The only way I’ve found to escape life without unintended consequences is to give myself to life. It is a bit ironic… as chapter 78 says, Straight and honest words seem inside out, or as D.C. Lau put it, straightforward words seem paradoxical. At times, I can lose myself in the flowing moment by utter devotion to the action or non-action in ‘that’ moment. This approach to life is the one experienced by all nonthinking animals. They can easily do without doing, (wei wu wei), be involved (responsibility) without being involved (responsibility). (shi wu shi), as chapter 63 put it. For us this is not so easy.
Such primal devotion is the only healthy escape I know. I have found that “giving” myself to other escapes, (e.g., alcohol, drugs, sex, rock and roll, work, shopping, eating, etc.) has adverse consequences, especially when I devote myself fully to one. Devotion to the moment’s flow prevents these or any other activity from becoming an escape.
The pursuit of sensual pleasures always promises escape, but never truly delivers. Ironically, devoting myself to the moment makes escape easy. This is because there is no promise made in the latter. Chapter 70 hints at this unusual, paradoxical practice, Our words are very easy to know, very easy to do. Under heaven none can know, none can do. In other words, the eternal moment is beyond knowing and doing.
Naturally, we instinctively choose pleasure. Rather, the promise of pleasure—the bio-hoodwink—chooses for us. But really, what is pleasurable about pleasure anyway? Is it a lack of stress, a sense of peace or balance? No! In reality, pleasure promises these and more, yet it all turns out to be promises quickly broken (1).
Humanity’s Drug of Choice
Why is alcohol (2) the drug of choice the world over? In life’s toil, we seek refuge in a worry-free moment-to-moment space, still and simple, yet our urges and circumstances pull us toward the opposite. Alcohol gives the mind a temporary thought-freer sense of space. Essentially, alcohol gives us an easy way to experience the flowing moment, albeit through a very fuzzy veil.
In addition, civilization’s framework and narrative restrains our natural sense of space. In effect, cultural education and tradition serve to inhibit and conceal as much of the mass population’s individual idiosyncrasies as possible. Essentially, we’re strangers under the skin and require a common narrative to help us feel connected. Civilization’s underlying social disconnection was an inevitable outcome of the now long-lost intimacy of our ancestral hunter-gatherer way of life. Alcohol temporarily releases us from civilization’s story and contrived conformity, which allows our idiosyncrasies to express themselves more freely.
These issues underlying substance abuse are more acute now that our technology enables a less connected life style rushing ahead at full tilt. It was different when the only way to get somewhere else was to walk there; the only way to communicate with others was to be with them; the only way to eat was to hunt-and-gather your food. Daily life and flowing moment went more hand-in-hand before technology allowed us to circumvent nature’s discipline… see Buddha’s Four Truths: Poking a Little Deeper, p.618. Indeed, our ability to avoid nature’s wild side began with the stone ax and has progressed exponentially ever since. No doubt, that is why chapter 80 advises; Enable the people to again use the knotted rope.
The alternative to drugs is flowing moment awareness. For humans, this intuitive approach requires deep self-awareness of awareness—meditation. In truth, only the ‘fuzzy space’ that devotion to the flowing moment offers is able to slow our mind’s rush into the imaginary future our thoughts relentlessly lure us.
(1) Pleasurable choices are biological hoodwinks to drive animals to live life. It works great in the wild because there are natural limits on the outcome. Civilization aims at stacking the ‘pleasure deck’ in our favor. No wonder religions deem the desire for pleasure to be problematic. Here are a few examples: Genesis 4:7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”; Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truths, “let your sole desire be the performance of your duty”; chapter 15’s, Maintain this way, not desiring to be full, and chapter 64’s, Taking this, the wise person desires non desire.
(2) Even if animals wanted to drink alcohol until they were drunk, they couldn’t. They don’t have access. Interestingly, cows given unlimited access to concentrated nutritious food will eat themselves to death. In the wild, they don’t have access. We are similar, as we can see by the epidemic of obesity and the ensuing diseases. Civilization offers great benefits for humans paid for by the unintended consequences of great global suffering for us and countless other animals. Indeed, harm always goes hand in hand with benefit.