THE WISEST EMOJI
A few weeks back I declared the shrug emoji to be the most spiritual. Here I’ll go a little deeper—only because it (the shrug) goes a little deeper.
Once upon a time, in my 20th year, I did a stint at a drug rehab that had, as part of its repertoire, some group therapy classes. In one such class we had a surprise visitor—a Kabbalist, there presumably to turn us all sober…or to promote Kabbalah—a mystic tradition that uses cyphers and other esoteric methods to interpret the Old Testament.
In any event, what I remember most was this man’s description of Kabbalah as looking for meaning not in the sentences of the Torah, but in the shapes of the letters themselves.
He had brought with him a flashcard with one such letter on it—a letter that looked like “U” turned sideways.
Khaf, the 11th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, literally means “the cupped palm of the hand”.
An outstretched palm ready to receive the energy of God. That's how the visiting Kabbalist described it. With a touch of suspense, he rotated the letter so that the “palms” faced up.
Then he said, “we are all chalices to be filled by God's light.”
I don’t know about the other rehabbers, but the whole “chalice” thing really sold me—not on Kabbalah, but on this U business.
Yes, it seemed a touch apophenic. But the secret-shapes thing happily reminded me of treasure maps and disappearing ink and the whimsy and wonder of childhood, all of which stirred back to life within me as I sat in that bleak room with my bleak compatriots in our bleak circumstances.
But also it reminded me of something even dearer…
The spiritual nature of creativity.
In the 22 years since, I developed a deep relationship with the symbolism of the U shape. Yes, I have a giant U tattooed on my chest—but I mean much more than that.
When I create, I rely on what I call vesselhood—the turning of myself into a vessel for universal expression. (I would have called it “chalicehood”, but it’s a bit medieval timesy).
The first step to vesselhood is emptying the self—the cup—so that it may be filled. I do this by various means—dancing madly, meditating, holotropic breathing—but all of them must result in an electrified emptiness.
The second step is to take that emptiness and leap into unknown actions—be it hitting the keys of a typewriter or hitting a stage—and allow it (the unknown) to pour in.
As the unknown pours into us we extend the universe—by embodying its latest expression.
Some like to say that creation is reserved for God. If God exists as such (🤷♂️ in action) I say this:
As it is universally agreed across all religions that God’s chief capacity is creation, then it is in our own capacity to create that we demonstrate ourselves to be extensions of God.
Only we must be sure to make plenty of space for God to enter.
The extent to which a cup is empty is the extent to which it may be filled.
Likewise, the extent to which we empty ourselves—our fears, our knowledge, our identities—is the extent to which we may be filled.
Yes, we may master a trade or become experts in a field, but the creative process requires letting go of such things—if only for a moment—so that a new insight may enters us through wonder.
Of course, all this talk of “liminal space” and “wonder” is euphemistic. What is really meant it not knowing.
The word for “not knowing” is, of course, ignorance. Few people celebrate being ignorant these days . But then again, most of us are afraid of submitting to the unknown. Today’s fetishization of expertise has muted our capacity to fully embrace this liminal space—the space within which the new dwells.
Am I calling for a renaissance of ignorance?
Yes. But not in the way we’ve been programmed to think of “not knowing”.
I don’t mean the ignorance of certainties:
I don’t mean more QAnons or more cancellations. I don’t mean scientism and I don’t mean anti-vaxxism. I don’t mean “anarchism” and I don’t mean orthodoxy. I don’t mean unfounded assertions and I don’t mean self-aggrandizement as a cheap substitute for self worth. I don’t mean the puffed chest or the smug smirk.
I mean the deep bow—I mean the honest shrug.
I mean ingresses of the wonders of the unknown into our beings and epistemologies. I mean a revitalized relationship with creativity as that which apprehends the unknown. I mean more inspiration, more co-manifestation, more slurping from the nectar of the universe.
I mean religion acknowledging cosmological advancements in science and science acknowledging all that is not measurable:
It is precisely ignorance which inspires the imagination of science to begin with.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited…
Yes—and everything outside of the scope of that limit constitutes our not-knowing—our ignorance. Imagination’s most verdant playground is, then, ignorance itself—that which lies outside our knowing, and yet beckons us to bring it forth.
As knowledge is what we learn, ignorance is how we learn it.
Ignorance, it turns out, is knowledge’s accomplice.
Let’s take more inspiration from Socrates, who’s most famous contribution to wisdom is the socratic paradox: “I know that I know nothing”. Or let us be more like the Buddha and the Buddhist heart sutra: “Form is emptiness—emptiness is form”.
Let ignorance take its rightful place at the table of wisdom—as not only an aspect of self-awareness, but as the conditions through which we apprehend the cosmos.
When Socrates proclaimed “know thyself”, he meant as much to acknowledge that which we do not know of ourselves as that which we do.
Socrates would have loved the shrug emoji.