Consciousness & happiness

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What am I pretending not to know?

Seems to me the US is going to hell in a hand basket, and much of the world with it. Yet to many of us, it’s so obvious what’s wrong: acquisitiveness and materialism, lack of critical thinking, environmental negligence, ignorance of other cultures and values. In Dark Ages America, Maurice Berman compares our fate with that of the Roman Empire, nibbled away from the inside with delusions of grandeur. He lists four characteristics of our common fate, that of Rome and Washington:

1. The triumph of religion over reason
“A writ of infallibility…guides the inner life of the White House.” (Ron Suskind). And not just the White House--59% of Americans belief in the literal truth of the apocalypse in the Book of Revelations

2. The breakdown of education and critical thinking
11% of young adults can’t find the U.S. on a world map…12% of Americans have passports.

3. Legalization of torture
Alberto Gonzales, the same man who wrote the legal briefs justifying torture, now heads the Justice Department. (George Orwell would have understood!)

4. Marginalization of the U.S. on the world stage
For instance, the World Health Organization rates the health care system of U.S. 37th in the world; meanwhile, our annual trade deficit is half a trillion dollars (offset by foreign loans to the tune of $4 billion a day in 2003)

I suspect readers of my modest blog don’t need to be told any of this. So what’s meditation got to do with any of it?

There is, as I see it, only way to move beyond simplistic, polarized and lock-step thinking: to stop. That is, to literally stop and notice what’s going on. Most of us have all the information we need to figure out that there’s something totally weird going on. We know (don’t we?) that forming our opinions solely from Fox News and right-wing talk radio is the opposite of critical thinking...we know (don’t we?) that our own culture is one of many, and that the fact about 16% of U.S. citizens have passports may make us a tad chauvinistic...we know (don’t we?) that 9/11 wasn’t just the evil guys attacking the good guys...we know (don’t we?) that Iraq is about oil and U.S. hegemony?

The information is out there, and most of us have at least some sense that not questioning authority is going over the cliff with the rest of the trusting herd. Well, maybe we do, but sometimes it takes courage and honesty to allow our skepticism to surface. And more: it takes stopping and allowing dissenting thoughts, awkward thoughts, to percolate from our unconscious.

Many years ago I partook in a training where a banner above the door of the training room “grew” day by day. The question on the banner was, “What are you pretending not to know?”

Answer, then and now: so much. But at the deepest level, the answer is always the same: I’m pretending not to know how deluded I may be...I go through life pretending I'm right.

Is meditation--the act of stopping and noticing what’s going on--the antidote to delusion? It sure helps! I'm not saying that G. W. Bush is going to sit quietly staring at a wall for half an hour and realize that maybe he God isn't on his side. But for those of us whose minds may not be quite so set in concrete, the simple act of stopping and noticing can be a major step to acknowledging that something, indeed, is wrong.

And best of all, sometimes comes the greatest and most important awareness of all: I may be deluded.

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