You know how people are always talking about how great it would be if someone came up with a cure for the common cold? Well, I want to suggest something even better: the cure for common confusion.
Confusion is the term I use to describe the root cause behind what most people call angst, sin, violence, suffering, garden variety meanness, all the different causes and effects of suffering. The vast majority of people are living an unconsciously confused life. We're so deeply and consistently confused that we don't have any idea that anyone is at all confused, least of all ourselves. So since most of us are not aware of this confused state, we continue to perpetuate it on and for ourselves and others, and thus we continue to perpetuate all the various resulting violences, both big and small.
By the way, I think it was Brad Warner, a terrific writer and Zen priest, who suggested the term "confusion" to me, so I want to thank and acknowledge him now. Thanks, Brad!
To start, how can you detect whether you're living in this confused state? This one's fairly easy. If you are resisting what is right in front of your face, you're confused. You can tell if you are in resistance a few different ways. For one, there's some kind of mental complaint. There's a sense of something being not right, whether you want something you don't have, or you have something you don't want, or you have something you want and you need it to stay longer than it's likely to stay, or you want something to stay away but you know deep down it'll be back. Secondly, your body tightens up somewhere, whether you're aware of it or not. There may be muscular tension, or digestive distress, or constricted breathing. One way or another, you're suffering physically and it's not from an external injury or illness. Finally, you are emotionally uncomfortable in some way. This could manifest as boredom, rage, annoyance, depression, frustration, fear, bitterness, disdain, etc. These are all symptoms of confusion. Notice that some degree of unnecessary discomfort is the common element. Confusion equals suffering, not meaning physical pain, which is something one way or another we'll all share in during our lifetimes. It's the extra we add onto the physical pain, or create fresh if there's no external source of physical discomfort.
Here's an example from my day: I brought my 8-year-old to Border's to pick up the next installment of her favorite pre-teen book series, Warriors. This is about fierce cats with clans and drama and battles and all that good stuff. Unfortunately for her, they did not have the book she needed in stock. This fact brought out a very loud and belligerent tirade from her in the middle of the store. So there we are. My choices are: A) fight this behavior, which is, I stipulate to, not optimal or preferred by me, or B) work with the facts of the moment. I was fortunate and found the ability to work with it, which consisted of stopping and drinking in the facts of an annoyed kid in a big store, and then following her outside to hang out for a minute while she vented her frustration and then listened to some options I came up with. And within about two minutes, she had worked her way around to a peaceful alternative, which involved going back into the store to explore whether there might be another book series she'd like to try. A common confusion reaction to the outraged 8-year-old might have been to grimace, roll eyes, march her out, or launch into the shame lecture, all the while asking what I had done to deserve such a moment. But like I said, I've looked at this confusion thing hard enough so that I was able to stay open to the facts.
I refer to this as common confusion, but common insanity would be another way to put it. Not the deep pathological kind of insanity that we all recognize requires medical intervention, but the kind all of us confused people suffer from. It's insanity to believe that this moment should be any other way than exactly how it is right now. If this itself sounds confusing to you, for just a moment, set aside the debate that instantly begins to form, about how you have to want things to be different in order to improve the world. Set that aside just for a bit, and think about whether it's possible to change exactly what is in front of you at this precise moment.
Is it possible that the following statement is ultimately and permanently true: It is what it is.
Did you agree that you can't change this precise moment? If not, you can choose whether to stop reading this and get on with your day, or consider whether you'd like to wake up from confusion and thus being in suffering so much of the time.
If you've continued to read, think about this. Of course it's possible to act to change things. One acts to bring about positive change, which results, of course, in a new moment. And perhaps as a result of your action, things turn out a little better. Wonderful! And what if things turned out not as you planned? Do you resist that outcome and suffer? Or would you rather see this new moment fully, perhaps even see something more wonderful or interesting than what you could have planned? Can you see the potential of this new moment, ready to see what actions you bring to the new world that is this moment?
Like standing for a moment in the middle of Borders with a kid railing loudly enough to warrant a compassionate smirk from a guy at least 25 feet away. I had a nice moment with that guy. Which likely helped me maintain my balance and access some compassion for the state of disappointment my kid was experiencing. I've felt that disappointed, and I know how much I've wanted to spit that feeling out in loud words. In fact, good for her for giving it voice, even with the talk we later eventually did get around to, about next time, how to express yourself with a little more mind to include the effect on the people around you.
What happens when you accept this moment just exactly as it is, whether it's what you planned for or not? Is there a sudden relaxation about what you've got to work with in this moment? Is there greater clarity about what is actually here right now? Is there a sense of adventure with each moment, unfolding into it's own new universe?
Why is this common confusion the cause of all the ill in the world? It's simple: whenever one of us is in resistance and suffering, we almost always act out of that state in non-beneficial ways. Sometimes we keep our suffering to ourselves, sometimes we take it out on the people around us, but one way or another it impacts the world harshly. Every time. And one harmful act almost invariably leads to more suffering and more harmful impacts. It's a super-tight system until you can bust out of it.
The way to bust out of it is to get clear about the present moment. Moment by moment. This is where meditation and yoga and t'ai chi and such come in. These are all ways of re-training ourselves to get better at staying with just the facts, ma'am. They're awareness practices, and they are the means to waking up from the confusion. Get started on one of these, now, and do it for waking up purposes. Don't worry about whether you're good at it or not. Just do it and start waking up from the confusion. You'll thank yourself, and the world will really appreciate it, too.
One last important point to mention: can you notice that this confusion business is an innocent system? It is what it is, and it is what you were brought up to live with as the normal situation. You never chose to buy into the confusion system. You have no idea you've bought into anything, in fact. All people who have not been invited to look clearly at this are equally blameless of buying in. This is an important point. You are not to blame for being in confusion. Neither is the terrorist across the globe to blame. There is no one to blame; there is no original cause of the long-standing confusion. If you can really feel that, you now have the freedom to stop blaming yourself and everyone else about everything that up to this point you have labeled "wrong" with this world. It doesn't mean there isn't a whole lot of stuff we can get better at. For Pete's sake, it's the thing that keeps us all jazzed about life, right, the getting better part, learning, serving? So keep your eye out and enjoy all the improving and learning, just stop issuing blame for how it is right now. When you stop blaming, you can see everything in a much more peaceful and friendly light. This frees up vast quantities of your energy and will give you a vastly better attitude to bring to your actions in the world.
Here's to the cure for common confusion!