Is true wisdom knowing you know nothing

He had it right the first time, did Socrates. Spot on. Which didn’t stop him playing around with the words. ‘The more I learn,’ he also said, ‘the more I realise how little I know.’

Albert Einstein fiddled with the words a bit, too. ‘The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know,’ he wrote.

Even @realDonaldTrump had a tinker.

‘The more you know,’ he once tweeted, ‘the more you realise how much you don't know. How can you possibly discover anything if you already know everything?’ sounding remarkably learned. And, judging by the responses, ranging from ‘Wow Donald, that’s enlightened’ to ‘WTF’, others too found it remarkable.

Maybe it wasn’t him? It WAS tweeted at lunchtime and perfectly devoid of errors...

Anyhow, the principle is the same: the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

So where does that leave me? What am I trying to say? If I’m admitting I don’t know enough does that mean, by definition, I don’t know enough to do what I do? Wouldn’t that be killing my fledgling business before it really gets going? Surely not – given this WAS Socrates and Einstein’s guiding principle – and look where they got to. (We’ll gloss over the leader of the free world...)

I do KNOW stuff, clearly, or I wouldn’t be doing what I do, wouldn’t have passed the exams or be licensed to practise! But I also know that there’s still so much more for me to learn – the sort of things you only learn through time and the feedback of experience (the know-how). The trick is finding out what we don’t know, then find out how and from whom we can learn it.

The key, for me, is keeping my inner critic at bay (sometimes tricky), experimenting (but using learning wisely), reflecting on what works and what doesn’t and then learning from it. And when things don’t perhaps work as I’d hoped, dusting myself down and trying again, using what I’ve gained first time round to turn learning into real knowledge and know-how.

But where am I going with all this?

Well... last year, I started my acupuncture graduate programme. At the start, my tutor Niki Bilton said that Chinese medicine is simple. By rooting ourselves in the simple, we would feel like we’re on solid ground.

So far so good.

What we would learn, she said, is know-how not knowledge, and that know-how would help us review patients’ progress.

But, this is where it gets complicated. Some of what I’ve learned and committed to ‘knowledge’ isn’t quite as it should be.

Acupuncture comes from a master/apprentice aural tradition where masters talked and apprentices listened and what was said wasn’t always correctly heard. Or correctly passed on.

Inevitably, some of what I’d learned and committed to knowledge has been miscommunicated along the way but Niki is bringing me back to the horse’s mouth: JR Worsley, the father of Five Element Acupuncture, with whom she learned her craft.

But first we had to acknowledge that, before we could be gain the know-how, we’d be confused and terrified, unseeing of the way forward. We’d need to jump off a cliff – take a leap of faith – to shed some of the things we’d learned already and embrace the know-how offered through the graduate programme.

At my quarterly session with Niki, earlier in June, she clearly thought we were ready to jump off that cliff – as she introduced us to Jumping Mouse, a Native America legend.

Confusingly, there are many, many versions available online, so here is my own version of a little mouse and his voyage of discovery. The message is clear. Sometimes we need to follow our inquisitive nature – right out of our comfort zone – and learn to soar like an eagle. All we have to do is hang onto the wind and trust.

Hang onto the wind and trust: the story of Jumping Mouse

Once there was a mouse, a curious, busy little mouse. And, one day, he heard a different sound, a roaring in his ears.

‘Do you hear that sound?’ he asked the other mice. But none did. They just sniffed at his silliness before going about their busy mouse lives.

Not wanting to appear foolish, Little Mouse returned to his busy life too, but he found it hard to forget. And before too long, the roar returned. So he scurried closer to listen. That’s when he met Raccoon.

‘That sound you hear is the river,’ said Raccoon. ‘I can take you there if you like.’

So, Little Mouse walked with Raccoon, his heart pounding in his chest. Many times he was frightened and almost turned back, but finally arrived at the river and Little Mouse saw that it was huge and breathtaking, deep and clear in places, murky in other. It roared, sang, cried and thundered on its course.

‘Wow!’ said Little Mouse.

‘Let me introduce you to Frog’, said Raccoon. ‘He will look after you now.’

As Little Mouse gazed into the river alongside Frog, he saw his own frightened reflection gazing back at him. ‘Are you not afraid of the river?’ he asked Frog.

‘No’, said Frog. He wasn’t afraid. He was keeper of the water and he’d been given gifts that allow him to live above and within the water.

