Recovering alcoholics continue to say, “I’m an alcoholic”, even as they stay on the straight and narrow moment-to-moment, day to day, year to year. Likewise, I’m a thinker, recovering from certainty in thought moment-to-moment, day-to-day, year-to-year. Really! I’ve sobered up a lot. You should have seen me before.
Of course, just like alcohol, certainty is not bad by itself. It is all about the circumstances and magnitude. Intuitive certainty that induces me to jump out of the way of an oncoming bus or avoid food that smells ‘off’, benefits me without fail. Certainty’s affect on thought is where things go awry. Any possibility of chapter 16’s One’s action will lead to impartiality flies out the window once the emotion of certainty begins to back up thought. At that point, the emotion overtakes and blindsides perception — difficulties multiply.
I’m a little surprised that this process isn’t more widely recognized since humanity has been aware of this for ages. The clearest example is probably represented by chapter 71, 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. Buddha’s also speaks to this. Much of his Noble Truths and Eight Fold Path addresses the role the mind plays in our lives.
My own naiveté surprises me even more. There is simply no way that we can impartially evaluate anything that offers us pleasure. Pleasure is the bait, as Buddha said, and it creates a blind spot around the source of that pleasure. Can merely understanding that we intoxicate ourselves with thought help anyone sober up? I would guess not.
Just like the other ways we have to ‘drink’ ourselves silly — shopping, eating, drugs, social media, and so on — understanding is seldom sufficient. We must viscerally know, and such depth of knowing only comes through personally reaching rock bottom. Isn’t this a process, like chapter 36 points out, if you would have a thing laid aside, you must first set it up? Only when a thing is fully set up are we ready to lay it aside (1). Why should an addiction to certainty-of-belief be any different?
Alas, our addiction to certainty-of-belief is somewhat different and more challenging. There are obvious physical consequences to all other addictions: a glutton’s obesity, a shopper’s debt, a smoker’s cough, or a drunkard’s hangovers. Not so with thought, other than the neurotic impulses from which we suffer. In addition, even if we recognized our addiction to certainty-of-belief, what are we to do? Other sources of additions are external and can at least be kept out of reach, if not eliminated. Thinking lies at the core of awareness, even in sleep via our dreams. That explains the popularity of psychopharmacology. Well, at least that is an improvement over getting a lobotomy.
If your certainty-of-belief exhausts you, try out the correlations process as a sort of do-it-yourself virtual lobotomy. It may help detoxify your mind from the weight of its preconceptions as it did for me. Also effective, needless to say, can be delving the depths of the Tao Te Ching and the age-old ‘yogic’ practices. I mean yoga in the broadest sense: meditation, pranayama, bhakti yoga, hatha yoga, Buddhism, and so on. Come to think of it, any spiritual practice would help.
(1) That may not be altogether true. The power of an addiction is symptomatic of the degree of disconnection we feel. The more secure our sense of social connection, the less sway any addiction has upon us. Improvements in our sense of connection should take some of the steam out of the ‘set it up in order to lay it aside’ process.
Thought — language, words and names — has left us with a unique sense of disconnection compared to other animals. That is the price we pay for the powerful advantages that thinking and imagination affords us. I find it ironic that we attempt to reconnect via thought, i.e., any belief that promises reconnection with God, the One, or whatever we name ‘it’. I never found that actually worked. It is like building a castle of belief on the shifting sands of mysterious sameness – #56, if as chapter 25 describes, There is a thing confusedly formed, Born before heaven and earth. Silent and void.
On the other hand, maybe that’s just me. After all, belief is really a symptom of deeper realities, not a solution. A loosening of certainty in belief just reflects changing realities and a declining need to hold on to any particular belief. Goodness, I suppose my thoughts on belief are shifting. Shifting sands indeed!