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…
We easily notice and dwell on what is wrong. We look for problems. This tells me that our innate cup’s half-empty sense of life overpowers our cup’s half-full sense. This is one of the more poignant, sad, 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).
The cure for this disease is to knowing 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 not knowing anything. 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 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. Cognitive certainty has often led to difficulty. In practical terms, it’s best to be cognitively wary, as chapter 15 says, 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.
Consider 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 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., photo on page 80). Mom clearly raised me to be independent.
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.)
Carl Abbott says
It is good hear you commenting. It breaks up the usual silence in
centertao's dao tubes. It is interesting how people join the Facebook group,
though never say anything. I am a bewildered by Facebook and that Twitter,
although that's not surprising. And now we're in Disqus, whatever that is.
Lynn C. says
As I was reading that, my eyes skimmed ahead and I thought I was going to read that asking you to smile for the camera was like asking a goat to. I think that's how it was for me. No rebelliousness in me. I just didn't see any reason to smile.
Does Kyle take after you?
Carl Abbott says
Hi Lynn, You said, “I never smiled as a child either. I also didn't speak very well; my own Mom couldn't understand me.” Maybe that is why you can understand me so well? I didn't start speaking until after age 3, they tell me. I don't know about smiling as a child, though. It was just being asked to smile for the camera that got my goat.
Lynn C. says
I never smiled as a child either. I also didn't speak very well; my own Mom couldn't understand me. I can remember even then having a very rich inner life and I watching everything around me like it was televised.