Tree of Knowledge
Many have heard the saying, “knowledge is power.” Quotes like this get blasted frequently on social media, on motivational websites, billboards and signs. I’m not quite sure exactly who coined this phrase or where it originated from, however, I’m pretty sure this was an overall theme or slogan during the Age of Enlightenment which guided much of the Western world in the 1800’s. There is always a leading cultural or thought movement that permeates society at a particular time. It’s actually quite exciting. What makes it exciting is that what we think we know now may be completely challenged and transformed over the next 100, 1000 or 10,000 years. We are constantly revolutionizing or revisiting our thought patterns and ideas about humanity, nature, and the ways of the world.
As a college-educated female currently pursuing a Master’s degree, one may say that I already have some sort of “knowledge base.” I was born in America of South Korean and German descent, and was raised by two immigrant parents (a South Korean mother and a Puerto Rican father who joined the U.S. military at age 18). I moved around my entire childhood, have traveled to different countries and experienced an array of cultures. My multicultural background places me in a particular position of “knowing” of certain customs. My exploration, involvement and identification with a myriad of faith traditions (from various Eastern disciplines to “New Age” metaphysical studies to now a reformed Christian) once again places me in an interesting category of “knowing,” especially compared to the majority of peers at my current school who were mostly raised in traditional Christian church backgrounds. However, one could argue that perhaps I truly don’t know myself or much at all, which is why I have searched high and low to feel like I belong or can fit in to a particular group’s worldview. In essence I am still searching…
Several years ago I moved away from the Eastern Buddhist path. The reason why is because once I reached a certain state of “enlightenment,” I was left feeling very empty. Once I was emptied, I didn’t know where to go from there and was having a hard time acclimating back into the “real world.” It’s one thing to be in a silent retreat center in the woods with other meditators, but how does that translate to being in authentic relationship with people in everyday situations? No matter how hard I tried to integrate my two worlds, I was left feeling like there was a divide. I finally realized that I am not an enlightened mini-god in ultimate control of my life. Mind or thought control is not the ultimate goal, and neither is trying to get to heaven. There is a grander story happening beyond what we can even comprehend or imagine and it is actually happening presently here and now.
The more I dive into my current studies, I can’t help to wonder what really matters in the grand scheme. Yes of course it’s important to honor where we came from, what we’ve been through and what experiences we bring to the table, but getting an educational degree just to obtain “knowledge” also feels empty and un-fulfilling. Reading through endless books and writing a bunch of papers to prove to professors that I “know” something is not something I really care about. If I “fail” for voicing my authentic thoughts, then so be it.
It is in most people’s nature to want to be in the “know.” Often times when one doesn’t know what to expect, there is anxiety and fear that gets built up. We want to “know” how to support our family, pay our mortgage or rent. We want to “know” that our friends and partners are going to be there for us in times of trouble. We want to “know” answers to questions when they are presented. However, if all one cares about is building up an encyclopedia of knowledge in one’s head, then what? Of course it’s always fun to be around that person that can recite a ridiculous amount of character movie lines, can illustrate the hidden meaning of every influential song, can describe the history of revolutionized nations and explain the cuisine of every country in the world. Sure these scholars are smart and ones to be admired. These “sources of knowledge” can be called upon as a resource, for guidance and consultation. However, these same people can also be off-putting or deemed arrogant depending on the way they present their expertise. One may say that knowledge equates to power. However, I feel that true power is being able to walk into the unknown.. to be able to walk into uncertainty with certainty.
To not know the answer is okay. To not know the end result or how the story is going to manifest is perfectly fine. Everyone hates a spoiler. Though we yearn for answers, we also loathe it. Once one knows exactly how something is going be, it can often ruin the mystery of the moment, the improvisation of life. Life is nothing but improvisation. I have my list of to-do’s every day and am thankful if I make it to at least one of them. Yet beyond the list, what is happening between the lines and spaces? Are you available to live outside of your index? Are you available to let go of your knowledge and your desire for knowledge? What happens when things don’t go according to plan?
It is kind of ridiculous to think that we actually “know it all.” Columbus thought the world was flat. Cigarettes were never thought to be harmful to one’s health. We know a lot less than we think. I’m not advocating that one should stop learning and striving for knowledge. It is imperative to continue to evolve, learn every day, be disciplined and dedicate our lives to a particular passion or cause (or maybe a few). It’s vital to do things that bring us joy, whether that’s music, travel, cooking or spending time with family and friends. I also think it is crucial to dive into things that make you feel uncomfortable. If all you’re after is a sedentary, comfortable life while watching others pass by, then what are you ultimately living for?
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. It’s not what you know, but how you engage and participate. We must also be constantly reminded that what it is we think we know may not actually be so. What’s more important are the questions. Are you asking any? If so, are you open enough to receive varying viewpoints that may conflict with your existing foundational knowledge base? Surrounding yourself primarily with others that agree and have the same view is only okay to a certain extent. It is very important to step out of this box. To step out into the unknown, dream, desire and imagine is essential for our continued growth and evolution. The day you lock away your curiosity, stop asking questions and cease to wonder becomes a day of death for your soul.
by Kristin Bach