For most of my life I'd get pissed off if someone told me, You're an ignorant fool! But now I've begun to say that to myself. And it makes me feel good.
Today the words came to me before I began my habitual morning meditation.
I'd drunk my strong cup of coffee. I'd read from my eclectic mix of books, a bit of science, a bit of philosophy. I'd settled onto my cushion, preparing to open myself to insights into the Meaning of It All.
And the voice that speaks inside my head blurted out, You're an ignorant fool!
My reaction? "Yes, yes, yes. Say it like it is. I couldn't agree more. Talk truth to me."
I felt a delicious sense of weightlessness, of the pressure of being right lifting from my psyche.
I like to be correct. I like to win arguments. I like to sound like I know what I'm talking about. But when it comes to the big questions of life, I'm clueless.
I don't know whether God exists. I don't know if there's life after death. I don't know what's right or wrong. I don't know where the universe came from. I don't know if life has a meaning other than what we ascribe to it.
For the rest of my meditation time I sat immersed in a welcoming embrace of ignorant foolness. I didn't have any other revelations.
Can't say that I had any, really. Because understanding that I'm ignorant about the questions religion claims to have answers to is so blatantly obvious, it shouldn't count as a "revelation."
Yet maybe it does, since I often ignore the obvious. Such as the fact that I'm an ignorant fool. I get reminders, but they don't stick with me as much as they should.
For many years I've engaged in Sunday morning coffee house conversations about subjects both sacred and profane (the latter being a lot more interesting). Not infrequently debates would get hot and heated.
We'd be arguing this way and that, pretending that we knew what we were talking about. I remember times when a friend, who would go nameless if I didn't call him Steve, was asked what he thought about the contentious subject.
"I don't know," he'd say. "I've got no idea."
That was the most honest thing any of us had heard all morning. It'd bring the conversation to a momentary stop as everyone pondered this unusual take on whatever the hell it was we were dissecting and analyzing with such enthusiasm.
Then we'd ignore Steve and get back to it. Not-knowing often is the truest thing that can't be said, but it puts brakes on the illusory confidence that fuels passionate coffee house conversations. Or religious organizations.
On the positive side, the Fool occupies a high place in certain circles. Such as Tarot cards, where the Fool is the first major arcana card.
"He represents new beginnings as he starts his heroic quest for self knowledge. In his naive innocence, the FOOL is very creative for he does not yet know rules or limitations. He is the court jester, village idiot, clown, time traveler, speaker of truth, and prodigal son. Mythologist Joseph Campbell interpreted the FOOL as the hero with 1,000 faces. His number is 0, the empty vessel waiting to be filled. He is ruled by the planet Uranus, the planet of revolution and liberation."
OK. I know zilch about Tarot. But I'm up with fools, being one.
For those wanting to dive more into foolishness, John R. Boettiger's blog has a nice post: "The Holy Fool."
The holy fool, or the fool as wise soul, is a figure in many wisdom traditions, including notably those of the Sufis of Islam, Zen Buddhism, Christianity and the inheritors of the Hasidic movement of Judaism, as well as folklore that is not specifically religious, like some of the tales collected by the brothers Grimm.
… there is another sense of the holy fool, less a matter of conscious and intentional disguise, more a matter of guilelessness, transparency, embrace of wonder and mystery.
"The path of soul, writes Thomas Moore, "is also the path of the fool, the one without pretense of self-knowledge or individuation or certainly perfection. If on this path we have achieved anything, it is the absolute unknowing Cusanus and other mystics write about, or it is the 'negative capability' of John Keats--'being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'" (Care of the Soul, p. 261-262)
This is the most insightful piece you've written since a piece some time ago discussing 'uncertainty'. I'm biased of course, as I exist in a state of uncertainty. Having read spiritual books for 40 years (as well as done a few other things), I discovered along the way that there are no answers in books. There are no answers in coffee shop discussions. But its all good fun. They help nudge the individual to 'be' in a contented state of uncertainty.
Like this blog and its comments - mainly a bunch of boys and their opinions. To use a phrase of my wife's when the boys' discussions get lively - "There are a few ego erections in the room."
So here's to the joy of being in the rush where angels fear to tread.
Posted by: poohbear | February 07, 2008 at 03:25 PM
What you wrote rings true for me. I was considered a fool all along. Outsiders considered me a fool because I joined RSSB. Satsangis considered me a fool because I quit RSSB. Then, I considered that only fools are original and have the guts to tread in paths which the wise fear to tread. I would be a original fool than a second hand wise guy.
Posted by: Deepak Kamat | February 07, 2008 at 08:23 PM
"a bunch of boys and their opinions"?
"a few ego erections in the room"?
go hold those comments of yours up to a mirror and take a real good look. and don't forget to repeat your pet mantra "I exist in a state of uncertainty", every time you come to this blog. that ought to cure you of that rare strain of the dreaded egotism malady that you imagine in others.
-- doctor tAo
Posted by: tAo | February 07, 2008 at 08:23 PM
I got to Love you Bro.
O r i g i n a l.
Seriously. No damn foolin. *wink*
Posted by: tAo | February 07, 2008 at 08:31 PM
Thanks for the free diagnosis, but you might have mis-read my meaning. I was not suggesting that there was a rampant malady that needed curing - simply that individuality likes an opportunity for a trot around the paddock; Poohbears included. Just a bit of lightweight comment on a lightweight post by Brian, really. He only seems to take himself seriously some of the time thank goodness.
Posted by: poohbear | February 07, 2008 at 09:39 PM
What if the fool gets even slightly curious? Then he starts to ask questions. Then he starts to consider answers.... where else but in the coffee shop!
Posted by: Catherine | February 08, 2008 at 12:04 AM
Ego Erection. Any place for inserting the ego.
Posted by: Deepak Kamat | February 08, 2008 at 12:37 AM
You have missed an uncommon fool called,
I love your expression.
Posted by: Rakesh Bhasin | February 08, 2008 at 06:50 AM
Self-recognition of one's foolishness is the first step along the footpath to wisdom.
Posted by: Phil Hanson | February 08, 2008 at 12:58 PM
Posted by: Sita | February 08, 2008 at 02:27 PM
Bertrand Russell said, "I cannot refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don't like it" and I tend to agree with him.
Posted by: sara | February 08, 2008 at 03:50 PM