“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.”
History tells us that Socrates won his debates by challenging rivals to prove what they believed they knew. They couldn’t. This “proves” that knowing is not just about acquiring and defending knowledge, it is about developing an understanding that emerges in the moment.
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The Socratic Method is described as “a teaching technique in which a teacher does not give information directly but instead asks a series of questions, with the result that the student comes either to the desired knowledge by answering the questions or to a deeper awareness of the limits of his knowledge.” 1
With the volume of knowledge at our fingertips in the 21st century, we continue to push those limits, but there’s always an edge. Ironically, important solutions are often the most elusive. They lurk somewhere beyond the known in an uncertain domain inaccessible only to those who know the secret of true intelligence or how to travel in their unknowing to discover what needs to be known.
“How can I accelerate the expansion of my awareness?” Just asking opens a door of perception.
It’s a basic paradox: to know you must begin with not knowing. Socrates gives us the essential clue to this riddle: ask questions. For instance, you might ask yourself, “How can I accelerate the expansion of my awareness?” Just asking opens a door of perception. Try it right now. Pause midst your reading and ask yourself that question.
What arose? If you drew a blank, here’s a tip: the moment you asked the question your awareness began to expand. There’s a delightful surprise in here that simplifies our “seeking.” It’s not the answer that gives us what we seek; it’s the act of questioning. Why? Because, as Socrates advised, questions push against the limits of our knowing.
If pausing in uncertainty helps to expand awareness, why? Simple: it opens a space for new knowing to arise. So, another question: if pausing for a few moments works, what would happen if you paused longer? Of course, we can expand out to actual meditation, which we might describe as sustained pausing, a time out from the world, but what about in between? “Mindfulness” is a term that has been used to describe an ongoing wakeful state, but it’s often associated with unplugging from technology, getting away from it all (like going for a walk in nature).
Unfortunately, that’s next to impossible these days. We all swim in a soup of frequencies – waves of energy radiating from cell phones, routers, broadcasting towers, etc. Regardless of what we do personally, the only way to unplug from everything would be to migrate to another planet! And, many of us rely on technology to earn a living or at least support our chosen lifestyle.
No worries, the solution is not rocket science. There are scores of brain balancing technologies available – you may be listening to one right now if you clicked on the link at the beginning of this article – audio programs that can neutralize much of this background electro-smog. Handling that opens a quieter space for mindfulness explorations. I recommend the “mini meditation,” using down time (like waiting for software to load, sitting at a red light, hanging out on hold, etc.) to drop into the depth of the moment.
You can double down on value by adding the Socratic Method, that is, by asking questions. It could be as simple as using the time you’re stuck in traffic to interview yourself with simple questions like: “Who supports my personal growth and who doesn’t?” That opens an interesting door. Starting from “not knowing,” your awareness expands into knowing… a gut sense about who amongst family and friends supports that important aspect of your life and who doesn’t. You might get some surprises! And it might lead to some changes. All from asking that simple question.
So, where did that new understanding come from? It existed, somewhere, before you asked the question. But asking was required for you to gain conscious knowing. That’s called expansion. Ask and ye shall receive, as they say. In other words, you are smarter than you think. Thinking – from an existing database of knowing - isn’t what makes you smart. You are smarter than that, if you learn how to access the limitless database available to those with humble minds.
As French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously remarked, “Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.” How many ordinary moments are there in any given day for applying our minds to an exploration of the here and now? Each instant is an invitation to deepen mindfulness and learn; all it takes is pausing and asking.
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