Unknowing by Jennifer Kavanagh

We have such a hungry need to know.

All the emphasis of modern life is on the rational acquisition of factual knowledge.

Ignorance, not knowing, is uncomfortable; we feel it puts us at a disadvantage. But

even on subjects where we feel secure, our certainties are continually challenged: by the

limitations of the current state of knowledge, the subjective nature of experience, and the

fluid quality of the material world.

We also seem to think that we know what is going to happen.

We confidently make plans and continue blindly according to our expectations, however

often unexpected occurrences dash our preconceptions. Whether we see these intervening

life events as caused by chance, destiny, an interventionist God or the working of the

universe, there’s no denying that they occur.

To know is not a simple act.

In other languages there are separate words to differentiate knowledge of facts from

the deeper experience of acquaintance with a person or a place. But can we say that we

actually know anyone else? Even our life partner? Do we know ourselves? If we don’t

know those whom we encounter with our minds and senses, nor ourselves with whom we

live all the time, how can we expect to know something beyond ourselves?

How can we know God?

Beyond those aspects of the world about which we assume knowledge, there is a

dimension of life to which rational explanation doesn’t apply. This is the world of

religious experience. The strange fact, as William James explained in his ground-
breaking 1902 book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, is that the most profound

of such experiences do themselves bear an intrinsic quality of knowing: they are

“noetic”. This is not the knowing limited to facts and practicalities, but a knowing that

encompasses the entire being.

Only when we let go of the need to know in a cognitive sense are we able to access

this kind of knowing.

If we set aside our rational priorities, and trust our experience and inner rather than

outward certainty, we may discover a different, intuitive, quality. As we move into

the realm of the heart and open it, as we give ourselves over to a place of ultimate

vulnerability and trust, we find ourselves in a state from which that deeper knowing


But we can go further.

The word “unknowing” is primarily familiar to us from the anonymous Christian

fourteenth-century text, The Cloud of Unknowing, What the author asks us to do is not

just to acknowledge our ignorance, but actively to “un-know”: stripping ourselves of

all our sensory experience, even any previous experience or concept of God, even the

awareness of our own existence, under what he calls “a Cloud of Forgetting”. Only when

the heart and will are focused entirely on a desire for God will transformation be possible.

As he says, “By love he can be caught and held, but by thinking never.”

Few of us will attain a continuous contemplative state, but we may catch an

occasional glimpse.

Our only responsibility is to be ready and willing to open ourselves to what might come.

In our busy, preoccupied lives, there needs to enter a pause, a breath, a more spacious

consciousness. We need to move beyond the small world of personal preoccupation and

be willing to connect to the life-force and the mystery of the universe. We need to spend

time away from our habitual actions and the tyranny of our thinking mind. In celebration,

in awe, in joy at what is, we are stilled. If a glimpse, an insight, occurs, that’s a bonus. We

can’t make it happen but in that wordless space, there might form a sense of presence.

Not knowing is at the centre of spiritual life.

It is only by creating a space in which anything can happen that we allow God to speak,

allow the unpredictable Spirit to bring us gifts beyond our imaginings.. “God”, says

Abhishiktanada, “dwells only where man steps back to give him room”.

Jennifer Kavanagh is an Associate Tutor at Woodbrooke Quaker study centre.



When we are called to circle work of any kind, we are being called to wholeness. In the microcosm is the macrocosm; in the tiniest rain drop is a reflection of all that is. We walk the Sacred Wheel to become ‘sensitive’ to all the parts of ourselves and to the complete, ever evolving soul. We are each coming into wholeness every day of our lives even though we may be entirely unconscious of this ‘shaping’ that is taking place. When people are engaged in the search for wholeness, they aspire to independence and individuation. What is needed most is space and time to find themselves and their own identity…

When we are called to circle work of any kind, we are being called to wholeness. In the microcosm is the macrocosm; in the tiniest rain drop is a reflection of all that is. We walk the Sacred Wheel to become ‘sensitive’ to all the parts of ourselves and to the complete, ever evolving soul. We are each coming into wholeness every day of our lives even though we may be entirely unconscious of this ‘shaping’ that is taking place. When people are engaged in the search for wholeness, they aspire to independence and individuation. What is needed most is space and time to find themselves and their own identity…

What they fear most is entrapment or being caught in a situation that restricts or restrains them. Those who are undergoing the process of individuation feel loved and trusted when they are given lots of space. If the space that they need is not offered to them, they will simply take it. When the process of individuation is resisted or not allowed to come to resolution, people tend to become highly self-absorbed and narcissistic. It is important for you to be absolutely clear about your ‘spatial needs’ and to communicate these needs to others so that your friends can support you on your path. Be aware that this does not become an excuse to ‘accuse’ or ‘blame’.

