Good enough is good enough, and naturally so. As chapter 46 notes, Therefore, in being contented with one’s lot, enough is usually enough indeed. Besides, isn’t this how nature operates… step by step? Surely, this is the sentiment expressed in chapter 64, A thousand mile journey begins below the feet. This is natural evolution.
Even so, I constantly see people pushing a ‘perfect’ ideal of how something ‘should’ or ‘could’ be. Clearly, I am not innocent in this either. Indeed, no one is immune from this ‘more is better’ instinctive drive.
Cleaving to ideals, and the beliefs that justify them, locks us into a cognitive status quo, suffocating what would otherwise be a natural life flow. Worst still, we are mostly unaware this is happening because cognition fixates on objectives… our goals ‘out there’. We all have this blind spot to some degree. (Google: John Cleese and the blind spot.)
When is good enough good enough?
The adage, “I don’t know where I’m going until I get there” plays a major role in creativity. When you come right down to it, isn’t this how nature works? In nature, ‘good enough is always good enough’. Evolution proceeds without expectations, agendas, hindsight or foresight. It is the path of failure, which leads to success, which leads to failure, which… you get the idea. Nature is ‘flawed’; in other words, as chapter 45 says, Great accomplishment seems incomplete.
Discontent with what feels incomplete, we prefer to follow paths that promise quick and total success, which means this destination easily overshadows the journey. Such rigidity is contrary to nature’s way. A more creative life arises out of relaxing our grip on our destination goal and seeing what happens. Naturally, this feels unsettling, yet such ‘irresponsibility’ often works out best as a life well lived in the end.
Damming Up the Flow
Life always ebbs and flows. Our fixation upon a destination dams up this flow. Eventually the dam breaks and life ‘overflows’ as we catapult ourselves into self-destructive directions to ‘catch up’. As chapter 16 puts it, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results. As I see it, this is a uniquely human all-or-nothing, black-or-white, rigid approach to life. Our yearning to know the constant is at least one reason we seek spirituality whereas other animals don’t. We have great difficulty finding the inner stillness to follow life’s ebb and flow. As chapter 3 hints, Doing without doing, following without exception rules. Our drive to accomplish our goals and push our ideals induces us to lead rather than follow life. As chapter 25 counsels,
Fear of Change, Need for Change
Plainly speaking, we’re unable to settle for a ‘good enough is good enough’ balance in anything that is important to us. It is clear that thinking causes this. Without human imagination we would be unable to rationalize those perfect scenarios where all our ‘ducks were in a row’. Imagined scenarios offer us false answers to the unknowable and give us a false sense of security and stability. This is illusory. As chapter 37 hints, Everything will self transform. Indeed, the only worldly constant is change. Yet we constantly attempt to draw the line, hold the fort, and stubbornly maintain our idealism’s status quo. Why? Fear of change; we retreat to the pseudo secure and stable world of our imagination.
Liberals, progressives and revolutionaries are truly no different from their ‘conservative’ counterparts. They all clamor for change away from ‘what is’. The irony is that the ‘perfect ideal’ they seek only delivers the illusion of a ‘better’ world. They are merely fighting to replace the current status quo with their ‘perfected’ status quo. For them, chapter 41’s, The way alone masters perfect forgiveness and accomplishment falls on deaf ears.
A Disease and A Cure
Ironically, the only way to deal with this uniquely, maladaptive human trait is via the mind. As chapter 71 reveals, Realizing I don’t know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. Thinking we know causes the disease. Utterly and continuously realizing that we don’t know offers a cure, of sorts… only a cure of sorts? Certainly! … ‘good enough is good enough’!
All ideals and ideology arise out of erroneous thinking. We regard the reality we imagine as being more credible than what ‘actually is’. We put more stock in the ideal than the real. Why? Our ideals at the very least promise to deliver what we desire. We hang on to hope. Indeed, the hanging on is the hope. No wonder it is so hard to let go!
