From time to time I refer to ‘the blind spot’ as our main impediment to understanding. What is the blind spot? Put simply, the blind spot = emotion + thought. This parallels another math favorite of mine: desire = need/fear + thought. Given that need/fear are core elements of emotion (1), it is easy to see how the blind spot = desire as well.
All in all, emotion and thought are key factors standing in our way to understand anything. The stronger and more compelling the emotion, the wider and deeper the blindness becomes. How can one possibly see through this?
The emotional side of this is innate and so difficult to influence directly. Thought is our gateway out of this mess; ironically, the same gateway that got us into this predicament in the first place. Thought plus emotion is just a dangerous mixture. It’s no wonder four of Buddha’s eight steps deal with aspects of the mind.
Emotion ‘sees’ (feels) the trees. It can’t see the forest. Naturally, it is essential to be able to feel trees. It is just helpful, during emotional upheavals, to know that is ALL you are seeing, and to know in the back of your mind somewhere that you are missing the big picture forest. Simply put, Realizing I don’t know is superior, not knowing this realization is a defect. Realizing (and remembering) that your blind spot is messing with your head just helps.
Emotion is natural and real. Thinking, although natural in the biological sense, is not real in its own right. Rather, it is a projection of emotion. These thoughts in turn prop up emotion, pulling ones awareness into an often-vicious emotion-thought circle. Being forewarned and aware of this is not really any different from being aware that driving a car fast is inherently dangerous. Thus…
Assume It‘s False: Suspect Everything
Sounds paranoid, doesn’t it? Of course, if a paranoid person actually followed that advice they wouldn’t be paranoid. Assuming their ‘perception’ false, and suspecting their current and apparent view of ‘reality’, they would be incapable of being paranoid. This sounds nice on paper anyway.
Suspect everything could also sound conspiratorial. I find the conspiracy point of view very wide spread; perhaps it is ‘paranoid light’. Conspiracies seem to focus mostly on centers of power, i.e., government, corporations, police, religion, politics. It is as though ‘they’ know what they are doing enough to competently conspire.
So perhaps I should say, suspect everything and then suspect those suspicions. However, don’t stop there; suspect the suspicions of your original suspicion. You can’t help but become more circumspect, which increases your reaction time. While increasing reaction time is a disadvantage when driving a car, it is not generally speaking. Trading cognitive certainty for hesitancy is an essential aspect of a Taoist approach to living. Chapter 15 puts it nicely…
He alone cannot be known, hence his strength lies in allowing.
He prepares as if fording a river in winter; as if like in fear of neighbors;
Solemn that seems to allow; vanishing like ice that melts away;
Honest that is like simple; broad that is like a valley;
Blending that is like muddy water; tranquil that is like the sea.
Circular as if without end.
Who can be muddy as well as still to gently clarify.
Who can be calm as well as aroused to gently live.
Keeping to this way, he desires not to be full.
Therefore, only he who is not full can conceal and yet newly become.
Therefore, if you are able to put ‘it’ into words, simultaneously being able to assume ‘it’ is false will give you time to let ‘it’ prove itself. Such emptying the mind of certainty is your ticket to the child-like “newly become” mentioned in chapter 15, above.
Of course, the same tenet doesn’t apply to pure, felt emotion. When your eyes see the colors of a sunset, they truly experience the color. It is only when the mind engages and labels that experience “beautiful” would you be wise to assume it—the label—false. When your nose smells something repugnant, it truly experiences that odor. When the mind grabs at labels, suspect them all.
All this should be very easy to know, very easy to do, right? Okay, it is not that simple, but there is hope if you strive to see beyond what passes for common sense. Here are a couple of chapters that help me along the way:
(1) The instinctive sense of fear and need are core emotions. For some more background, see One who speaks does not know. In my view, need is ultimately driven by fear, at the subtlest level. It is easy to misunderstand fear if you see it merely as the symptoms (effects) it leaves in its wake. Loss through death, of the way ‘it’ uses helps give this context. Living things experience ‘fear’ as an emotional drive to avoid the ‘loss’ of anything, with death being the ultimate loss we ‘fear’. Need simply offsets the constant ‘threat’ of entropy—that ‘loss through death’ cornerstone of natural processes.