How “Knowing” Does Not Always Help

Hello all! 

I have been listening to U2 of late because they just released a new album called Songs of Surrender where they reimagine songs from past albums. I have been enjoying it because it is a revisting from the standpoint of age. The band members are no longer young rebels but older men who are of the establishment. The rendering of their songs is slow and soulful and new.

In all the hype of the new album, I read this great quote from Bono, who is the lead singer for the band, about the process of writing songs for U2:

“U2 is sort of songwriting by accident really. We don’t really know what we’re doing and when we do, it doesn’t seem to help.”  

I love this for so many reasons – one reason is that it really talks about the issue of not knowing, which, for me, really is a deep part of what we learn from dreams. 

Especially in the realm of transitions, which we have been exploring.


I love the sentiment of “when we know what we are doing, it does not help” that Bono speaks about in his creative process. It is so true.

True because when we enter into a process, whether it is creative or emotional work or spiritual work or doing something mundane like moving into a new house, it is so helpful to step out of what we know. 

Let’s start with an example around the creative process. As Bono says, when we step into creating something and we have a set idea of what we are doing or we are in some already known place with the creating, what can happen is that we stay in the confines of what we know. Meaning, what we know can actually inhibit our creativity. What we know can actually stop the creative process. 

Like Bono, I find this to be true around writing. If I step into working on a new poem or a new series of poems and I “know” what I am doing, then the poems will come from some deep known space, but not from a place where I can learn and change.

For example, I started working on a poem based on a dream that included my father and a bunch of cellos. When I started the poem, I was really sure I was going to write about a specific story about cellos, my desire to learn to play when I was a girl and my father’s reaction. I was really sure I was going to write a piece about my father and his old-school beliefs about girls and what girls should or should not do. 

So sure. If I would have stayed with that surety, then I may have written a piece about something I know and have worked with in my work. It is a comfortable story, to be honest. 

What I did instead is start the poem and then let myself not know what was going to happen. The cellos did not make it into the poem at all, nor did the story about the cellos, nor my father’s old school beliefs about anything. Here’s a draft of the poem that came instead:

No cellos and, surprisingly, no father. Which is the point of the poem, which is the surprise that arose from writing this piece. If I would have stayed with the known story, stayed with what I knew about that story and my father, this poem would not have come in the way it did. 

It is a powerful poem for me, written from a dream just a few nights ago. More true about the relationship I had with my father than the cello story.

Letting myself not know what was going to happen in the poem helped the piece to come in a way that was so moving to me.


It is like that with our dreaming and the work our dreams guide us into and through. If we go into our dreams and the process of working with our dreams with what we already know, then the mystery will remain hidden.

The mystery and the deepening.

Even if what we know is deep and true, our knowing can keep us some place safe rather than be a place for us to face into newness and change and new possibility.

Sometimes, when I wake with a dream, I will have a thought of – oh! I know what the dream is doing, then sit with the dream through my lens of what I think I know. Even if I am somewhat “right”, it is still not being with the dream with an open heart and open curiosity. It is still not being with the dream and its mysteries, its gifts from a place of wanting to change. When I do this, I miss the dream.

Another example – I may wake with a dream where a figure from my waking life plays a major part. If I do not like the figure, I may wake and “not like” the dream because the figure was in it. I may wake and feel embarassed because of the figure. I may judge the dream as an indication that I am “not doing well” in my work. I may not even want to bring the dream to my dream practitioner [and yes, I do have a person I work with with my dreams]. 

This response to the dream comes from what I know in my waking consciousness – that I do not like the person and therefore, the dream is bad. But what if the dream is not “bad”? What if the dream is showing how I am in a different relationship to the person and people like that person, which shows growth? What if the dream is showing how much I have changed? This could very much be true and something I would miss if I stayed with what I thought I knew about the dream.

To not know, though, and to trust the dream and what it is bringing…this is being in the not-knowing and the mystery of dreaming. This is also being in a place where we can go beyond our knowing.