The (straw) death grip of belief systems

Buddhism uses an analogy to describe what happens when we allow fixed beliefs to contour reality for us. Buddhists say that holding such views is like gazing at the sky through a straw. The sky is the unobstructed truth of who we are and what our lives are about. When a received belief system circumscribes that for us, it is as if we are looking at the truth through the narrow tube, seeing only a very small part of it while convinced we are seeing the whole. When we’re attached to our beliefs, we can spend a lot of time comparing straws: “I’ve got a better straw than you. It’s a little wider and it’s got a design on it.” Especially in the face of fear, we tend to hold on to our straws with a death grip.

–from Sharon Salzberg’s “Faith”

Within our current paradigm for understanding human evolution, it’s easy for us to make a claim that begins with “humans evolved to…” and then finish it with an answer that’s peremptorily justified by the qualifying set-up. We forget that our truth claim is framed by a truth claim in itself, not some immutable Truth. Saying “humans evolved to” begs questions that no one cares to ask (e.g. what are we agreeing it means to be human?), likely because the questions feel like semantic foreplay, a kind that leaves everyone sexually unsatisfied because we never get to the main event we’re trying to stimulate. You wouldn’t want to present an evolutionary argument to someone only to have them question the very nature of evolution itself. That postmodern asshole can’t even enjoy a latte unless it’s deconstructed into three glasses of (1) espresso, (2) foamed milk, and (3) the latte itself.*

In other words, we have to take a lot of things as given in order to communicate in any way that gains momentum and purpose. If we want to cut to the “real” heart of the matter, we wouldn’t ever bother with language (see: Saussure and his slippery signifying ilk); language is several steps removed from what Lacan fancied as “the Real.”** So why bother with anything if what we create together through language is just a Sisyphean game? Why not just be here, unmediated?

Because that’s a dumb fucking question. If it’s a game, then let’s play! Playing the game doesn’t mean you’re stuck or ignorant or that you don’t care. Playing the game means all you have is care; indeed, all you have to do is care. You can play the game faithfully, which for me is the same thing as saying lovingly. That is, you play the game wishing to understand, knowing that you never fully can, so then life becomes pure play. You hold onto your straw(s), but you know how to drop it/them in order to witness the ever-present sky, our unvarnished reality. This lets you hold your straws loosely, to give them up in a moment’s notice, when the sky begs surrender and you have the wisdom to let go.

In If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break, James Ishamel Ford offers this simple advice for how to live such a fulfilling life, one guided by love, honesty and compassion in service of our basic state of awareness: ONLY DON’T KNOW. Explore. Play. Wonder. And then…only don’t know. Only let go. Only love. Only being.


*This is a thing. I’m the postmodern asshole in this hypothetical, i.e. I actually went and had one. And I enjoyed it. So really, I’m an unqualified asshole.

**The (then) Wachowski brothers made the world outside the Matrix this pre/anti-conceptual things-as-they-are realm. Of course, we can only access an understanding of “it” through a purple-leathered clad sage. Unfortunately, nobody can be told what [insert anything you think you know, which is everything] is…you have to see it for yourself. The only problem with this, of course, is that sight itself is a filtered fool’s game. Observation isn’t without interpretation; there is nothing you notice that hasn’t been filtered and therefore fundamentally altered in some way. Generally, what you see is fit for you; it aligns with your worldview. Even vision participates in survival-of-the-fittest, although situated in the framework of what I’m trying (poorly) to clarify in this post, this is exactly what we would predict. If our operating assumption is that the world works according to Darwinian evolution, then of course the very vision we used to define things that way would follow suit. Or it’s the other way around. Because our vision does in fact work that way, we can only conclude the fundamental truth of survival-of-the-fittest. Good luck trying to solve this chicken-egg dilemma. If you want to get Buddhist on it, there is no chicken and no egg, and so there is no dilemma and no-thing to suffer. As the child monk says to Neo before he dodges bullets, “there is no spoon.” There is also no observer to say “there is no spoon.” There is no child, Neo, and there’s no Neo, Neo. Neat-o!



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