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 plays out… step by step? Surely, this is the sentiment expressed in chapter 64, A thousand mile journey begins below the feet. This is how reality works… at least on the macro level.
Even so, I constantly see people pushing their ideal of how something should or could be. Clearly, I am guilty of this. Indeed, no one is immune from this more-is-better innate drive.
Our ideals, and the beliefs that justify them, lock 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 thought fixates on our goals ‘out there’. We all have this blind spot to a 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. Moreover, doesn’t this describe natural evolution? 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”… as chapter 45 says, Great accomplishment seems incomplete.
Anxious about what feels incomplete, we follow paths that promise certain success, which means the destination easily overshadows the journey. Such rigidity is contrary to nature’s way. A more creative life occurs when we relax our focus on goals and see what happens. Naturally, this feels unsettling, yet such “irresponsibility” often turns out to be a life well lived.
Damming Up the Flow
Life constantly ebbs and flows. Our fixation upon a destination dams up this flow. Eventually the dam breaks, which catapults us into stressful directions to cope. As chapter 16 describes this, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results. 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 why we’re the only animal that values spirituality. 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, 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 wherein everything works out to our satisfaction. Imagined scenarios offer us false answers to the unknowable and give us a false sense of security and stability. 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. Each side fears the natural flow of reality and the eventual loss of something they cherish. The irony here is that any ideal they seek only delivers the illusion of a better world. They desperately struggle to replace the current status quo with what will be just another status quo. For them, chapter 41’s, The way alone masters perfect forgiveness and accomplishment is meaningless.
A Disease and A Cure
Ironically, the only way to deal with this 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. Continuously realizing that we don’t know offers a cure, of sorts… only a cure of sorts? Certainly! … “Good enough is good enough”!
All human ideals arise out of self-interest perception. We regard the reality we imagine as being more credible than the reality of our experience… of what actually is. We put more stock in the ideal than the real. Why? At the very least, our ideals promise to deliver what we desire. This hope to achieve our desire is the source of prayer. We pray that our hopes become reality. Little wonder it is hard to let go!
Hope and imagination allow us to put all our eggs in our one ‘head basket’. The more intelligent we are, the more options we can dream up. Certainly, imagination is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain. However, we all know that maxim; too much of a good thing easily becomes harmful. That makes it even more important 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 that are only privy to experts. Realizing I don’t know, however, really means delving into the process of thought itself and the simulated reality of the words that form our imaginations. Simply put, the castles of our imagination are akin 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. Regrettably, the always-seeking better human characteristic has free reign, especially in religion and politics. (Note: Correlations (p.565) is an effective tool for challenging one’s imagination. It is a bias busting tool, which should feel uncomfortable… if done correctly.)
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 them. 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, which is essentially a life void of meaning… at least for the moment.
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 stimulation and 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. Obviously, 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 (p.121) of the fundamental hunt and gather instinct that drives life to live. Our problem now is frequently having no meaningful outlet for this natural urge, and so it plays itself out in our mental life.
Something to Hold, A Goal to Reach
I covered this deep need for something earlier in Buddha’s Work (p.341). 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 motto! The Fourth Noble Truth points the way, particularly the beginning …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. It appears that this truth is directing us back to our original ancestral self.
The Eight steps on the Middle Path show me the steps I need to take: 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 (p.254). Still, I must always be vigilant… as keenly aware as any 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?
(1) Think of true wants as that which matches your particular nature. This Dharma would be what our original self would express if not sidetracked by the pressing desires and expectations to be otherwise, spending a lifetime yearning to be someone else.