The Wisdom of Not Knowing Praise   |   Reviews   |   Featured In   |   Interviews   |   Reader’s Reviews

“For most of us the unknown is both friend and foe. At times it can be a source of paralyzing fear and uncertainty, and at other times it can be a starting point for adventure, creativity, and transformation. How we relate to the unknown is a key element in all personal growth and healing; its mystery forms a deep current that runs throughout all religious and mystical traditions. In this deeply affirming exploration of the challenges and possibilities of the unknown, Estelle Frankel draws on insights from Kabbalah, depth psychology, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and ancient myth to show us how we can grow our souls by tapping into the wisdom of not knowing. Frankel offers clear, accessible psychological and spiritual insights and a set of practical tools, including mindfulness exercises, guided meditations, and journaling exercises—all aimed at increasing one’s comfort with the unknown.”

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“This book inspires as it delights. Estelle Frankel's graceful and authoritative voice--fluent and informed as it seamlessly weaves together religion, psychoanalytic theory, literature, philosophy and modern science--recasts the "unknown" from, a situation of dread to an invitation to ever more liberating awareness.”– Sylvia Boorstein, author of Happiness is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life

“Drawing on insights from the Jewish mystical tradition, as well as Buddhism and psychoanalysis, Estelle Frankel demonstrates the surprisingly positive value of "not knowing." This book is profound and clear. It will enable you to become more intimate with your own experience, to overcome fear, and to overcome the mental and emotional challenges of daily life.”– Daniel Matt, author of The Essential Kabbalah and the annotated translation The Zohar: Pritzker Edition

“Another gem from Estelle Frankel!  Like her previous book on Sacred Therapy, this book bristles with depth and insight, practical stories and humor as the author takes us on a deep and necessary journey into the via negativa, the land of unknowing, the wisdom we learn from darkness and nothingness, intuition and paradox, and not being in control.  Frankel, like many mystics before her, wrestles wonderfully with the path of the via negativa and the apophatic Divinity.  She urges us in a time of darkness and uncertainty to learn from the dark and to grow our courage and our creativity in the process.    Her book reveals the deep richness of her Jewish mystical lineage but it also opens the door to deep ecumenism-so many times in reading the book I wanted to shout: ‘And Meister Eckhart said this’ or ‘just like the Cloud of Unknowing.’  It is important that humans today get to the depth of our mystical traditions which includes a discussion of the via negativa and Frankel provides an excellent guide for us all.  While gifting us with an eminently readable rendering of a difficult-to-talk-about topic, the author challenges her fellow therapists to apply the deep teachings of the mystics about the wisdom of unknowing to their work.  In this way she is resacralizing her profession with the help of the mystical wisdom traditions.  A needed and timely book!”– Rev Dr. Matthew Fox, author of Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times; A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey; A Spirituality Named Compassion; The Reinvention of Work, Stations of the Cosmic Christ, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart.

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Read the “Publisher’s Weekly” review

“...As Americans leave traditional faiths, publishers release books to give them alternatives...Readers seeking help with life’s problems can find it in a broad range of titles. In “The Wisdom of Not Knowing” (Shambhala, out now), Estelle Frankel–a therapist who also teaches Jewish mysticism–proposes that psychological, emotional, and spiritual health depend on accepting how much in life cannot be known, and that it is important to have the courage to face uncertainty and ambiguity....”

Read the “Spirituality & Practice” review

“...As she demonstrated in Sacred Therapy, Frankel is a masterful meaning-maker. She skillfully marshals ideas and values from mystical Judaism and psychotherapy and then launches into astonishing intimations of the spiritual maturity that comes with quests, creativity, darkness, questions, and open-mindedness....”

Read the Beliefnet review

“Psychotherapist and spiritual advisor Estelle Frankel, in her book, “The Wisdom of Not Knowing,” explores the power of the unknown to be friend rather than foe-it is the key to our personal growth. Let’s take a look at what she has to say about embracing uncertainty for a better life.”

