Words are the smoke; emotion is the fire. You can understand a volcano with words metaphorically, symbolically, abstractly, but you cannot know it through words. You can only know it emotionally, by essentially becoming it—a living breathing volcano.
Yet I Keep Using Words!
I know I’ve ridiculed belief plenty, pointing out its unreliability. Yet I keep speaking to what appear to be my beliefs. How hypocritical am I being? Is there a difference? The difference depends on how seriously one takes the view expressed in chapter 71, Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease… This helps counterbalance what to me seems an innate need of a thinking species to have a paradigm to call home.
A paradigm is the cognitive framework, built from words and names, which plays a large role in interpreting and remembering life experience. Resting on a deeper, non-rational emotional base, the thinking brain requires a paradigm to ‘breathe’. A paradigm is like the sky is for an animal with wings. We mentally roam around our paradigm like a bird soars in the sky. Our difficulty in this stems from the disease—We believe our beliefs are a reality ‘out there’ in their own right and trust their infallibility. It’s not the thinking; it’s the trusting (1).
Mapping our Journey
Thinking is like looking at a map and planning your journey. “I’ll go here; I’d like to go there’ I mustn’t travel here; I should go there”. Emotion is like the grungy step-by-step, moment-to-moment slog you work at making your way up life’s mountain side.
We feel a natural aversion to working our way up the mountain, and so we seek the easiest way. Our aversion to making an effort is an innate and subtle fear. We fear wasting energy unless we know it will be worth the cost. This is where civilization has disrupted balance. In the wild, we would viscerally know which energy expenditures were worth the cost. A core objective of civilization is improving our ability to get the most benefit from the least expenditure.
The Journey Begins Beneath Our Feet
Civilization’s success in meeting this core objective leaves us somewhat confused about life’s meaning and purpose. To fix this, we imagine scenarios that promise a more balanced life—letting go, kindness, and a hundred other virtuous things. Alas, it is only in the journey that it can happen. Not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. However, we fear “walking the walk” until we feel certain it will be worth our effort, and so wait for the ‘right moment’… typically, that is always ‘tomorrow’.
We cannot hope to face and overcome our fear of effort via “talking the talk” kind of thinking. Indeed, thought is a result of fear, or rather much of the content of thought is the reflection and expression of fear. It is quite a problem for us. In the end, balance and letting go are living things that only exist if and as we breathe life into them each moment. So, take a deep breath (2) and consider these ways that can help in “walking the walk”.
The intention here is to walk the walk, putting one foot in front of the other; stop whining and ‘just do it’. No matter how you plan it, the thousand mile journey begins below our feet. These are superb fields for setting yourself up to explore and cultivate Right Understanding, Right Mindfulness, Right Effort, Right Attentiveness, Right Concentration.
I’ve been doing yoga for over 50 years and over this time have found it to be much more significant than I can describe, although much less than some of the hyperbole about it I’ve come across. Take a look at the book, Hatha Yoga: The Essential Dynamics (and listen to Yoga breath).
I’ve been ‘blowing Zen’ for 40 years, and like yoga, have found it to be much more significant than I can honestly describe, although, again less that the hyperbole. Take a look at the book, Blowing Zen: Expanded Edition: One Breath One Mind, (and listen in to Zen breath). It is odd how reality is both more awesome than we can describe, but much less awesome than how it is described. I guess that is ironic.
Buddha’s Four Noble Truths
These permeate my subconscious continually, probably because I review them each morning during headstand.
The First Noble Truth is the existence of sorrow. Birth is sorrowful, growth is sorrowful, illness is sorrowful, and death is sorrowful. Sad it is to be joined with that which we do not like. Sadder still is the separation from that which we love, and painful is the craving for that which cannot be obtained.
The Second Noble Truth is the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is lust. The surrounding world affects sensation and begets a craving thirst, which that clamors for immediate satisfaction. The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things. The desire to live for the enjoyment of self entangles us in the net of sorrows. Pleasures are the bait and the result is pain.
The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of sorrow. He who conquers self will be free from lust. He no longer craves and the flame of desire finds no material to feed upon. Thus it will be extinguished.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path that leads to the cessation of suffering. There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent on what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty. He who is wise will enter this path and make an end to suffering. Eight steps on the Middle Path are:
1. Right Comprehension, 2. Right Resolution, 3. Right Speech, 4. Right Action, 5. Right Living, 6. Right Effort, 7. Right Thought, 8. Right State of Peaceful Mind,
And, if I have only one chapter to know, remember, and put into practice, it would have to be 71. Fortunately, I get to embrace all 81.
Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease.
Man alone faults this disease; this so as not to be ill.
The sacred person is not ill, taking his disease as illness.
Man alone has this disease; this is because to him there is no illness.
Words are insidious in how they allow us to think that we know. As I’ve pointed out many times, in my view, we only understand what we know. This is artfully spoken to in Chuang Tzu’s story of the Duke Huan and the wheelwright (See the bottom of the post I understand, but do I know? for this story).
When you reach the farthest point that words and linear thinking can take you, it is time to listen for “the sound of one hand clapping”. The best I can offer for the do-it-yourselfer is this tool of Taoist thought: Correlations: Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions The Correlations offer a way to confront the insidious word beast between your ears head on; although, you will need to be tenacious enough to push-on to the point of letting go. Also helpful may be these two posts, Grinding Out Correlations and Correlation’s ‘Prime Directive’, and even Couplets and the Co-generating Principle.
Then there are the posts that have correlation tags. There are about 20 of these in the Tag Archive for ‘correlations’. Something might be gleaned from them, although, after a point it must just get old. Only by doing correlations can you know correlations—naturally.
(1) Why this almost obsessive need to trust belief? From a Taoist point of view, it is an inevitable result of the empty space existing in the cognitive mind. It spawns the certainty that people express through their beliefs. It is simply that familiar “Hence existence and nothing give birth to one another” dynamic.
This hints at why “Our words are very easy to know, very easy to do. [yet] Under heaven none can know, none can do.” This flip-side, heads-tails, ‘vibration’ goes right back to before the Big Bang. We can never reach the end-beginning in a linear way because our logical ‘daily life’ brain is linear in nature. We have to go deeper into the non-linear, circular, and intuitive sense to catch a glimpse of this. To put it simply: It can’t be understood; it can only be felt, i.e., known in the deepest sense. Embracing impartiality touches its empty fullness, and in that, there is peace… of sorts. 😉
(2) I think it is not a coincidence that breathing is central to coping with pain. It helps with the pain of childbirth on one extreme, and the pain of insomnia on the other. Here again, fear plays a key role. We fear pain; pain and fear are inextricably linked! We fear the pain of work and effort, the pain of not getting enough sleep, the pain of hunger, and ordinary physical pain. Breathing into fear and pain helps get us out of our mind and into the journey, and improves out chances of facing fear and adapting to it. This at least serves to lessen the ‘mental’ side of fear and pain, making our striving on through life more effective.
A long-term, life-long practice that affords us an opportunity to know our breath helps significantly over time.