In our quest for happiness so much of our suffering could be avoided. Much comes from our desire for the world to make sense, to have answers. It’s an attitude that places our neediness and fears at the centre of existence.
In ancient Greece, there was an Airbnb owned by Procrustes, who had one bed made of iron. He stretched out to those guests who were too short for the bed, and for those who were too tall, he would cut off their legs. Every guest in his house fitted that bed perfectly.
Our need for understanding, to have a truth to grasp means we twist reality to fit our expectations, placing ourselves at the centre of the cosmos, this is Reification or Hypostatisation. We twist, bend, and stretch reality to fit our ideas, expectations and beliefs. We ignore counter-evidence and even invent ideas to get the other ideas to make sense and fit together.
Our beliefs make sense to us, so by twisting the world to fit into them, the world makes more sense. It’s our way of seeking some control over life. But the kicker; there’s no reason to think the world has to live up to our expectations. Further still, what happens when reality and our beliefs don’t match?
The world doesn’t have to make sense or live up to our expectations. To say that it does is to give into fear and insecurity. They become the driving forces of our logic and reason our grasping for meaning.
Think of it like this, ‘the world has to make sense because we can’t bear the possibility it doesn’t.‘ or ‘I can’t bear the possibility of X; therefore, it has to be Y.
- I can’t bear my partner not fulfilling my needs; therefore, they’re obligated to do so.
- I can’t bear even the idea there is no ultimate purpose to the cosmos, so there has to be.
- I can’t bear a messy world that doesn’t make sense, so it has to make sense.
Neediness is what drives this kind of thinking, and it leads to suffering, which I’ll explain below.
For example, we can obsess about learning and gaining knowledge; because we regard thinking/reason as a virtue, we try to squeeze our lives and society into what our cognitive thinking minds can make sense of.
To many of us, what matters is only that which can be examined, measured, catalogued and fitted into a system, a model, a theory, or a metaphor. The complex changing reality squeezed to fit inside our simple ideas.
We demand the world to make sense and blame the world or others when it doesn’t.
We have become obsessed with tidiness, efficiency and knowing things to deal with change and uncertainty we face. This over-reliance on reason, rationality, and ideas results in avoiding our feelings instead of dealing with them. Our unwillingness to accept life’s mystery and messiness drives our desperate need to know, measure, theorise and organise.
Instead of facing uncertainty and learning through taking risks, and making mistakes. Instead, we crave knowledge and read books.
In my journey, a big problem was my social anxiety. I had to keep reading books to find answers. I kept reading because I didn’t consider nor could I accept there was no answer to my doubts and suffering. I had to learn to let go and face uncertainty instead of running from it.
All this effort to find answers, organise, and reason is a gentrification of reality. Clearing away all the ugliness, illogic and uncertainty, to live in a artificial sense of paradise.
All this revolves around our insecure ego, our Self, which we place at the centre of the cosmos. If the world conflicts with our need for clarity, purpose, and meaning. The world has to be wrong because we must be in the right.
I use the word Self deliberately here to gesture towards Buddhism and where this is going.
Going back to; ‘I can’t bear the possibility of X; therefore, it has to be Y.’ When I looked at this, through what I know of Buddhism, I could see something I recognised.
- ‘I can’t bear’ is unsatisfactoriness, dissatisfaction or Dukkha, our suffering.
- ‘the possibility of X’ an Aversion towards what we don’t want, or Dveṣa.
- ‘it has to be Y’ is Desire, for something we do want, or Rāga.
- There is the ‘I’, or Delusion, Moha at the beginning, that is the Delusion of the enduring Self.
Moha, Dveṣa and Rāga are known as the Three Poisons in Theravada Buddhism, and are what lead to suffering.
So we have our neediness as the driver of suffering; the need to know, the need for order, the need for others to agree with us, the need for some grand purpose to the cosmos, the need for certainty, safety, clarity.
It’s the Buddha’s lesson, that arises a paradox. The same neediness for clarity, happiness and peace of mind we strive for creates the suffering we endure. Our desperate search and grasping for answers doesn’t lead to inner peace but inner turmoil.
One example of this paradox is the Self looks for Itself, in trying to understand ourselves, the thinking mind runs in circles.
As soon as you accept that life doesn’t have to make sense, that’s when it starts making sense.
The cosmos doesn’t have to make sense or be explainable. To say it does is more an expression of neediness and insecurity, not a statement of truth. We place a very great stock on things making sense. Yet it is that very desire that gets us into trouble.
Our insecurity leads us on this path as we try to make sense of the world and address our suffering.
But the belief in reason and knowledge gives us many of our problems we are facing. Life can’t be cleaned up, sanded down and to fit inside our neat little boxes, it’s always going to to be messy, contradictory and mysterious.