So often in Western society, we spend our time and energy playing between or on either side of the poles – good and bad, right or wrong. This for and against work of the poles is important work but it is not the only work that we’re here to do. ‘If,’ as Charles Tart says, ‘you’re being the exact opposite to a parental trait, you are still being controlled by it, just as much as if you adopted it outright. When you see this reality, your sense of originality receives a real shock.’ Do you have the courage and the heart to do what you know you need to do in your life, no matter what? Are you still ‘hanging out’ hoping for a written invitation to the quest that you must undertake? Dare to take the first, fierce step into the unknown with absolutely no thought of return’. Together the polar pillars are the gateway to your new world.



Game of Thrones’ star Jerome Flynn is urging chocolate lovers to join the battle to save Africa’s endangered white lions when a delicious new bar specially created for the cause goes on sale across the UK this month.

The Global White Lions Protection Trust (WLT) has teamed up with Conscious Chocolate to make Lions Raw – a melt-in-your-mouth, guilt-free treat crafted from raw chocolate, infused with a zesty flavour of Africa and specially wrapped to spread the word.

As well as highlighting the campaign, for every bar sold a donation worth 10 per cent of the sale price will be made by West Sussex-based Conscious Chocolate to boost the WLT’s funds.

The premium, hand-made, raw organic chocolate will also carry a card inside the packaging with a beautiful picture of the white lions, telling the story of the WLT’s efforts to preserve the rare creatures which live in the Timbavati region of South Africa.

Actor Jerome Flynn, who also recently starred in BBC drama series ‘Ripper Street’, is patron of the WLT and in March spoke in Trafalgar Square during the London protest of the Global March for Lions.

Jerome said: “To save the white lions, we need to raise global awareness of their sacred power and beauty – and how close we are to losing them in the world. Lions Raw will help us grow support and motivate more people to prevent this disaster before it’s too late.”

Lions Raw will go on sale at independent health food shops and farm shops around the UK, including outlets across London and is also available at the online stores at both www.whitelions.org and www.consciouschocolate.co.uk.

Suitable for everyone, regardless of dietary requirements, Lions Raw is – like the rest of the range from Conscious Chocolate – an organic, raw, vegan bar, free from dairy, soya, gluten, fructose and refined sugars. The bar is made with 60 per cent cacao solids and the essential oils of lemon, grapefruit and lime.

The founder and managing director of Conscious Chocolate is Emma Jackman, who leads her small but dedicated and inspirational team of six at the company’s base in East Grinstead.

She explained: “As a company our values are integrity, health, beauty and trust, so we are aligned to and excited about working with the white lions. We want to give something as a contribution to these beautiful creatures and to help raise people’s consciousness of their shamanic value.

After talking to the people at WLT we soon realised that for Lions Raw we had to come up with a flavour representative of Africa, and in particular South Africa. So we went for essential oils to create a zesty taste with a lemon and lime theme.”

The WLT was founded in 2002 by former catwalk model Linda Tucker after she was rescued from a terrifying – yet inspirational – night-time close-encounter with a lion pride when her safari vehicle broke down and was surrounded by the animals.

This led to her uncovering the threat of extinction of the white lions due to issues such as “canned hunting” where trophy animals are specially bred in cages and released only to be shot. As hunting white lions is still legal in South Africa, the prized white lions are under constant threat from poachers too.

Last year Linda exposed the issue of canned hunting and its threat to white and golden lions to a gathering of political campaigners at the House of Commons.

Linda explained: “Lions Raw is an authentic and powerful way to spread the word about the battle to save the white lions and at the same time raise money for our vital work. The chocolate is organic, delicious and the wrapper design is stunning.

Linking up with Conscious Chocolate, whose customers are as environmentally aware, responsible and principled as the brand, is perfect for us. We hope that by putting the plight of the white lions directly into people’s hands we’ll be able to recruit even more support.

We are also extremely grateful to the team at Brand Magic, who have donated their resource and expertise to launch this product. The design company from Milton Keynes have kindly created and donated all the graphics for the packaging of Lions Raw, with a result that it is certainly going to catch people’s eye.”

As well as their unique beauty, the white lions also possess a special place in the local culture. Their colouring represents purity and enlightenment, and according to African legend they are heavenly creatures sent down with a message for mankind.

But with only about 500 white lions left globally in captivity, they are technically extinct in their natural habitat. However, Linda has succeeded in securing 2,000 hectares of the lions’ homeland in the Timbavati region; fenced, guarded and maintained by a security team.

The WLT works closely with the local community in the Timbavati region, which is a poverty node in South Africa. To ensure their work is sustainable the WLT educates and trains the next generation of environmental leaders. It also honours the community in protecting the cultural importance and heritage of the white lions to the local people.

For more information about the Global White Lion Protection Trust, visit http://whitelions.org/


GIVE YOUR BRAIN A REST! By Magdalena Bak-Maier

1. Periodically practice closing your eyes as visual stimulation such as Twitter, Facebook or TV is a major energy drain on the brain
Visual cortex, the part of your brain devoted to processing visual stimuli is the largest chunk of brain real estate. As long as the eyes are open, information bombardment is constant. This puts a massive strain on the brain.
2. Switch between different activities as prolonged multitasking and intense focus stress the brain
Thinking engages specific brains cells certain cell to fire together. Prolonged and intense thinking makes more and more cells join in but excited cells can at times have a difficult time switching off. The longer you work, the more the brain heats up with activity. Without a break to stop some cells from being ‘on’, other cells can’t get effectively engaged.
3. Become a regular 7-8hours sleeper as lack of sleep prevents the mind from creating order and logic
Imagine the mind as if it was a giant world library of ideas, reflections, inspiration and information. To be efficient, it requires a cataloguing system so that what’s needed can be found quickly. During sleep, the brain creates order by processing and integrating memories and experiences so it can produce meaning and continuity. Insufficient sleep disrupts this healthy process creating havoc.
4. Arrange your work and hope area to soothe your brain as physical environments affect brain function
Brains draw information from all sorts of cues and two of them are auditory, olfactory and kinesthetic information in addition to visual information. Certain sounds and environments stimulate a feeling of safety in which the brain can perform and focus better and others can create anxiety and extra stress or distraction.
5. Rediscover the art of heart led letter writing or journaling as emptying thoughts and feelings helps the brain order thoughts
Brains carry massive amounts of information about the state of the body, different experiences, memories from a whole lifetime, different emotions and feelings, beliefs and experiences as well as simulated experiences the mind can create from all the information it contains. This resembles a massive jungle that at times needs a machete to clear new paths. Writing is one of the most effective processes for emptying and processing information especially when performed in free flow without censoring oneself. In this process the mind can work its magic, make important associations or simply heal itself.
6. Draw to recover clarity
Given the massive amount of information and intensity of work and focus today’s lives demand of the brain, many thoughts and up lost or displaced and the overall logic and sense that thinking should create is at times severely compromised. Drawing help the brain process, order and evaluate its own thinking by giving it an external parking space. Once the idea is captured and represented, the mind can begin to see it anew, evaluate it, test it and improve it.
7. Track progress with tools to relieve unnecessary brain power
The brain is a natural synthesizer of information and meaning. To do this, the brain is in effect always on. But some of the work and energy needed to keep on top of progress, to-do lists, important birthdays, or series of phone numbers is tiring and takes unnecessary energy. Often mental overwhelm happens from apparent chaos of thoughts. Using tools and frameworks based on conscious awareness of facts helps the brain function at its best.
8. Get Joggy or Get Jiggy with physical exercise or bedroom activity to help the brain heal
One of the reasons why yoga is so relaxing for the brain is that most balancing poses require such high level of focus, all other thought activity in effect goes on pause. This is very restful to the brain as it stops the massive storm of thoughts that flood through it. Exercise and sex both achieve something similar in creating a state in which the brain switches off. In addition the extra hormones that bathe the brain cells afterwards help recover them.
9. Drink an espresso to keep your brain cells primed for action
Several studies have already shown that regular and moderate intake of caffeine supports memory retention in older people, and reduces the rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine creates brain cell activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe involved in attention, concentration, planning and monitoring. In other words, a small dose of caffeine primes cells and massive intake of it exhausts them.
10. Talk it out to heal realign inner conflicts that dampen and limit full brain function.
Most people have within them different voices. Two that I work with most are the logic driven rational voice and the heart driven emotional or intuitive voice. Often these two want different things and seem to tear the person in two. This is most tiring for the brain as emotional and rational circuits fire and produce different patterns. Without a way to find a blend between these two aspects of our mind, people often feel drained, exhausted and at war with their own mind. Talking things out with a trained professional to realign them helps the mind rest and rebalance the individual.
To find out more about Magdalena Bak-Maier visit her website: http://www.maketimecount.com/