We know humans are animals, biologically speaking. Yet do we really feel we are? In reality, there is a wide gap between our abstract knowledge and our visceral experience. Catching the flu for the ‘first time’ in my life may offer an example of how thought can separate us from fully feeling our animal-ness.
Assuming that I caught the flu for the ‘first time’ must be incorrect, but up until now, I never knew the difference between a cold and the flu. Sure, I’ve heard of flu shots and the risks for old people and kids catching the flu. However, whenever I came down with flu-ish symptoms I ‘knew’ I just had a cold.
My ‘first time’ with depression offers another example. Up until about 30 years ago, I’d never been depressed. I’d heard about people having depression; I just ‘knew’ I’d never experience it myself. After my intense six-month long day and night work on the correlations (Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations), I experienced depression for the ‘first time’ in my life. However, was that really the first time? Like never having caught the flu, never feeling depression until then was most improbable.
“Thick like the uncarved block”
I had felt bad at various times throughout my life up until these two ‘first time’ examples. I just never knew exactly what was wrong. A bad time would eventually revolve back to a good one until the next bad one came around again. Chapter 58 describes this natural ebb and flow poetically as, It is on disaster that good fortune perches; It is beneath good fortune that disaster crouches.
Of course, no animal, other than human, would label this ebb and flow experience as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Not attaching the more specific labels, flu and depression, to my earlier experiences was more animal-like. Chapter 15 hints at this simplicity… Thick like the uncarved block; Vacant like a valley; Murky like muddy water. Here, there is less for the mind to dwell upon and worry about.
These two experiences exemplify chapter 32, As soon as there are names, one ought to know that it is time to stop. Naming experience has unintended and undesirable consequences. Sure, there are useful reasons for naming experience, but there are costs that we don’t realize. Naming experience, ‘carves the block’, ‘occupies the valley’, and ‘clears the muddy water’. What’s more, to rephrase chapter 56, naming experience [releases] the openings; [opens] the doors; [hones] the sharpness; [tangles] the knots; [brightens] the glare.
We fear the emptiness and stillness that embracing the uncarved block evokes. Chapter 20 hints why… Between yea and nay, How much difference is there? Between good and evil, How great is the distance? We obviously feel the need to exaggerate experience and make more of less. Doing so supports our illusion of self and that ‘things’ truly exist and matter! Perhaps chapter 19’s, Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible, feels virtuous because it is the last thing we are viscerally driven to do. It promises balance to our reality, and so we imagine ourselves doing it ‘tomorrow’.
Clearly, we can’t feel peace of mind until we name our experiences. To be honest, that’s why I contemplate my observations. Writing about all this is just another way of naming. On the other hand, I’m always looking for that mysterious sameness in order to blur distinctions, and make less out of more. What I’m doing sounds a lot like chapter 36. To paraphrase: If you would have a thing [blurred], you must first [clarify] it. Indeed, isn’t this what we all do through life? Simply fill in the blank: If you would have ____ laid aside, you must first set it up.
To summarize, we humans obviously have a vital need to fill our mind’s space. After all, Nature abhors a vacuum. As a result, we name, think, and speak about our experience to fill that space. Okay, so far so good. The difficulties really arise when we seriously believe what we think! As chapter 71 cautions,