possibilities with the curious attitude of “I don’t know”.  For this concept to bring enrichment to our lives, we must be conscious of our “I don’t know” shame and insecurities so we may replace them with the curiosity for discovery.

About the Author

JP Sears is a Holistic Health Coach in San Diego, CA.  His one-on-one client practice specializes in holistic emotional healing and resolving self-sabotage issues.  JP regularly facilitates classes and workshops nationally and internationally on a variety of inner healing topics while being widely acclaimed for his heartfelt and dynamic style.  For more information on upcoming classes, tele-classes, or becoming a client, please visit  You can also subscribe to JP’s YouTube Channel at and follow him on Facebook at