We Are Dissatisfied.
by Antonio Dias
We are dissatisfied. And then we expect the other, the world, to change to accommodate to our dissatisfaction.
Our dissatisfaction stems from our confusion. Our expectations compound our confusion. The sheer wrongness of this position holds us as if hypnotized, paralyzed, and unable to take in what the other, what the world, is showing us.
We value our confusion, or at least we prefer to hide it from ourselves – it is certainly clearly visible to others! – over finding our own way to clarity.
In our discomfort we press on with impatience and shut ourselves off from any avenue for change. Any avenue for true change which can only occur as we open ourselves to the world and put ourselves in a position of relation, awareness, accommodation to what is.
This came to me following an incident in which I watched a fellow push on into increasing frustration under the guise of helping another. It illuminated something I’ve found to be the source of so many wasted opportunities for connection, for mutually beneficial situations to grow out of a moment of disconnection.
One of the things that alienates me the most from everyday society, at least as it presents itself to me, is this sense that so many will seemingly do anything to keep from having to confront the need to change, to find an insight into where they have fallen into one of the many traps around us. The dynamic seems to be that an identification of the self with a pose is held to be more important than finding more effective ways to engage with others, with the world. In saying this I am aware that this applies to me as much as anyone. I know that it must. But here is where I feel the disconnect. I don’t believe that many of those I interact with share this doubt, or laudable uncertainty about themselves. This realization is alienating and dispiriting. I look for connections, for dialogue, to counter the effects of isolation, the first being this very inability we have to see our own blind-spots, our need to help each other out of the dead-ends these lead us to.
In studying the confusion I bring to communicating what I am about, what I…
I’m brought to a halt by the next word, “want.”
I’m finding a confluence between my reading of Krishnamurti and Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. The former is an influence familiar to anyone who’s followed this blog. Hyde’s work was recently recommended to me by Andrew Taggart.
Andrew recommended The Gift as a valuable investigation into the question of a gift economy. It goes into the history as well as the mythology, and the poetics of the gift.
In many ways I’m attuned to what Hyde is writing since it connects with my own instincts about the sources and conduits of value, whether artistic, practical, or philosophical. It offers a way for me to break through a stumbling block I’ve suffered from my entire life. It’s most simply defined as a sense that my “production,” whether artistic, practical, or philosophical has tended to pile up without an outlet while in return my needs have not been met by my own efforts.
This is a serious and profound discontinuity! It weighs on me as a sign of failure, an existential failure to thrive, one that is avoided by anyone who’s been able to support themselves consistently on the fruits of their efforts and seen their work rewarded in ways that show that they have benefited others. This lack has been my greatest dissatisfaction.
I’ve long had intuitions based on the lives of certain artists and writers who were never able to resolve this issue in their own lives. Vincent van Gogh’s Letters to Theo may be the best elucidation of what it can feel like year in, year out. I have discovered my circumstances are not simply the result of a personal fault, but that there is much more at stake. From my own experience, and from the clarity we see arising around us out of the extremism of the will-to-power striving to turn everything into a transaction and denying the value of any other form of relationship but adversarial plays at domination. I’ve realized this is a question we all face if we are to carve out a place for any other sort of value.
Hyde has given me corroboration that there is a broad question at stake. I’m also finding how his thesis relates to Krishnamurti’s work. Hyde points out that what gives a gift its power is that we relinquish control in its presence. When we are talking about the gifts of ability, of clarity and eloquence, we are in a realm where we increasingly discover that what we are capable of producing is directly related to our willingness to let go of control and allow some form of grace to express itself through us. When we talk about the gift in its social environment, as a way to form and maintain cohesion while seeing that needs of fundamental importance to individuals and their society are met through the functioning of gifts we again see that it is how gifts direct us to let go of any will to control them and reward us for opening ourselves to their grace that matters most. The key to their function and to their efficacy lies in this quality. We set our gifts out as if offerings set adrift on the sea. We accept gifts with an awe and sense of wonder that cannot be met by any simple arithmetic of quid pro quo. The gift teaches us, it maintains our focus on our being within mysteries that are beyond our direct knowledge and any possibility of our direct control.
