Posted by: Banta | January 9, 2016

Opening to uncertainty

Rumi quote about the field

“Feeling certain, of course, is no guarantee of being right.” Barry Magid, Zen teacher

When my dad got old enough to laugh at himself, he used to say he was “often wrong, but never in doubt.” A fair amount of his bull-headed certainty rubbed off on me, and—be honest—perhaps you have a little of that too-sureness going on, too.

It makes that tsk tsk voice in my head when someone I love opens another can of diet soda. It sticks its nose into conversations about political candidates and social policy. It wants to edit the writing of others. It even pokes at me in yoga class when I begin to think my triangle pose is spot on. Just then I’ll feel a tweak in my lower back that says, “Oh no, you don’t.”

Self-righteousness gets me nowhere I want to be. It stifles my own growth and makes faulty assumptions about the paths that others walk. The truth is that we are, every one of us, doing the best we can with the capacities we have, to muddle through this very messy—extraordinarily beautiful—life. Ram Dass writes, “Let’s trade in all our judging for appreciating. Let’s lay down our righteousness and just be together.” Can we do that?

In addition to trading our judging for appreciating, I’d like to trade my certainty for curiosity. Certainty slams the door shut, puts a big black period at the end of the sentence. But curiosity slips a foot in the closing door and says, “Wait just a minute. I want to know more about this.” Curiosity lifts us out of our smug “knowing,” and invites inquiry and conversation.

Above all, curious mind makes room for compassion in ways that certainty cannot fathom. Curious mind allows us to hold the tension that rises in our relationships when opinions differ. In any given moment, we know precious little about what is really going on with each other. Curious mind allows for the not-knowing, and nudges us to practice tolerance for that vast uncertainty.

The older I get, the less I know for sure. My dad and I spent decades butting heads, often good-naturedly but sometimes with rancor, on everything from politics to social welfare and taxes. One day near the end of his life, when conversation around us grew especially heated, he leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You know, there’s a lot more gray area than I used to think.” And he winked at me.

That was a watershed moment between us. Thereafter, the gray area became a place to practice curiosity about our differences, and to nurture a love that stretched much deeper than the constraints of certainty would have allowed. It’s one of the things I am most grateful to him for— his capacity for uncertainty.

In this moment, I offer the practice of curiosity to you as one more light for the journey. May we open to our differences, not with certainty but with curiosity, in the spirit of all we have yet to learn—both about ourselves and about one another.



  1. Way to go Banta! Another home run!

  2. What a great blog. Do you mind if I reiterate some excepts in a talk I am doing. I am going to talk to Dr Mahmoodi’s residents about Health Coaching ( oh that). The concept of approaching your client with curiosity rather than judgement is a fundamental concept of the process. And, I think it is something that is missing from medicine in general. Practitioners become so engrossed in the game of having to be right that we miss the opportunity to be really great by being curious and open to other ways of helping our patients.

    Thanks for continuing to share your brilliance!!


    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Of course, feel free to share, including the link to the blog! 🙂

  4. Beautifully said! So easy to shut down instead of open curiosity for what the other is trying to say.

  5. Here’s to curiosity and meeting in the field beyond certainty!

  6. Banta,
    So randomly chanced upon your blog on Linkedin where Kathy Miller had ‘liked’ one of your blog posts; was incredibly meditative to read it and continued to read many more of your blog posts. There is a sudden sense of peace which has come over me just reading your blog posts! Black Mountain NC must be so amazingly peaceful – nothing like the mountains for strength and serenity. Thank you – with loads of gratitude! – Padma, JAX, FL

    • Thank you, Padma, and welcome! B.

  7. Beautiful, gentle reminder to take with me today. Thank you, Banta.

  8. So your reflection resonates with my own experience. I am grateful for your words, your wisdom, and your transparency about these inner struggles. Lovely writing!

  9. May I re-blog this with a link and appropriate credit given? I’ve just started a blog on living curiously ( and this particular post was recommended on the basis of what I have written the last few days.

    • My goodness, I think I’m just now seeing your request. If I didn’t already respond, by all means, feel free to re-blog with a link and credit given. Apologies for the delay!

      • Thank you! I have scheduled it to appear tomorrow, 18 Feb 2017 on

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