Digging down into the bottomless mystery—the why of it—feels a quixotic quest at times. Then I add quixotic insult to injury by posting my observations on the web. I know these are palatable to only a few people and they already know intuitively what I’m saying, more likely than not. What is the point? Ah, but of course that question invites more digging.
Essentially, it is rewarding to see things as they actually are—the truth—or as close to it as possible.
Searching out the why of it promises a glimpse of nature’s secrets occasionally. That is where the joy of science lies. Deeper down however, from a symptoms point of view, I’d say all our answers reflect more about ourselves than about anything ‘out there’. We begin by looking ‘out there’ and end up looking ‘in here’.
Coming home to instinct
The 60 Minutes’ video, The Baby Lab, offers some clues as to what’s ‘in here’. It is another step toward alleviating ourselves from ignorance—the myths, misinformation, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations that we have dragged around throughout history.
‘How’ vs. ‘Why’
Wondering what, when, why, who, or how are the ways we peer into life’s mystery. Of these, ‘why’ and ‘how’ are the most cognitively intense, and as such, the most uniquely human. Of these two, I see why as being the ‘innermost’. Somehow, how is always tethered to why. How is more active, practical, and closely tied to ‘just do it—here’s how’. Adults know how to deal with children’s how questions much easier than their endless why questions. Why asks, why do it? All my life I’ve noticed wide spread resistance to questioning why. Religion, politics, and other cultural institutions all emphasize how we should do life a certain way, not why. Cultural institutions, whether mainstream or cultist, have a very low tolerance for why. Why? (photo; what?, why?, how?)
‘Why’ easily sows the seeds of rebellion, heresy and anarchy. ‘Why’ endangers the hierarchical social structure and threatens authority (1) at every level. ‘Why’ challenges the status quo; ‘how’ helps sustain a status quo. ‘How’ is mechanical, easy, habitual, routine—it shelters us from the void and the fear that emptiness engenders. We educate people to know ‘how’, not ‘why’. We feel ‘why’ would just opens a can of worms, i.e., more questions. Despite any lip service to the contrary, educational infrastructure is almost by definition set up to discourage seeking out the why of it.
Wondering ‘why’ is the essence of childhood, not adulthood—adulthood clamors more for ‘how to’. ‘Why’ is also the essence of science—pure science anyway. Life in the realm of ‘why’ constantly evolves and adapts to changing facts on the ground. Keeping as closely connected to ‘why’ as possible helps me to practice what I preach. I have known ‘how’ for many decades, it is only through a constant attentiveness (2) to ‘why’ that I am able to walk the walk to any meaningful degree.
Devote effort to emptiness, sincerely watch stillness.
Everything ‘out there’ rises up together, and I watch again.
Everything ‘out there’, one and all, return again to their root cause.
Returning to the root cause is called stillness,
…..this means answering to one’s destiny;
Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant,
…..knowing the constant is called honest.
Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial,
Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural,
Natural therefore the way.
The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself.
(1) Note: I am not referring to any specific “authority” out there. It is not ‘they’; it is ‘us’. This dynamic applies to every human that has ever lived; it is social instinct. It plays out in varying degree for each of us depending on our personal genetic makeup and on the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
In the wild, none of this would pose a problem; it is natural, or at least an emergent property of what is natural for any social species. It is problematic for us because our clever innovative minds tend to favor the ‘how’ side of inquiry; that is where survival advantages lie (increases comfort and security). This results in an out-of-balance situation, which we ironically attempt to correct with more ‘how’, never really facing the ‘why’.
Of course, that is not the whole story; many may begin asking why as they age. But the process begins late and they die off before having much influence on culture. A youthful culture will always be more interested in ‘how’ to do it, than ‘why’ to do it. Over all, age and experience are prerequisites for any serious inquiry into ‘why’.
(2) Constant attentiveness feels to me like Buddha’s Right Comprehension, Right Resolution, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right State of Peaceful Mind.