Read the review by Axie Barclay, San Francisco Book Review

“The unknown provides us with both a blank slate, something filled with potential and wonder, and also a great, vacuous hole of uncertainty that can be both thrilling and terrifying.

In her book “The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty”, Estelle Frankel explores the unknown, utilizing insights from myriad religions, psychology, and myth, offering readers insight into how to think about the unknown and how to handle it. She includes journaling exercises, meditations, and other practical tools for developing mindfulness and confidence in dealing with uncertainty and mystery in life. She helps readers understand the unknown and their relationship to it, and she gives them new and old ways to think about the unknown—she even helps them become intimate with and perhaps befriend the unexpected.

This work is surprisingly encouraging given the subject matter and is deeply insightful, always pushing to find creativity, adventure, and wonder in the unknown. Frankel’s voice comes across as competent and relatable, yet never loses a sense of professionalism. This deft and compassionate handling of complex ideas and theory makes this read feel like listening to a good therapist. She makes the reader feel comforted and inspired, ready to take action in their own life and also calm enough to sit still and get comfortable with their own thoughts. The stories she uses to illustrate certain points are directly pertinent and good practical examples. Her work is profound, but also accessible and clear, always encouraging us to acknowledge the darkness, but not to dwell there. While she draws from various religious traditions, especially Judaism, the narrative doesn’t push a religious agenda but instead seeks to utilize what insights the religion has to offer. This makes “The Wisdom of Not Knowing” a suitable read for non-religious readers as well. Overall, “The Wisdom of Not Knowing” is a great read for the person seeking a thought-provoking read and a little bit of insight into life’s biggest unknowns.”

Read the American Jewish World News” review

In The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty (Shambhala), Frankel draws on Kabbala and varied religious traditions to formulate “mindfulness” exercises to help manage worrisome thoughts....”

Read the Experience Life magazine review

“Success or failure, in other words, becomes almost immaterial when compared with the grounded feeling that comes from confidently welcoming whatever the next moment delivers. After all, the unknown is always just around the corner. Failure to grasp this, Frankel warns, can leave us in a state of constant worry, unable to enjoy what life offers. ‘The less willing we are to bear uncertainty, the more likely we are to prematurely foreclose on reality.’”

Read the review by J. Aislynn d’Merricksson, Manhattan book Review

“Using lessons garnered from such diverse sources as Jewish mysticism, Buddhism, psychology, mythic studies, and spiritual alchemy, Frankel offers a new way of looking at the unknown and embracing the chaos of uncertainty. As we age, we lose the wonder of the child, for whom everything is new. As pressures of time and the responsibility that come with age strip the wonder from us, we grow more fearful of the unknown. In other cases, people who are introverts tend to be more wary of change from a young age, and this only solidifies with age.

In “The Wisdom of Not Knowing”, Frankel teaches us to regain that sense of wonder we once had as a child. Woven into mythic analysis and psychological commentary are exercises to help open us to the unknown once again. With gentle, piercing clarity, Frankel reminds us that xenophobia will only stunt our growth and stifle us with a slow suffocation most are not even aware of. One of my favorite characters from the Harry Potter movies is Luna Lovegood’s father. His personality thoroughly embodies his name: Xenophilius, love of the unknown. Frankel teaches us how to transmute fear to delight, to transmute xenophobia to xenophilia.

I am an extreme introvert. I despise change and need an advance warning for changes, especially large ones, to give time for acceptance. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have started making use of the techniques. One, near the beginning, reminded me I had been gifted with a small metal labyrinth that you trace a stylus through. I've dug it back out for the labyrinth exercise. Other exercises sparked my inspiration again. I’ve been languishing in an apathetic haze since, well, the horrors of the election. That I’ve felt the stirrings of my creativity waking once again thrills me to no end. The exercises have helped in other ways, too.

I don’t drive, and don't see well. I’ve been very resistant to taking the bus places for fear of getting lost. It’s engendered a near phobic fear that triggers panic and has severely curtailed my freedom. During my reading, I worked up the nerve to do something I’ve dreaded trying because of the unknown factor. I took a trip that required a bus change each way. That Frankel’s work helped me achieve this speaks volumes to me of its value.

