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Nurturing Naivete

Nurturing Naivete: image

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.  James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

We need to recognize the diversity of epistemologies and knowledge systems that have helped us in protecting the planet and ensuring our well-being. We need to unleash our diverse, interconnected intelligences to create another imagination, and through it another world, beyond the illusions and control of the 1%.  Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs. the 1%

Nurturing Naivete

My Chinese Medicine teacher, a Daoist priest, has often insisted that one can’t heal from a disease with the same mindset, perspective, bias, programming, fill-in-the blank…that contracted the illness.  Aging itself is a product of what he refers to as psychosclerosis, a hardening of the mind.  And given that the mind is actually centered in the heart, in a healthy individual, this really means a hardening of the heart, as in and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

Jeffrey Yuen repeatedly encourages his students to be “naïve”, to cultivate a naïve attitude towards the human potential to heal from even the most serious of diseases.  To be naïve in the face of statistics.  To cultivate belief in the stories that often only end up in that "against all odds" section of Reader's Digest that I used to read religiously as a kid.  

At six, I learned that my culture perceived open-heartedness as gullibility, which was as close to stupid as you could be without actually being called stupid.  And why is stupid so bad?  Other than being a blunt label of unworthiness, the real crime of being “stupid” is the crime of not knowing.  As if a lack of knowledge is a bad thing, and not an opportunity. 

A lack of knowledge in our society translates into a lack of control, which implies vulnerability.  And believe you me, empires aren't built upon, or sustained, by vulnerability.  To the contrary, behemoth, too big to fail organizations spend millions and millions of dollars on risk assessment.  Yuck!

The more educated someone is, in a modern sense, the less naïve and open to possibilities they become.  It's a slippery slope of hoops, from learning to assimilate to the morals and expectations of one's immediate family, (necessary for survival and not inherently limiting), to the ethics and expectations of whatever "education" one receives.  And then the “education” continues in the wider world as we are taught who we need to bow to and who we can step on.  That’s the implicit education, the part that is rarely said out loud. 

We live in a culture of expertism, where diploma certified knowledge is the gold standard.  Most vocations, including psychotherapists and administrators of all kinds, are paid more for a PhD than an MS, or a BS.  The argument goes that more experience equals more pay, because experience is directly equated with the acquisition of more and more knowledge.  But what are the experts learning?  What’s the implicit message?  How much critical thinking is encouraged

Without a constant emphasis on critical thinking, we tend to go along with the programming that says that the more degrees one obtains, the smarter one is.  Like simple math.  And the delusion is that being more expert, and correct, and right, will make you invincible from the risks of being alive.  You learn to quietly accept that if a recognized expert doesn’t stand behind it, then it’s foolish.

One of my favorite Daoist teachings is to never assume one knows more than half of what there is to know about anything.  I'm calling it the 49% rule.  If you are the pre-eminent knower in your backyard of knowledge, because you’ve been told so with more money for whatever you pretend to control with your knowledge, can you maintain the naivete that you’re not even halfway, and never will be?  Or have you already fallen into the fear-fueled hubris that the world is to be controlled at all costs, inside and out?  Does the risk of admitting ignorance, the risk of assuming a child’s naivete when approaching a problem, sound scary?

The challenge is to go forward confidently with the heart-centered knowledge one has, and to easily question its truth in a given moment, at any moment.  How 'bout the 49% guideline, because I have a neck jerk reaction to rules.  Because self-measurements are, by definition, subjective.

Ted Kaptchuk is redefining our common understanding of placebos at Harvard Medical School.  He's shown in study after study, that even highly effective medicines for conditions such as migraines are barely more effective than a placebo if the subject thinks it's a placebo.  Because placebo is actually the inherent relationship and ritual in any form of medicine, and the belief one has in a particular medicine plays a defining role in its usefulness for a given individual.   I just did it too, if you hadn't noticed?  I referenced Harvard Medical School because that's as smart, and expert as you can get when it comes to "good" medicine, right?!

So, when it comes to solutions for our current problems, I propose we look to those at the edges of our academic institutions, like the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard.  And really, beyond our "highly educated" folks.  Because, the more "educated" someone is, the more they tend to have hardened their hearts and minds into believing they know most of what there is to know about what they know.  In fact, the more educated someone is, the more they've learned the implicit lesson in most higher education, which is to separate the heart from the mind.  They have hardened their psyches away from the open hearted naivete that allows for new insights.  When much of the medicine we need to heal ourselves and our world is at the edges of our culture’s awareness.  The more possibilities we can allow in at the periphery of our vision, the more we attune ourselves to being naive to the possibility of deep healing.

Cartesian logic is named after Rene Descartes, the “I think, therefore I am” guy.  When someone wants to be win a logical argument, or make any “reasonable” point in a discussion of reality, Descartes is one of the holy touchstones.  The Scientific Method that we use today for all science experiments, is attributed to him.  The only problem with this is that the Scientific Method actually came to him in a dream.  In fact, he even referred to it as a divine visitation.  Try proving that.