It’s impossible to comprehend anything without some distortion of actuality. Because in order to understand anything, I have to ignore and lose my comprehension of something else.
Try to avoid this, try to understand anything perfectly, and all you’ll do, dear imaginary reader, is distort your awareness by this great ambition, obtaining some glimmer of clarity at the expense of a singled-minded focus that causes pain in direct proportion to the pleasure it produced. That’s why Beckett said, “The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.”
So I can’t fall headlong into a particular story and take it as gospel, because there is always distortion. Focus is a distortion of the field of vision. Where there is focus there is a loss of wider attention.
And there is no way to obtain a perfectly wide field of attention because the universe will always be wider than these 6” brains can span.
So I can’t look at distortion as a problem that needs to be eliminated. It’s part of the process of thinking, that’s all. And it needs to be acknowledged and realized, because otherwise thought operates under the deluded assumption that it can solve everything eventually. And thought can’t solve the problems thought itself creates.
And this distortion also needs to be recognized because it provides a kind of overview perspective on the tool of thought itself. We don’t get fooled by our thoughts if we’re aware of the distortion and the clarity at the same time. This suggests what David Bohm called a state of “suspension.” It’s as if we begin to hover over the surface disturbances of our brains, unaffected by the turmoil, seeing “the truth in the false, and the false in the true” as Krishnamurti phrased it.
We begin to see that intelligence involves something more than thought or the feelings thought produces.
And because our culture encourages us to believe in our thoughts as if they could become undistorted, perfect opinions, right answers, the source of self-confidence and expertise, we have become mostly unconscious, trying not to feel the discomfort of “being wrong.” We have lost our sensitivity to the small tug of error that shadows our every move, which is our own wisdom.
This small shadow of distortion is repressed, which means we become absorbed into one or another interpretation, becoming utterly gullible to whatever sounds consistent with our starting assumptions.
This is what I am damned and determined to name the “positive current” of human culture. The whole of human culture is drifting towards positivity, trying to be certain, trying to come to conclusion about what is true, heading relentlessly towards dogma.
We have lost respect for what Krishnamurti used to call “negative awareness.”
But this negative awareness (or awareness of positive distortion) is still there in the background, repressed. But it’s so contrary to the spirit or current of the age, that it feels tremendously painful or unbearably boring at first, or so much trouble, because we have to move against thousands of years of delusionally pleasurable momentum to begin once again to feel the subtle tug of slapstick discomfort that shadows everything we think or believe too firmly.
To a true believer in a religion or political movement or ideal of any kind, this can be tremendously painful, because they identify so closely with a particular story. To me and most of us who aren’t so utterly tied to a particular ideal, this repressed negative awareness pursues us like a shadow, dogging us with a constant tug of conscience, or guilt or of some feeling of inadequacy, because the shadow awareness is revealing our own white lies in every thought we think. These are the white lies of pretending to know more than we do.
It’s our own honesty that we end up fearing.
And for the True Believers, this fear is compounded by having sold their souls to their own “trumped”-up visions of God. Their own repressed negative awareness is not merely some minor shadow of conscience or inadequacy but grew from there into imaginary demons that threaten to reveal their own churches as sources of evil. Honest demons.
Because if the religious fanatics had an iota of real faith they wouldn’t be so afraid of reality, and end up dictating to their own God what everything is supposed to mean. They might perhaps relax into a more open-ended faith without knowing anything for sure. Because like it or not, this bear of a universe will never be stuffed into the parakeet’s cage of any conclusive knowledge, and science should know this, but tends towards the same positivity.
So to sum up:
Awareness of distortion (or negative awareness) is our friend, our own wisdom, our own honesty. Whether we repress it or not, it’s constant, because every thought focuses on This, which can’t help but blur That. So in gaining clarity here, clarity is lost there. And there is no possibility of clarity without unclarity, because the world is far too large to be grasped without distortion.
And the pain this produces is honesty itself.
This is good news, this is wisdom, because the simultaneous awareness of clarity and unclarity is a kind of comedy of errors that lightens the heart. It’s a natural balancing suspension of positive and negative. Insight is not limited to the clearly worded thoughts but has to be teamed up with a realization of distortion also. Because the real insight is seeing that there is something more than merely the clarity we’ve squeezed from the unimaginable whole. And we move constantly towards a more profound depth by realizing that nothing we posit is ever quite right, ever. It’s the Unclarity itself, the discomfort of distortion itself, that points to a larger and more profoundly real world.
So every honest thought or story illuminates some truth by distorting actuality, and the distortions can be felt as various kinds of pains if the awareness of distortion is repressed. And if we don’t repress this natural wisdom of limitations, it constantly hints at something utterly more profound around the next corner.
This is a way of describing proprioception of thought, as David Bohm named it. Or it could be seen as an initial form of natural, unforced meditation, as Krishnamurti sometimes used the term.