I enjoyed the quotes at the beginning of each chapter and the snippets of poems and passages within the chapters, especially the occasional Rumi. This book gave me a new appreciation for Jewish mysticism/ Kabbalah and prompted an interest in delving further. I also ended up snagging Frankel’s other book, “Sacred Therapy”.

This is a valuable tool for any looking to befriend the unknown and find a valuable ally for living whole and free from fear of life’s uncertainties.”

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Readers Reviews

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The read deal that is a pleasure to read I was drawn to this book by its title. For a long time, I have been interested in the Capacity to Not Know, first as a psychotherapy research tool and second as an important way to approach the mystery of death. I have been disappointed in the past by titles that promise one thing and then deliver something quite different, a literary bait and switch, as it were. The author provides the examples and amplifications of the wisdom of not knowing in the form of stories from Jewish mysticism, Zen, and her personal life as well as the lives of her patients. Estelle writes in a simple lyrical style. Reading the book and reflecting on the wisdom it contains is a real pleasure.”– Seth Isaiah Rubin, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Jungian Analyst

Deep Mystical Thought I learn so much about the wisdom of the Kabbalah and the Old Testament through the way that Estelle Frankel brings the stories and teachings alive and applies them to our modern situation. She sparks a conversation about ‘not knowing’ that is much needed in the therapeutic community and offers therapists permission to drop into a larger knowing to help their patients, thus providing an alternative method of understanding them beyond diagnosis and labels. Her explorations of intuition – and her reporting on others’ explorations – provides a wonderful basis for inquiry in and of itself. I heartily recommend this book.”– Isa Gucciardi, PhD

“Estelle Frankel’s book is pure music. It flows along with the modulated cadence of a Paul Simon song. ”“The Wisdom of Not Knowing”” holds to its premise of exploring how the context of things, the unspoken, the dark, the uncertain, and the mysterious, feed us in profound ways.

Like Simon, she too invokes the wisdom of various cultures and traditions outside of her own personal Jewish background and training. The work moves effortlessly from chapter to chapter, exploring the paradoxical twins of light and dark, sacred and profane, silence and sound, science and spirituality, intuition and predictability, in short, a dozen “verses” that challenge our notions of what it means to know or not know.

In this book we hear teachings and tales of Zen Masters, Hasidic Rebbes, Sufi poets, Western physicists, philosophers, artists and movie-makers, and yet, Frankel always returns to the “chorus” of her own psychotherapeutic encounters as a healer and her personal Jewish mystical practice without a hint of dogmatism or stridency.

At the core of the book are the woefully misconstrued notions about darkness and light that plague our culture and our world.

This, I believe, is the most misunderstood and dangerous of all paradoxes that feed fear, projection, racism and violence. Frankel’s work artfully and methodically addresses this fundamental misconception by exploring the many traditions of “non-duality” with quotes, anecdotes, poems, and stories artfully presented.

The book is so rife with such nuggets of wisdom that I’ve started utilizing it as an I Ching in my own counseling practice. I’ve dared to hand it to clients on the cusp of making daring life changes who then randomly open the work, and there to our shared amazement, we sit together, mouth agape, and the clients wonder if I’ve enacted some therapeutic slight of hand that led to the perfect passage that mirrors their struggle, question, or immanent transformation.

Yes there are many works that attempt to synthesize the polarities of good and evil, science and religion, and doing and being, but Frankel’s books (Sacred Therapy being her first) are certainly at or near the top of the heap in terms of depth, tone and especially, sheer humanity. This book is soothing to read a well as informative; you will smile, cry, and be moved by the writings of a master storyteller.

The poet Rumi peaks of the “doorsill where the two worlds touch.” Frankel effortlessly welcomes us at that gate, counseling mystery as well as planning, spontaneity as well as ritual observance, white space as well as the printed word, silence as well as speech, and yes, even the value of heartbreak and despair as well as good fortune.

