“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds … with consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Life does not listen to your logic; it goes its own way, undisturbed … and weaklings, only weaklings live with the head – afraid, they create a security of logic around themselves.”
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
We as humans generally have a drive towards creating certainty in our lives. We create internal models based on past experience and project these structures to anticipate and plan our future. We like to view the world as a predictable and orderly place that lends itself to such things. We also often desire to have a stable, reliable, and persisting sense of who we are – a certainty in our identity: “I am this, and I am not this”.
Collectively, the guise of orderliness that we impose on both of our inner and outer lives constrains the set of possibilities in the world and gives us a sense of safety and security. Seeking this kind of stability is conceivably evolutionarily advantageous – if you perpetually remain in the known, the potential threats of the unknown are kept at a distance.
This is all well and good, but for those of us who are committed to our personal and spiritual growth – to “doing the work” – the thought of living our life in this constrained, predictable, and safe manner might not sit well. Or, if you’re someone who is committed to ruthlessly honest introspection and attentiveness to experience, you might view this image as pie in the sky nonsense – a fiction that we’re adept at convincing ourselves of.
During the last 20 months that I have been a member of Wolf Squad in the brotherhood, one of the core lasting insights that has been hammered in to me, on a deep experiential level, is that the mind’s need for certainty is an enemy that needs to be subdued and put in its place if you are to grow.
Prior to joining the Samurai Brotherhood (and during the first number of months), a large hang-up I had was the “need to know”. I am by nature a very structured, systematic, and intellectual-type person (an INTJ in Myers-Briggs terms), and at that time I truly embodied the cliché of “being too in my head and disconnected from my body”. In order to take an action, I needed to mentally be at least a few steps ahead – “If I do this, this will happen, and then I will react to that by doing this, etc.”. I had a strong need to rationally understand and predict the sequence of actions required for any undertaking, and believed that I could anticipate the effect they would have on me. If there was uncertainty involved, I had very strong resistance.
At some point, however, I realized that the mental world that I had constructed was not serving me. By always needing to anticipate the actions I would take and the effect they would have on me (both according to my model of who I was), I was effectively creating a safety bubble around me. This bubble, which was rooted in a fear of the unknown, closed me off from growth and relegated me to a world of limited possibility. “In this situation I will act like this, because this is the type of person I am, and afterwards this will happen”.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that in order to fully embody who I truly was, I had to let go of who I thought I was. It was about facing reality head on, accepting what was there, and living from that place. The various narratives in my head about who I was, the kinds of things I can and can’t do, the possibilities available to me, etc. were revealed as what they were – just a bundle of thoughts; conceptual castles spun in the clouds.
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that in order to fully embody who I truly was, I had to let go of who I thought I was.
These narratives were rooted in my limited and circumscribed perspective, and it became evident that they were full of self-imposed limitations and biases. And I had been using this clouded framework to decide how to act and to predict what was possible for me!
It soon became clear that the sense of certainty that I had about my life and myself was only serving as a shackle that bound and constrained me.
When we are firmly rooted in our mind and act only according to its rational dictates, we are elevating its limited and biased approximations of reality to the level of reality. The truth is that the sense of certainty conferred by the mind is a very narrow, circumscribed, perspectival, relativistic certainty. The world is fundamentally dynamic, and complex far beyond our human faculties. Further, the mental structures that we identify with for our sense of self are in constant flux; there is ultimately no stable ‘I’ on the level of the mind to hold on to.
By indulging in the pretense that we know how the world is or how we are, we constrain and limit our ability to push our edge, grow as individuals, and expand our conception of what is possible.
My experiences as a member of Wolf Squad were huge in facilitating and really hammering in these insights. Coming to group every Monday and having myself reflected back to me with a degree of honesty and directness I hadn’t previously experienced was instrumental in revealing my blind spots and internal inconsistencies. The support and fierce love that I experienced during my time in Wolf Squad, especially in the first year, is something I will forever be grateful for – for shaking me from my moorings and throwing me down the path of transformation that I continue to move along.
Letting go of the need for certainty – about who you are and where you’re heading – is an extremely fearful thing to do. It’s the deliberate movement from order to chaos; it’s consciously deciding to leave the known and dive headlong into the unknown.
This movement brings to mind the archetype of “the Wanderer”. The Wanderer represents making the decision to dive deep into one’s depths – to willingly dive into chaos, and to give up one’s security, stability, and current identity, on the impulse that there is some greater wholeness to be reached on the other side. It is the deliberate movement away from the known and into the unknown, leading to an expansion of the known. It is captured by the alchemical dictum “solve et coagula” – break down and rebuild.
Further, it is the path of psychodynamic integration. It’s about unlocking the doors to allow the shadow aspects of your personality to bubble back up to the surface. It’s about opening yourself up to listen to the depths, and to hear what it is saying, no matter how painful and aversive it may seem – and then it’s a matter of acknowledging, accepting, and integrating what is there. It’s the path towards wholeness.
So how does one live their life if they let go of the need for certainty about self and world? For me, it’s been a matter of trying to take life one step at a time, and endeavoring to fully be there for each step. As is often exhorted by Samurai Brotherhood founder Phil Mistlberger, the guiding question is “What is true for me in this moment?” It’s the movement towards radical authenticity – the honest and conscious expression of what is called for at each moment. Essentially, this entails releasing yourself to the dynamic flow of things and connecting with your intuition – your heart, if you will. The ideal is to live each moment as your first; without constantly checking whether your actions are in tune with who you think you are or what you have done in the past.
As is often exhorted by Samurai Brotherhood founder Phil Mistlberger, the guiding question is “What is true for me in this moment?” It’s the movement towards radical authenticity – the honest and conscious expression of what is called for at each moment.
A core aspect of this is humility. I recognize that, ultimately, I have very little control over the events in my life, and that it is impossible for me to anticipate the effects that particular experiences will have on me. All I can do is earnestly do my thing and follow my truth.
To be clear, this does not negate thinking about the future and having a general sense of the direction you are heading at a given moment in time. It’s more about the relationship you have to these plans – ideally, they should be loosely held and amenable to change when they no longer truly resonate with you.
And I’ve come to acknowledge the importance of being radically honest with yourself about whether what you are doing is truly what you should be doing, and is not just a story that appeals to you. An important distinction in this regard – one that is often blurred – is between striving towards an abstract ideal and allowing yourself to actualize your unique essence. Being cognizant of this distinction, and of the inevitable dynamic interplay between these two tendencies over the course of your life, is, in my eyes, a critical part of the journey. Importantly, I would further claim that the latter (i.e., allowing rather than striving) should always be given priority.
All of this, of course, is a lifelong practice – I certainly don’t claim to be perfectly embodying any of the above. What I can say with certainty, however, is that this ongoing journey, accelerated by my experiences in the brotherhood, continues to allow me to expand and grow beyond what I could have possibly anticipated, and continues to give me a greater sense of ease, lightness, and freedom.