The only way I’ve found to escape life without unintended consequences is to give myself to life. This is an example of chapter 78’s Straight and honest words seem inside out, or as D.C. Lau put it, straightforward words seem paradoxical. I can essentially lose myself in the moment by utter devotion to that moment and the action or non-action therein. This approach to life is the one experienced by all not-thinking animals, i.e., Do without doing (wei wu wei). Be involved (responsibility) without being involved (responsibility) (shi wu shi).
Such primal devotion is the only healthy escape I know; I’ve found all the others, alcohol, drugs, sex, rock and roll, work, shopping, eating, etc., have adverse consequences. Especially problematic were those to which I devoted myself fully. Devoting myself to sensual pleasures always promises escape, but never truly delivers. Ironically, devoting myself to the moment makes escape easy. Of course, there are no sensual promises being made in the latter, which sheds light on chapter 70’s Our words are very easy to know, very easy to do. Under heaven none can know, none can do.
Given the choice, we usually choose the promise of pleasure. Rather, the promise of pleasure chooses for us. We are such pushovers. What is pleasurable about pleasure anyway? Is it a lack of stress, a sense of peace, or a sense of balance? Not really. It is more that pleasure promises these and more, yet turn out to be promises quickly broken (1).
Take drugs for example.
Alcohol (2) is the drug of choice the world over, where it’s allowed anyway. Why? Essentially, it gives one the easiest ways to experience the moment-to-moment, albeit through a fuzzy veil. Alcohol gives the mind a sense of ‘space’. We dearly love worry-free moments-to-moment stillness, silence, and simplicity, yet our urges pull us toward the opposites. Only the space that a moment-to-moment awareness brings is enough to reverse that rush forward into the future — an imaginary future into which our thoughts relentlessly lure us.
I imagine this is all the truer now that our technology enables a life style that can speed forward 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 up your daily vittles. Life and moment-to-moment went more hand-in-hand before technology allowed us to bypass nature’s discipline. Indeed, our ability to circumvent nature’s wild side began with the stone ax and has progressed exponentially ever since. No doubt, that is why chapter 80 advises us… Enable the people to again use the knotted rope.
Civilization, through ‘thought-full education’, presses down on spontaneous emotions and individual idiosyncrasies in order to smooth over social divisions. Essentially, we’re ‘strangers’ under the skin. Such social disconnection was an inevitable outcome of the now long-lost-intimacy of a hunter-gatherer tribal life style. Alcohol releases us (esp. those who need to escape from contrived conformity) by helping us tap into deeper emotional realms. Interestingly, Islam seems to compensate for this disconnection somewhat better than other religions. However, as always, there is a price to pay.
(1) Pleasure is a biological hoodwink to get us to live life through making ‘pleasurable’ choices. It works great in the wild because there are natural limits on the outcome. Much of civilization has been a clever stacking of the ‘pleasure deck’ in our favor. That is why religions view the desire for pleasure as a core problem. For example: 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 an animal would drink alcohol until it is fall down drunk, it won’t! They don’t have access. Interestingly, cows given unlimited access to highly 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 diseases to which it leads. Civilization offers great benefits for humans paid for by the unintended consequences of great global suffering for us and countless other animals.