Thursday, March 14, 2013

You Can’t Know What You Don’t Know

Last summer I was working in the kitchen at an ashram in British Columbia, and I got put in charge of hard boiling a bunch of eggs. Someone explained to me how to do it, but I misunderstood, and basically didn’t cook them long enough, then didn’t test one to see if it was done. All of them came back to us from the guests, soupy and raw.
Every time someone mentioned those damn eggs in the kitchen after that, I would leave the room crying. I don’t eat hardboiled eggs, so I’d never made them before, and since I thought I was doing it right, it didn’t even occur to me to crack one open. It was supposedly a fool-proof recipe, but I didn’t do one vital step: put the eggs in the water first, THEN bring it to a boil; once it’s boiling, set the timer for eight minutes.
I beat myself up for days, and beat myself up again whenever we were having hard-boiled eggs and the subject of the raw batch came up. I was much harder on myself than anyone else was on me: the cook in the kitchen that day took responsibility and forgave me; the person in charge of the kitchen was surprised when I brought it up as something that I was still mortified about months later. I was hard on myself the way that I have always been: I was beating myself up for not knowing something that I didn’t already know.
Yes, I should have tested an egg. However, the bigger problem is not even what happened, but how I continued to berate myself for not knowing something I had never been taught. It seems that even though I learned how to hard boil eggs, I am still working on the bigger lesson: accepting that I can’t know something until I learn it, and that  sometimes it’s not an easy lesson.
For years I have been beating myself up for things that I could only learn through experience: that I am not happy in 9-5 jobs; that I need more space than most; that I can’t speak fluent Spanish until I’ve misspoken and embarrassed myself over and over and over again. However, the biggest one that I have learned recently is that I cannot know what the right living situation is until I’ve tried it.
I am getting ready to move for a third time since coming to Panama. For various reasons the places that I have moved into have not been the right places. The hardest part about this for me is that it seems like a great idea when I am planning it out, and yet something isn’t right when I start to settle in. If I were the only one involved in these decisions it would be easier, but it tears me apart to let someone else down. The same thing happened when I went back to Wenatchee after spending the summer serving undercooked eggs to yogis in Canada: I thought Wenatchee was where I wanted to stay, until I was there and I realized it wasn’t.
This ties into a bigger realization that I have had that I try to plan for every eventuality in advance. Although sometimes this can be helpful – like carrying jumper cables in a car – sometimes it limits me, because I am always planning for the worst possible scenario. It limits me because I will only enter a situation if I can guess the outcome, then I beat myself up if the outcome is not one I predicted, and have made plans for.
I miss out on so much this way, invisible audience! How can I fully step into the adventure I am living here if I expect myself to know in advance what I want, when I haven’t ever been in this situation before? How much do I miss if I’m not willing to let myself learn the process without judgment along the way?  A lot. The answer is A LOT.
A friend’s mom told me once that there is a concept in yoga called neti neti. Although when I look up the actual meaning it’s not exactly what I understood when it was explained to me, I nevertheless took much comfort in the original explanation. She told me that neti neti means “not this, nor this;” that the only way to find what I am is by figuring out what I am not.
This is most likely a life-long process, and yet it applies first and foremost to today. Today, I know more than I did yesterday about what I want and need. Today, I am choosing to use that information to build a life that feels comfortable for me. Today, I am working on not berating myself for picking out a brick for my home and hauling it all the way up the hill to put in the foundations only to find that it doesn’t fit. Instead, I will be grateful for the knowledge that the brick gave me, and know that it’s all part of the process of learning to build.

Love and learning kisses