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December 2019

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Exploring Not Knowing

By Stuart N. Simon, LICSW, MCC

Lately, as I sit with clients, I have found myself exploring the experience of not knowing. It’s notable because I have spent so much of my professional life wanting to learn and grow … which necessarily involves knowing things. I assume we all do that. But as I said, I have been exploring “not knowing.” I find I am enjoying “not knowing.” Perhaps it’s really the experience of not having to know. I think this is making me a better practitioner … therapist, coach, consultant. It provides me a lot of freedom. However, the road to “not knowing” has not been comfortable for me. It’s too close to the experience of feeling “stupid.” Perhaps turning 66 has helped me get over that!

It brought to mind the picture of the Old Lady and the Young Lady:

I’ve noted, when people see it for the first time, how hard it is for some to see the young lady if they first see the old lady, and vice versa. For those who don’t see both ladies very quickly, it can be a frustrating and confusing experience. And the reason it can be so difficult is that seeing the unseen in the picture isn’t reliant on an additive process. In order to see the other configuration, we have to de-construct the one we originally see. We have to genuinely “let it go” in order to allow the new image to emerge. We have to “un-know” and “un-see” something in order to see something new. And, as I have said, un-knowing or not knowing isn’t so easy.

I suspect you don’t need me to see the implications for our present political climate. How rare it is for any of us to be having genuine conversations these days in which we suspend what we “know,” and work to see what the other “knows.”

But the implications for our professional practice are just as relevant. It is one thing to understand that in any one moment I may not know the client’s experience or may not know how to be helpful. It’s another thing altogether to actually allow myself to embody the uncomfortable sensations of “not knowing.” However, it offers the opportunity for genuine curiosity. Paradoxically, it can allow us to join in a rich, authentic and empathic manner.

Stuart N. Simon

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