For years, up until my early forties, I was drunk on thought fortified with the certainty of belief. Fortunately for me, I found a way to help detoxify myself, but it is still a moment-by-moment affair.
Recovering alcoholics continue to say, “I’m an alcoholic”, even as they stay on the straight and narrow moment-to-moment, day to day, year to year. Likewise, I would have to say I’m a thinker, recovering from certainty in thought moment-to-moment, day to day, year to year. (Really! I’ve sobered up a lot. You should have seen me before.)
Of course, just like alcohol, certainty is not bad by itself. It is all about the circumstances and magnitude. Intuitive certainty that induces me to jump out of the way of an oncoming bus, or avoid food that smells ‘off’, benefits me without fail. Certainty’s affect on thought is where things go awry. Stillness and impartiality fly out the window once the emotion of certainty begins to back up thought. At that point, the blind-spot overtakes perception and difficulties multiply.
I am a little surprised that this process isn’t more widely recognized. Especially in that we have been aware of this for ages. The clearest example is probably represented by chapter 71, to know yet to think that one does not know is best; not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. Buddha’s also speaks to this. Much of his Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path addresses the role the mind plays in our lives.
Of course, I should be more surprised by my own naiveté. There is simply no way that we can impartially evaluate anything that offers us pleasure. Pleasure is the bait, as Buddha said, and it creates a blind-spot around the source of that pleasure. Can merely understanding that we intoxicate ourselves with thought help anyone sober up? I would guess probably not.
Just like the other ways we have to drink ourselves silly—shopping, eating, drugs, and so on—understanding is seldom sufficient. We must viscerally know, and such depth of knowing only comes through personally reaching rock bottom. Isn’t this a process, like chapter 36 points out, if you would have a thing laid aside, you must first set it up? Only when a thing is fully set up are we ready to lay it aside (1). Why should an addiction to certainty-of-belief be any different?
Alas, our addiction to certainty-of-belief is somewhat different and more challenging. There are obvious physical consequences to all other addictions: a glutton’s obesity; a shopper’s debt, a smoker’s cough, a drunkard’s hangovers. Not so with thought, other than the neurotic impulses from which we suffer. And even if we recognized our addiction to certainty-of-belief, what are we to do? Other sources of additions are external and can at least be kept out of reach, if not eliminated. Thinking is internal. I suppose that explains the popularity of psycho-pharmacology. Well, at least that is an improvement over getting a lobotomy.
So, if you are fed up with certainty-of-belief, then try out correlations as a sort of do-it-yourself virtual lobotomy. They may help detoxify your mind from the weight of its preconceptions as they did for me. Also effective, needless to say, can be delving the depths of the Tao Te Ching and the age-old ‘yogic’ practices (I mean yoga in the broadest sense: meditation, pranayama, bhakti yoga, hatha yoga, Buddhism, and so on.)
(1) That’s not altogether true. The power of an addiction is symptomatic of the degree of disconnection we feel. The more secure our sense of social connection, the less sway an addiction has upon us. Thus, improvements in our sense of connection must take some of the steam out of the ‘set it up in order to lay it aside’ process.
As I see it, thought (language, words and names) has left us with a unique sense of disconnection compared to other animal. That is the price we pay for the powerful advantages that thinking (imagination) affords us. I find it ironic that we attempt to reconnect via thought (belief in particular promises to reconnection with the One). I never found that actually worked. It is like building a castle of belief on the shifting sands of the void.
On the other hand, maybe that’s just me. After all, belief is really a symptom of deeper realities, not a solution. A loosening of certainty in belief just reflects changing realities and a declining need to hold on to any particular belief. Goodness, I suppose my thoughts on belief are shifting. Shifting sands indeed!