We are born with a bio-illusion — a bio-hoodwink(1) — that goes like this: Through hunting, “I” can gather fillers to satiate (fill) the hole. Primal emotions of need (e.g., desire, lust, want, wish, crave) and fear (e.g., insecurity, anxiety, doubt, apprehension) drive this illusion forward. This illusion originates in the survival instinct to find food to fill the ‘empty belly’. The illusion lies in the fact that the urge promises “I” will feel ‘eternally’ content once “I” fill the hole. As chapter 46 notes, There is no disaster greater than not being content. Alas, that promise is broken the moment the next need arises, which is often literally within moments..
Long-term Pleasure vs. Long-term Pain
“I” (the illusion of self, ego) jumps from one filler to the next, driven by the short-term need to fill the hole. The hole is eternal. It correlates (i.e., see Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations) to ‘nothing’, i.e., reality, the void, eternity, time, death, silence, loss, etc. The filler is transitory. It correlates to the current ‘something’, that we feel will bring happiness, i.e., objects of our fears, needs, desires, dreams, hopes, etc. The fillers are illusory in that the contentment they bring is extremely fleeting compared to their promise.
The quest to fill the hole is futile in the long-term. Accepting this paves the way to the alternative (2) suggested in chapter 16,
I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together, And I watch their return.
The teaming creatures, All return to their separate roots.
Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.
This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.
Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
Knowledge of the constant is known as discernment.
Certainly, this is easier said than done, yet unless said and re-said, accepted and re-accepted, the illusion will continue to dominate awareness.
Biology hoodwinks us and sends us off on one wild goose chase after another in search of short-term pleasure. As chapter 65 hints, Of old those who excelled in the pursuit of the way did not use it to enlighten the people but to hoodwink them… and the primal “of old” is Nature. Nature’s purpose is to keep all living creatures moving forward seeking what they need to survive. We start at ‘X’ and go around in circles feeling we are getting somewhere. In truth we are simply headed back toward where we began — as chapter 40 says, Turning back is how the way moves.
Nature hoodwinks living things into sensing that if they only go that extra step around that circle, they will win and find contentment. True contentment, when it comes, is death. Of course, Nature can’t allow living creatures to know this intuitively; otherwise, they might not take filling the holes seriously enough to survive! Only with closing in on death as we age, does this really ring true.
Nature’s balancing forces, abundant in the wild yet lacking in civilization, throw nature’s hoodwink out of balance. In addition, our large brain enables us to take life too seriously; we reach back into a remembered past and leap ahead into an imagined future, instead of dealing well with the present moment as all other creatures do. More than anything else, this accounts for our long-term pain.
Consequently, knowing about Nature’s hoodwinking ways may help us regain some balance. Knowing the rules of life’s game can help us play it more effectively. ‘Short-term pain; long-term pleasure’ succinctly expresses the approach often needed to regain balance. Yet, our biology drives us to the opposite — short-term pleasure; long-term pain. Of course, all we sense is the promise of the pleasure. The pain is a hidden and unintended consequence. Chapter 16 (above) outlines the ‘short-term pain; long-term pleasure‘ path. It doesn’t come naturally; we must prove through life experience that it leads us where we truly wish to be!
(1) I may have coined a new word here, at least as I use it.
(2) As always this is in the eye of the beholder, i.e., it is only true if you have found it so. The proof is in the pudding of your experience.