Writing this paragraph on my second morning of a 10-day stay in Kuala Lumpur. This city is a truly fascinating mix of Malay/Chinese/Indian/Brit/etc. cultures. I love the contrast, which is somehow high-in-look yet gentle-in-action as they all interlock with and around each other. I have a sense that this is particularly pronounced around where I’m staying in Chinatown. I don’t really know. And this post, I guess, is about that: not knowing. Being here in a new city offers ‘not knowing practice’ aplenty. A few examples of the 100s each day: I didn’t really know if there was a bus or a train from the airport into the city when I landed. I worked it out as I went and landed a block from my hostel. On the table in front of me sits a coffee. The waiter asked if I wanted my coffee ‘black or white’? I could have asked what that means. Or, I could answer without really knowing for sure and find out. “White!”. It’s delicious. Last night I had a beer at a bar around the corner. Should I leave a tip for the bartender? I didn’t really know. I walked away knowing that either way, but if someone reacted to my decision I could tell them about my state of not knowing. I didn’t know, but prepared for not knowing. I think what I’m talking about is a learning state, actually.
Each time I act without knowing I learn. I almost didn’t come into this place where I’m drinking coffee because I didn’t know enough about how it works/what they have/what would happen. It’s a really attractive place for me – big, airy on the corner, a kind of co-op of different stalls, full of every kind of human alluded to above, all doing BREAKFAST. [Would there be a UN without breakfast? Breakfast is a sacred universal. Early morning is also universally sacred (I always land on this thought when I rise before 5am as I did today) isn’t it?]. I almost didn’t come in here though. Scared of the not knowing. I wasn’t comfortable because I wasn’t sure I wanted to enter this not knowing/learning state. Not just the co-op, the state. But then I decided: I embraced the not knowing and the chance to learn. In that sense it’s actually an act of unknowing within a state of knowing! So I’ll try to stay here (in this state, not this shop) all day. Hmmm…you know, I’m not thinking ‘ignorance = bliss’ here. I’m asking a lot of questions when I don’t know something and too much not knowing is not okay. I’m not a glutton for surprises and I’m not too shy to inquire or too lazy to do my research. Preparation is power. But then there’s this simple, tiny space where little things get learned because I’m not to anxious in the face of not knowing. I think keeping spaces open for these spaces is really important (I’m certainly no OVER-planner!). I decide to walk in. And in the moment I determine whether I need to inquire more, or if I can just take a chance on the black or the white coffee – I can surf the little and medium unknowns. The coffee: such a tiny moment, but it’s much the same dynamic when facing more consequential learning/decision-making opportunities.
This is a bit of an old saw.
Rob posted this the other day just as I was arriving here and it resonated: