I was recently procrastinating after a particularly long and brain-squeezing few weeks by taking a brief brain-hiatus—scrolling lazily through YouTube. My YouTube feed is typically replete with nerd topics that generally pertain to some sort of self-help at the quantum level, along with theories about ancient Egypt, and on through to the soundtrack from the recent science fiction movie Dune. (After reading comments from some YouTube viewers, I’m convinced that the savant composer Hans Zimmer channeled something mysterious that enabled him to create music that resonates so deeply with so many people, and caused me to become an obsessive, repeatedly looping Zimmer’s ear-worm compositions until I forced myself to switch it off.) But I digress . . . !
For no good nor obvious algorithmic reason, two anomalies appeared in my stream of videos suggested by YouTube. The first unexpected video was from an interviewer whom I like and respect, although I haven’t watched his work for more than a year. Since the early 1970s, some of this person’s interviews have been with the most fascinating folk: from the ethnobotanist and mystic Terence McKenna and the extraordinary-yet-often-overlooked physicist and parapsychologist Elizabeth Rauscher, to the theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf and Jason Reza Jorjani and his fascinating research into the origins of religion. These interviews typically cover everything from parapsychological research to UFOs and groundbreaking research into the science of the mind and consciousness.
As this interviewer’s channel appeared so unexpectedly, I felt compelled to explore. I came across an anomalous video post in which the interviewer waxes lyrically and very personally on a topic unusual for his channel—the archetype of the Egyptian god Horus (ancient Egypt being a topic I have recently spent weeks researching). As it happens, he posted the video on the same day that I conducted my first in a series of Egyptian teaching days for primary schools up and down England. Naturally I took this coincidence as a good omen.
The second odd video in my YouTube feed was a very early interview with Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. Regardless of one’s personal opinion of Rowling’s recently shared and criticized views, it was endearing to see the fresh-faced, “ungroomed,” and innocent woman at the beginning of her meteoric ascent to literary fame and fortune.
As I watched, I was reminded of something I’ve meditated on (and even journaled on) as part of my personal meditation practice. It was also a subject that came up during a very emotional episode of the beloved British TV show Doctor Who, in which the time-traveling Doctor and his assistant Amy Pond visit the troubled artist Vincent Van Gough. At the end of the episode, they time travel Vincent to the contemporary Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where he is able to witness firsthand his own artwork on public display and to hear people’s thoughts on who he was as a person and as an artist, and the impact that his magnificent works would end up having on the world.
Little did they know . . . little did they know . . .
It’s an episode that can still bring me to tears, no matter how many times I watch it, and I know I’m not alone in this. Sadly, we humans are arrogant enough to believe that society today would be more tolerant of Van Gough’s unique personality, regardless of our romanticized understanding of his circumstances—think of how many such gifted but troubled people we still dismiss or shun due to their inability to conform to expected social norms. Anyway, to my point: most of us may never experience such a level of self-discovery within our own lifetimes, but for some it can happen. J. K. Rowling is one example. Similarly, there are very old interviews with a young Jeff Bezos, who—like him or not nowadays—was back then happy with his old, beaten-up car, and happy that he was able to quit his day job to sell books online.
Little did they know . . . little did they know . . .
Life has a habit of throwing the unexpected at us, often from directions that may not feel good at all, and as such the poignant sentiment “little did they know” isn’t always welcomed with open arms. But from a positive viewpoint, and from a Buddhist viewpoint, “little did they know” is a wonderful phrase that resonates with the deep wisdom of fundamental impermanence.
This digression into pop culture is offered purely as an easy-to-digest meditation on the way that extraordinary change can manifest in people’s lives when they follow their inner voice, regardless of external expectations or judgments.
While time, as an abstract concept, may not truly exist in the way that we perceive it (we may simply be expressions of universal vibrating energy manifesting in the eternal present moment), we still tend to experience life in a linear fashion. And with that perception come inevitable frustrations and obstacles that stand in our path.
As an antidote to this, the Zen approach to letting be and letting go is surely one of the most gentle and effective spiritual techniques we can practice. Yet letting go can still be a challenge for many of us—not least for those of us who are overly eager to manifest the version of “reality” that they desire.
But, without resorting to magical thinking, the idea of “little did they know” allows room for both Zen practitioners and aspirational manifesters, for both individualists and those who live without boundaries, to witness their own life as a story still unfolding. And when we are able to tune in to our own inner compass, chart a course in line with our inner wisdom, and then “let go,” we can truly witness our story playing out in wide-eyed awe of what adventures may be about to occur at the turn of the next page.
Tilly Campbell-Allen (Dakini as Art)