Even Paul Simon might be pleased a half century after penning the line: “Hello darkness my old friend” that those words had more essential truth and power than he might have intended.”– Bruce Silverman

The White Spaces of Wisdom/A Smiling Mystery Sometimes the journey of how we find a book–or a book ‘finds’ us–has its own mystery. Years ago, I had been deeply moved by Estelle Frankel’s first book, Sacred Therapy, in which she deftly blends the stages of the therapeutic journey with core concepts in Jewish myth and mysticism. In that book, Frankel showed how such profound, kabbalistic concepts as the shattering of the vessels, or the healing of our world (known as tikun olam) could be traced within the odyssey of our days, and how adopting a Jewish mystical ‘lens’ in which to behold our lives brings a profound sense of living out a timeless myth. I had wondered, for several years, if she would publish another book. Several weeks ago, I was browsing at a local Barnes and Noble, lamenting that there didn‘t seem to be any new Jewish books. At that moment, I dropped my keys on the ground. Bending to pick them up, I found, on a corner of the bottom shelf, in the tiny section on Jewish mysticism, Frankel‘s new book. I was caught by the title, “The Wisdom of Not Knowing”. In this book, Frankel attempts something very subtle: depicting, with poetic precision, the potential relationship we can have with not knowing, with a living mystery, and with divining the ‘white spaces’ of the Torah of Life. The next morning, I was at a local cafe, writing in my journal. I had left Frankel’s book, with its purple and silvery cover that simply says, “The Wisdom of Not Knowing”, out on the table. Suddenly, seeming to appear out of nowhere–out of the ‘white, mystery spaces‘ of the Torah, Frankel might say–a lady with a luminous smile asked me if she could look at the book. As she looked at it, I strongly recommended Frankel’s first book to her. A few moments later, as she stood in line to get her coffee, she told me that she had already ordered both books. A few hours later, as I exited the cafe, handing her my contact information, I invited Smiling Lady to perhaps let me know someday what she thought of the book. Over the coming weeks, as I continued to read Frankel’s powerful therapy vignettes, braided with poetic explorations of the place of not knowing, of ‘nothing,’ and of mystery in relation to Jewish mysticism and other wisdom traditions, I reflected that this encounter with a beautiful stranger was much like the mystery, the unknowingness that Frankel continually illuminates throughout this very special text. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see Smiling Lady again–and perhaps it doesn’t, ultimately, matter. This very special book, like our lives, invites us to be at home with not knowing, with walking into the heart of a mystery.”– Jacob Shefa

“In “The Wisdom of Not Knowing”, Estelle Frankel takes readers on a journey into the heart of the “unknown” and, there, shines a light on this hidden terrain with insights from Kabbalah and other wisdom traditions, poetry and spiritual practice. As the book progresses fear and resistance turn to curiosity and open-mindedness. I found freedom and strength in the darkness of not knowing and meaning in the silence beyond thought.  This book is a natural continuation of Estelle’s first book, Sacred Therapy.  Both are deeply spiritual, full of wisdom and helpful for any inner search.”– Tali Barr

“With grace, compassion and unfailing honesty, Estelle Frankel describes her lifelong quest to develop the courage and faith to embrace the unknown.  She invites us to join her on this journey.  In “The Wisdom of Not Knowing”, she describes how our lives can be stunted by fear and the perceived safety of the familiar. She weaves together spiritual teachings from Jewish mysticism, Buddhism, depth psychology and poetry to convey the human condition – both the terror and beauty of uncertainty. Frankel is a fine writer, with a lovely sense of humor and an unusual capacity to present somewhat lofty ideas with humility and practicality.  I have found that my work as a psychotherapist, as well as my personal (life’s) journey have been subtly transformed since reading her book.   I feel (more) supported and inspired to push past my anxious tendency to play it safe, and have learned to be more open to the unknown and its limitless possibilities for growth and meaning.  Anyone with an interest in spirituality and psychology will find much to reflect on in this compelling and engaging book.”– Malka Gorman

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Copyright © Estelle Frankel 2017