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Exhausting the Known

the bus to mental boners

I’m always reaching to go deeper.

To think deeply. To feel deeply. To study deeply. To reach a new depth of understanding. To produce deeper work. To have deeper conversations.

This is how we advance our knowledge, move the world forward, make connections, and it’s the ultimate delight for an insatiable intellect with a thirst for cognitive science and philosophy of mind. Hey Yo!

The trouble is, it’s never discussed HOW to go deeper.

The further trouble is, we can be completely unaware a new depth is even an option, especially when floating on the surface has become super comfortable.

It’s not until we experience a rupture in our stride –when something is initially questioned of us that hasn’t been questioned before– that we’re offered the chance to even notice.

Sometimes we will be brash. We’ll know the answer too quickly.

We’ll produce something that falls short of where we are capable of going, feel defeated, and maybe give up.

But, sometimes, we’ll let ourselves not know, creating an opening for this depth to be realized.

Not Knowing and Ready to Party! Image by Mrzyk & Moriceau...

The first thing to do is drop the directionality of the word. By deep, we don’t mean digging deeper as in, working harder, finding more logic, what we mean is opening up WIDER and summoning our dormant imaginations.

Reason is intelligence taking exercise. Imagination is intelligence with an erection. -Victor Hugo

I find most quotes on the subject, alluring, yes, but largely overwhelming, abstract, and downright unhelpful.

I get that imagination is a mind erection, but how to get it up?

As an insatiable intellect with a thirst for cognitive science and philosophy of mind (Hey Yo!), I require clearly laid out instructions for reaching this plane!

I got my answer when I had the enormous pleasure of attending a retreat hosted by Saki Santorelli, OG pioneer of integrating mindfulness into medicine, health care, and broader society, when I was introduced to the concept of exhausting the known.

BRB, drudging through all the crap Ive been absorbing. Design by Milton Glaser...

We can be unaware that we avoid this process of exhausting the known because it involves being with parts of ourselves that lack clarity or certainty, and indulging in material that is in conflict with where we’d like to be. It can feel like a very natural aversion to being crap and producing crap. *Think back to knowing the answer too quickly, feeling defeated, and giving up.

But, before we can reach any outcome we may admire, we must start with, and stay with, that which has already been known.

Here’s everything that’s already had my attention. Here’s what I've lived into. Here’s what I’ve seen, heard, thought, and felt, even if I don’t necessarily like it.

Exhausting the known could start with:

-Making a completely amateur attempt, that frankly, you thought was beneath you.

-Banging out the most clinical, detached expression of art, completely bereft of emotional pull.

-Striving feebly for what’s IN right now, what’s cool, what people you find cool find cool.

-Voicing a cringe, cheesy, so obvious, painfully basic hot take.

-Performing poorly and coming across as foolish, aka, making an ass out of yourself.

-Directly ripping-off someone else’s ideas.

-Offering up a half-baked idea with no ‘legs’.

These ungainly attempts can make us feel like we completely lack originality and insight. The McMansions of the mind. *shudder

‘Reader’ designed by Rokas Aleliunas, given curb appeal by me....

And this is when we give up. We want off this bus immediately!

Nevertheless, becoming aware that we have begun exhausting the known when we say something dull or create something embarrassing will start loosening up our thinking.

We simply need to stay on the bus.

The condition of complete simplicity (costing not less than everything ). -T.S. Eliot, The Little Gidding Staying with these clumsy pursuits until they run their course, we arrive at something new: a glorious interruption to our complacency. Our thoughts don’t end where they normally would. We find ourselves in the clear, fertile place of not knowing. And nothing pops mental boners like not knowing.

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