Today is my 67th year here on earth. The picture is a magazine’s back cover of me in my birthday suit at a lake in Arizona (1). From then until today, fate has been fortunate, for I should have died quite a few times by now. As to my health, wealth, and family, I couldn’t ask for more. Indeed, there are so many things to be happy for on this birthday and every day. Nevertheless, I’ll find a problem somewhere in that…
We easily notice and dwell on what is wrong. We look for problems. This tells me the cup’s half-empty gene is more dominant than the cup’s half-full gene. This is one of the more poignant, if not tragic, sides of life. To be sure, Mother Nature can’t abide any other way. We need to see the cup half-empty more than the reverse to keep busy at the job of survival. We are but servants of survival.
I suspect this job of survival is more trying because we fall into the cognitive trap of thinking that we know. As chapter 71 warns, 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. The Chinese character translated here as “difficulty” is literally 病 (bìng: ill; sick; disease; fault; defect). (photo: being told to smile?)
The cure for this disease is to know nothing as in chapter 10’s, When your discernment penetrates the four quarters, Are you capable of not knowing anything? I find that actually true; the more I know, the more I know that I don’t know. Eventually, I’ll end up knowing nothing. Perhaps this corresponds somewhat to the Japanese proverbial three monkeys (三猿) — “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. Yet, for me, not knowing anything suggests far more.
In my early years, I fled ignorance by pursuing knowledge. Knowledge was power. Indeed, I once set out to read an entire set of encyclopedias. I felt certain that the more I knew and the more I did, the better off I would be. How else could I keep the half-empty cup from draining away?
I’ve found the opposite to be truer through experience. Over confidence has always led to difficulty. In practical terms, I find it best to be cognitively wary, as chapter 15 hints, Tentative, as if fording a river in winter. That means keeping all judgments and knowledge provisional. Looking back, I feel my need for certainty, to know that I knew, was symptomatic of youthful insecurity… or more precisely a fear of the unknown, beginning with the unknown of my self. A long life helps fill that vacuum.
All this sheds light on chapter 56’s One who knows does not speak; one who speaks does not know. Knowing I don’t know is knowing something. Yet saying or writing that I don’t know implies I don’t even know that much. It is a bit confusing. No wonder chapter 23 says, To use words but rarely is to be natural. I think it is time for a Margarita.
(1) As my parents were photographers, my brother and I did a lot of modeling throughout childhood. The only difficulty I remember about those years was being told to “smile for the camera”. It always felt odd and forced. Years ago, I did zazen in Japan. Afterwards, they took a group picture, and not a soul smiled for it. Now that’s my kind of photo shoot! The photo on the next page is me at that lake again. Next to this photo is the commentary my mother wrote for the magazine’s back cover (i.e., the first photo at beginning of this post)
Let Your Child Go Native
Such moments are rare but when it is possible, let your child come close to nature.
Within a reasonable distance from most people’s homes there is a meadow, or a spot like this where, under supervision, children can open the pores of body and spirit to sun and air.
We can’t know just what it means to a child to feel that he’s on his own, even though you are nearby — and most of all, to feel that the world is his, and he is part of the world. He can’t know, but our common sense tells us it must be good.
Give your child his chance this summer if you can!
(See: The Further One Goes for background on this Times of Yore series of posts.)