This last bit, I’ve found to be a tremendous gift in and of itself! Call it a form of absolution. It shows us that the drive we have to strive, to dominate and control, our selves and others and the world, is misplaced and unnecessary. It continually puts before us the mystery we want to push away and replace with an illusion of causality that makes what happens somehow our responsibility, one we then attempt to meet by doing violence to ourselves and to the world. Here is the lesson in all the mythological stories warning us against hubris.
Krishnamurti counsels that we cannot eliminate dissatisfaction without ridding ourselves of conflict and that conflict is the direct and only possible outcome of creating divisions.
We cloud up when confronted with the clarity of this equation. I think this has to do with the reaction to our own confusion I began by describing above. Whether we want to follow this down a psychological trail ascribing it to Ego, or just see it as the inevitable result of our conditioning, any conditioning that programs us into following reflexive reaction over accepting direct engagement with being the inevitable conclusion is the same.
Krishnamurti, and much of the core of Buddhist practice as we’ve come to see it within Zen for example, is presenting the alternative to remaining trapped within conditioning, even within the conditioning of following his or their theories or suggested practices!
A seeker asks the master, “What should I do if I meet the Buddha along the road?”
The master answers, “Kill him.”
This story is told in many variations, the point is that we don’t arrive at Zen by worshiping any guide, no matter how revered, we must destroy their presence within us to make room for the results of their insights to manifest themselves in us. Krishnamurti spent a lot of effort dissuading his followers from forming a school or a cult around him and his teachings after he died for this very reason.
These show a direct kinship between the gift and escaping the traps of conditioning. We could say that quid pro quo is Latin for the programming that creates conditioning. Hyde and Krishnamurti both show us that setting up a scaffolding of intention is faulty. We chose a particular result as the right one. We set out upon a specific path to achieve it. We are to be rewarded with earnings due us as a result of our striving after that goal. We will know when we have reached our goal and we will then be at peace. Here is the language of our programming, the foundation of our conditioning, and the source of our discontent.
Again, we return to the dynamic laid out at the beginning. What do we do with our discontent, our dissatisfaction? Most likely we maintain our allegiance with our own confusion and redouble our efforts to push through to a desired end – even when, as in this case, this is precisely what has led us to discover our confusion’s source! Even when we are confronted with the mechanism behind all of our discontent, and it is questioning the basis of all of our striving after results and carving up of the world and ourselves into factions and divisions, we tend to refuse the conclusions staring us in the face and return to what we are used to.
Gift is self-correcting. Any hidden agenda we attempt to plant within a gift, or advantage we claim from it destroys its value.
This is not an arbitrary rule, some form of initiation trial established to maintain some willful authority over us. We often tend to see it that way if it presents itself. The phrase “Indian Giver” is a perfect example as Hyde points out. This is the attitude within the delusions of striving and quid pro quo reacting to the other found within another who deals with us from within a gift relationship.
I’ve long said that authoritarianism is easy to decode, frightfully simple! Just turn what they say on its head and discover the truth! So it is with the epithet, “Indian Giver.” It claims that the “savage,” unable, or in his laziness, unwilling to meet the demands of property with due respect is doing violence to order by giving and expecting that others will also do so freely. The Pilgrim Father making such a pronouncement is blind to the violence of property, the way it tears asunder the fabric of interconnection that makes up the world. To him this violence is sacrosanct and cannot be noticed let alone questioned. Instead he aims his scorn at those who are puzzled by his shameless acts of domination. His willful misunderstanding then ascribes his own motivation to the other. He accuses the “Indian” of bad faith! He insists that the other must have the same motivations he does, the endless striving after quid pro quo. He then abhors in the other his projection of his own fault.
The rules of the gift are not the ones that are arbitrary, willful, and damaging. Those are the rules underlying the system we live under, the system that is destroying us and the world. The rules of the gift are a reflection, a way of embodying and engaging with the mysteries of life. They show us a way to find and maintain practices that bring us to a release from dissatisfaction and the traps of our striving. In this way they maintain us in what Zen calls a right relation to what is.
This relation, something that may come upon us at any time, that may stay with us, or leave if we lose our way again and fall back into striving, is the ultimate gift. It gives us our lives, and gives us the way to be here in our life. How can any dissatisfaction be worth the loss of this gift?
Now, that is the question.