Freedom from needing to know the answers – Emergence as a method of living


We want to know the answers to things. We are looking for the solutions to our problems. We are trying to control as much of life as possible. This is how we feel safe. This is how we have been taught to accomplish our goals. This is how we have been taught to live our lives.

Plan… Business plan. Life plan. Weekly plan.

Find the Answer…. If there is a question there should be a ‘right’ answer. If there is a problem there must be a solution.

Predict for the future… How will it be. What will I be doing? What will I be earning? What will I have accomplished?

The idea of living in this way feels very natural to me. I make lists and weekly schedules. I make New Year’s resolutions and mid-year resolutions.

Someone told me this was the way to get what I want out of life. This was the path to success and happiness. Imagine what you want your life to be five, ten years in the future. Then backtrack and plan all the steps you need to take to get there. Imagine your goal, then make a plan.

And there is a lot of benefits to planning. To not living life being blown by the winds, aimless moving in this direction and then that direction.

But something we rarely acknowledge in our race to predict and control every variable in our lives is this — life is unpredictable and largely uncontrollable. We hide from this truth because it is incredibly scary to feel vulnerable. Knowing that life could throw literally anything our way without warning is a difficult truth to live with on a daily basis.

So we ignore it.

And we make our plans.

This is how I have tried in the past to accomplish so many of my creative projects. And I have to admit I love a good plan. It helps me focus. It helps me from forgetting what I had decided to do. It keeps me on track to accomplish things I really want to do.

But it is important to acknowledge that this method of living has its limits.

This is linear thinking. This is a narrow-minded methodology when we are working with complex systems…like ourselves, our creativity, our LIFE.

There is a concept called Emergence that has become increasingly popular in the world of design theory. Essentially, it argues that instead of trying to plan every aspect of a design and then plow forward with singular focus, that it is important to “plan to not know”. That not everything can be planned for at the beginning, and while a certain amount of planning is necessary, there is an equally important mindset of flexibility and openness because “complex systems have characteristic emergent properties that cannot be predicted and therefore are impossible to control.”

In other words, although one must start with an outline of a plan, it is important to look out for ideas and possibilities that emerge in the design process. Once you get from Point A to Point C, things may suddenly look a lot different, and it might make more sense at that point to alter the plan or to change plans entirely.

This flexible, responsive attitude is how creative projects and life overall actually works best.

Because although plans are an important ingredient to accomplishing stuff, the can really get in the way if we’re too rigid.

If I look back over the course of my life so far, I can create the story of a “plan”. I can formulate a linear pathway from the time I first decided I wanted to be a writer, to my decision to do my university degree in history, to my graduate degrees in Indian literature. I can trace you a plan of my spiritual path from growing up in the church and questioning a lot of what I heard there to taking eastern philosophy classes in college, to finding yoga, to continuing my graduate degrees in Indian studies (yes literature but a lot of stuff came with that). This life story ends with me a this point teaching yoga, practicing meditation and writing novels that include a lot of yoga and Buddhist philosophy. But is that story true?

It’s not ‘untrue’. But that’s not how it happened. That’s not how it felt in the living of it all.

We are Emergent Beings.

In physics too, the Theory of Emergence attempts to explain a fundamental nature of reality...that the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts — that the whole has properties the parts do not have”.

Consciousness. Life. These emerge from atoms combining into living cells, combining into human beings.

If we’re careful, a beautiful linear-ness based on our deeper self and feeling of true purpose guides us through a lot of winding, bumpy detours of our life.

But the details of what our deeper self becomes, what things we create and put our energy into… these things Emerge.

We are an interactive creative being, responding to the world around us, embracing new ideas, changing, evolving.

And although it might feel scary, it is incredibly liberating to accept that we don’t have all the answers (or even most of them). That this is how life actually is, a evolving process of plans and unexpected events, of intentions and things we never expected…

This is the way-seeking life — each of us walking into life without all the answers. Open. Seeking. Exploring and discovering for ourselves what works now to connect us with our deeper spiritual self.

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We may be walking our own path, but we’re definitely not alone!


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