Our imagined outcomes allow us to put all our eggs in one basket… our head basket. The more ‘intelligent’ we are, the more options we can dream up. Without a doubt, imagination is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain. However, we all know that too much of a good thing has unwanted consequences. That makes it all the more valuable to know when to stop! As chapter 32 says, Knowing to stop [we] can be without danger.
Realizing I don’t know is pretty much the first step in turning the corner on this disease. Of course, everyone realizes they don’t know particular facts privy only to experts. Realizing I don’t know, however, really means drilling into the process of thought itself, and the pseudo reality of the words that form our imaginations. Simply put, the castles of our imagination are comparable to castles built upon a cloud — a word cloud.
Nature’s “good enough” often feels lacking because we can always imagine something better. Ironically, as chapter 30 tells us, Those most adept have results, yet stop, not daring to seek better. Alas, the always-seeking better characteristic of ours has free reign, especially in religion and politics. (Note: Correlations is an effective tool for confronting one’s imagination, although few people have used it. Perhaps it doesn’t offer sufficient ‘hope’.)
The animal model can help set us straight.
All animals feel pain, interest, curiosity, loneliness, pleasure, hunger, anxiety, fear, need, and so on. The degree of each feeling depends upon the species, of course. Without question, animals are keenly aware, especially in the wild. They have no daydreams or cell phones to distract their awareness in the moment. Another clue here is that wild animals don’t get bored like we do. Why? The major difference between humans and other animals is thought. Our cognitive ability is a huge survival benefit, yet this also makes it possible for us to suffer from boredom and a meaningless life.
Naturally, feeling bored, per se, is not problematic. Boredom is the ‘mustard seed’ of survival, to borrow from the Christian Mustard Seed parable. However, it can be problematic in the vast emptiness of the human mind that hungers for fulfillment. We feed it with imagination, ideals, and soon we become lost in our diet of make-believe reality. In fact, feeling content, i.e., ‘good enough is good enough’, soon induces boredom, followed by a restless urge to act. Clearly, we have an innate need to pursue an ‘important’ goal. Without that, life feels somewhat meaningless. Interestingly, I can’t help but see this as an emergent property of the fundamental hunt and gather instinct that drives life to live. The only difference here is how this plays out in our mental life.
Something to Hold, A Goal to Reach
I covered this deep need for something earlier in Buddha’s Work. Inklings of the ‘spiritual path’ enter awareness when life begins to feel less meaningful. Where it goes from there depends upon what we ‘truly want’ out of life. Alas, our short-term desires easily sabotage our long-term ‘true want’ (1).
Now, if you have read this far, you obviously ‘truly want’ more out of life than fleeting pleasures of the moment. An important thing to ponder is, “If not now, when?” … that is my latest motto. The Fourth Noble Truth points the way, particularly when it says …There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent on what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty… Frankly, this call to do what we ought to do parallels the survival imperative of animals in the wild. Ironically, Buddha’s fourth truth is directing us back to our original ancestral self.
The Eight steps on the Middle Path tell me the tools I need to use: Right Comprehension, Right Resolution, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right State of Peaceful Mind. The most important ones (in bold) for me are those that address the mind directly. Thinking gets me into knots, yet only by thinking can I untangle these knots. Ironically, constantly realizing I don’t know is only possible through thought, at least initially until I intuitively know it through experience. Still, I must always be vigilant… as keenly aware as a wild animal.
The more self-honest I am, the more the light of self-honesty shines on my feeling and thinking. When you think about it, the weak link in this chain of events is self-honesty. Self-honesty must live on the border between thought and emotion—it is much more subtle than the words indicate. Such mystery, and yet how tedious it all sounds when put in writing. Still, it is “good enough”, right? Now, time to go pick weeds.
(1) Think of ‘true wants’ as that which is most natural for your particular nature. This ‘Dharma’ would be what our original self would express if not sidetracked by the pressing desire to be ‘otherwise’. We can only be who we are, yet we can spend a lifetime yearning to be someone else.