Good Ideas And Bad Destinations
On page 87 of Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins introduces the concept that good ideas are more dangerous than objects. That a good idea is taken by those who disciple it, and it is turned into dogma. That in this way, inspiration creates convictions and becomes deadly serious (and he emphasises that the word ‘deadly’ is literally accurate). Robbins then goes on to examine the process further: that by applying the human failing of Tunnel Vision, a good idea becomes squeezed and manipulated into a fine point of intent which is often quite removed from the original intention. This argument seems very sound.
Moreover, once that ‘truth’ is found, another danger, Group Think (coined in 1972 by Irving Janis), often swings into play to keep it secure. Group Think is a process whereby members of a collective with a single identity (be it a religious organisation, a government cabinet, or corporate board of directors) are so loathed to be the ‘one who does not conform’ that re-examination and use of common sense are made nigh on impossible. Group Think can be found anywhere, from social services meetings to police investigations, and some appalling events have been the result of it: most famously the Bay of Pigs invasion.
A Need for Purpose
Taking both together however - Tunnel Vision and Group Think - it seems to suggest that it is not so much the good idea that causes the danger, but our human need to make meaning out of it. Indeed, we seem incapable of living a single day without an aim, a destination, a goal, a plan – in fact a veritable self-penned instruction manual of self-worth obsessed, egocentric mania. Well, maybe that is overstating it a bit, but certainly we are obsessed with destination and purpose. To illustrate, here is an old Hindu story:
In this story, Maya (illusion), is personified as a demon. Together with many lessor demons, Maya is watching a man performing a walking meditation. They study the man as, with peace and tranquillity, he treads lightly and gently upon the path to enlightenment. Suddenly the man stops and bends to pick something from the ground.
“What is it, Master?” the demons ask.
“A piece of truth,” Maya replies. “He has found a piece of truth.”
“Oh no!” wail the demons. “We will never get him now.”
“On the contrary,” replies Maya, smiling. “Now he is most certainly ours. For shortly, he will make a belief out of it!”
How curious it is that we have this marvellous apparatus for making meaning, and so much evidence that doing so is dangerous. Where on earth(?) did that practise come from? Clearly, the wisdom of learnt experience says ideas should not be fixed down.
The answer though, may come some ten pages later in Still Life… . On page 97 Robbins talks (well, the Woodpecker does) about how there must always be an equality of good and bad luck in the world; the same also with good and evil. This is the philosophy of Duality: the notion that Creation is constructed from balanced opposites. Not just good and bad, but up and down, black and white, happy and sad, and so on. It is a complete argument: if only because we cannot give anything description and definition without at the very least alluding to its opposite.
What makes this curious is what happens when we apply the concept of unavoidable duality to ‘truth’. For although we know that Life allows for such things as lies and falsehoods, it is very curious to consider that perhaps it could not be without them: that Life has to contain that which is untrue. If this is so, that truth MUST be balanced with untruth, then it suggests there can be no single ultimate truth, and our human obsession for the good-idea-made-manifest and an ultimate destination-of-meaning are innately doomed. (It would be interesting to know what Robbins thinks of that, but he probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.)
The Road to Nowhere
Whatever the ‘truth’ of the matter, it does suggest that the path, our path, is not meant to end in a certainty. We are not meant to work ‘it’ out, and that the Buddha on the path is not a roadside attraction to be found. Perhaps, after all, we are only capable of movement, of fluidity. Indeed, healing (especially by such ways as Tai Chi, Shiatsu and Acupuncture) is said to come from moving energy blocks in the body, rather than getting rid of them. It could be a hint. Maybe our real journey is, actually, to accept that we can never get to the true meaning of a good idea - just as we can never get to the end of the mystery of life.
And just maybe, that is because the ‘mystery’ is constantly moving too.
Tina Lane is a freelance writer from England who has written self help guides covering everything from a guide on how to maximise savings with a cash isa to finding happiness through meditation.