This short lecture from John Cleese(1) on creativity shows he may be a ‘defacto taoist’ or perhaps a ‘natural taoist’. Meaning, anyone who has this contrarian point of view is a ‘taoist’, although they may never have heard the word Taoist. The most striking part comes at the end when he describes the Blind Spot, which I feel parallels the Peter Principle.
[Watch the Blind Spot video] or
[Listen to the Blind Spot MP3].
The Blind Spot
This idea of backing off in order to move forward, and the humorous way he talks about the “blind spot”, parallels core Taoist principles.
For example, his comments about the “blind spot” are simply another way of saying, Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. His take on this also parallels chapter 70’s My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice, yet no one in the world can understand them or put them into practice.
I’d like to take this a little further though, and drill down deeper if I can. What causes the “blind spot”, and why does “sleeping on it” work, are questions that come to mind. No sooner do I wonder why, than the word ‘agenda’ comes to mind. My agenda, more than anything, blinds me to the big picture. When I “sleep on it”, I am backing away from the urgency of my agenda for a while. That distance allows me to see more broadly and create a way around the current problem. That distance allows me to see more forest, rather than just trees; I can at least begin to peek around any blind spots I have.
The next question: what gives birth to my agenda in the first place? Clearly fear and need play a huge role. These two words address the core drivers of emotion. My agenda is born from my desires and ideals which are simply the thinking side of need(2). What I think blocks out or otherwise skew perception to favor these emotions – and voila I’ve created my person agenda, with serious blind spots sure to follow.
How do I know when a blind spot is currently blinding me? Any stimuli out in the world that directly impacts my agenda, hidden or known, will produce symptoms. One of the most evident symptoms is anger, or its counter part flight (i.e., fight or flight). And beneath that, of course, lie my core fears and needs. Using any sign of anger as a symptom of a probable blind spot can tell me volumes about myself. Here is where the courage of self honesty comes in, and where the difficulty lies. Fortunately, difficult things in the world must have their beginnings in the easy. The “easy beginning”, in this case, is simply accepting that anger is a symptom of my “blind stop”, and therefore an essential eye-opener, if I really value being true to myself.
Seeing past my blind spot is only half the journey. I also have what I’d call a “crippled spot”. Here, ironically, emotion is essential to ‘live true’, and practice what I preach. I call it will (though not “free will” mind you). This parallels Buddhas Eight Fold Path: First comes seeing my possible blind spot (Right Understanding, Right Mindfulness). Next comes remembering my possible blind spot (Right Attentiveness, Right Concentration), and finally comes living according to what I see (Right Effort, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood).
To sum up: Emotion is what veers my life onto by-paths; emotion is what enables me to follow the way. As with everything else in life, there are two sides to each issue. Making emotion (desire, need, fear, etc.) the ‘villain’ is as shortsighted and foolish as being ignorant of their overwhelming influence on my life.
(1) This John Cleese on creativity is the full 10 minute video of the clip above. It looks like it is relatively recent.
This next one (below) is a 30 minute video in which he gave an expanded talk on creativity in 1991. Both touch closely on what makes the ‘taoist’ approach to life effective. It couldn’t hurt to watch them again and again over the years just to see if you see anything new each time. John Cleese – a lecture on Creativity
(2) Viewed more closely, desire seems to be a amalgamation of instinctive emotion (‘gut’ need) and thinking. Without that thinking side, we’d be moved by spontaneous need just like all other animals. Need (and its source spring, fear) is the driving force behind all action. Without it we’re dead—literally. It is the thinking side of desire we could (and should) have misgivings about. Thinking beats the drum of emotion, easily making mountains out of molehills (of need and fear).