‘Would you like some Medicine Power too?’ asked Frog.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Little Mouse.

‘Then crouch as low as you can, and then jump as high as you are able! You will have your Medicine!’ said Frog.

So Little Mouse crouched as low as he could and jumped. And when he did, he saw the Sacred Mountains. He could hardly believe his eyes. But then he fell back to earth and landed in the river.

‘You tricked me!’ he screamed. He’d never been quite as wet as that before.

‘But you’re not harmed,’ said Frog. Don’t let your fear and anger blind you. What did you see?’

‘I saw the Sacred Mountains!’ stammered Little Mouse.

‘And you have a new name!’ said Frog. ‘It is Jumping Mouse.’

Excited to get back to his friends and tell them of his adventures, Jumping Mouse dashed home but nobody would listen. Many were afraid of him, frightened by his new ideas. Crestfallen, he held his memory of the Sacred Mountains in his heart, determined to find them one day.

Finally, gathering all his courage, he ran as fast as he could onto the prairie, his little heart pounding with excitement and fear, as eagles swirled in the distant sky.

Stopping to catch his breath, he noticed an old mouse in a patch of sage, hidden from the eagles. ‘Welcome to this wonderful place,’ said Old Mouse. ‘From here you can see buffalo, antelope, rabbit and coyote, safe from the eyes of eagles.’

‘Can you see the Sacred Mountains?’ asked Jumping Mouse, excitedly. ‘Oh,’ said Old Mouse, ‘they’re just a myth. Forget them and stay with me. Everything you want is here. Why seek more?’

‘How can he say such a thing?’ thought Jumping Mouse. ‘How could I ever forget the Sacred Mountains?’

Like those before him, Old Mouse clearly thought his young friend foolish. Jumping Mouse thanked him for his offer, and off he ran towards the Sacred Mountains.

It was then he met Buffalo, who was sick and dying. Only the eye of a mouse would heal him. Jumping Mouse heard Buffalo’s breath growing harder and slower and knew in his heart he couldn’t let him die, so offered one of his own eyes.

In return, Buffalo offered to take Jumping Mouse to the foot of the Sacred Mountains, allowing Jumping Mouse to run below his belly so the eagles couldn’t see him, but with only one eye the tiny mouse was frightened. Buffalo’s hooves shook the world each time he took a step.

‘But your fear was for nothing,’ said Buffalo. ‘For I always know where my hooves will fall.’

Thanking Buffalo for bringing him this far, Jumping Mouse began to explore his new surroundings – and there were even more things here than in the other places he’d been.

Suddenly, he came across a grey wolf, doing absolutely nothing.

‘Hello Wolf,’ he said, which reminded Wolf he was indeed a wolf. Jumping Mouse realised that wolf had no memory and knew what he must do.

‘You must have my eye,’ said Jumping Mouse, ‘for you are a greater being and I am only a mouse.’ And, as he stopped speaking, his eye flew out of his head and Wolf got his memory back. Tears fell down Wolf’s cheeks, but Jumping Mouse couldn’t see them, because now he was blind.

Wolf explained that he would take Jumping Mouse through the pines to the Great Medicine Lake, in the Sacred Mountains, and describe the beauty surrounding them along the way, but there he had to leave him. Thanking his friend, Jumping Mouse sat frightened and alone, trembling in fear. He couldn’t run because he was blind. And he knew that, soon, an eagle would find him.

As he felt a shadow across his back and heard the sound that eagles make, he braced himself for the shock. The eagle hit and Jumping Mouse went to sleep.

But then he woke up.

Surprised to be alive, he could see too. Everything was blurry, but the colours were beautiful. A blurry shape came towards him and a voice said, ‘Hello, do you want some Medicine?’

‘Yes,’ said Jumping Mouse.

‘Crouch as low as you can and jump as high as you can,’ said the voice, ‘and trust the wind to carry you. Then you will have your Medicine.’

Jumping Mouse did as he was told, opened his eyes and saw they were clear. The higher he went, the clearer they became. Jumping Mouse saw his old friend on a lily pad on the beautiful Medicine Lake. It was Frog.

‘You have a new name,’ called out Frog. ‘You are Eagle!’

And so it was that Little Mouse learned to soar like a eagle, by hearing what others do not, daring to question what others dare not and keeping his faith when others sought to hold him back. Even when he was blind and frightened, and knew not where he was. All he had to do was hang onto the wind and trust.