The Enlightened Path
- Is light a particle or a wave?
- Is the electron here or not here?
- Am I the most important thing in the universe or am I merely dust and ashes?
- Should I follow a rigid or a flexible path?
Oddly, the best answer to each of these questions is: Yes! Both of the incompatible alternatives are valid at the same time.
Because we do not have direct access to objective truth, our understanding of reality is riddled with paradox. The enlightened path refers to the ability to cope with such paradoxes. This path is not available to the young, for it requires the maturity to accept ambiguity and the limitations of one's understandings and influence.
The Watercourse Way
The Tao is a metaphor for the natural order of things. Water follows the path of least resistance. Appreciating and working with the cause-and-effect principles of hydrodynamics enables the construction and maintenance of irrigation and plumbing systems that work. Just as the flow of water is influenced by lawful principles such as gravity, the course of your biography is influenced by lawful principles such as the PIG [a small immediate payoff is more influential than a much larger but delayed payoff]. Appreciating and working with the natural laws of the Psyche is the way of the will.
It is not the water's fault that it is influenced by gravity, nor is it yours that you are influenced by the PIG. You are, however, responsible for taking factors such as the PIG-the hyperbolic relationship between the immediacy of a payoff and its influence on state-dependent phenomena-into account when you develop a plan to escape an addictive trap.
You are not responsible for having fallen into an addictive trap; there are a range of biological, psychological, and social cause-and-effect principles that combined to produce your current predicament. However, now that you are an adult and have recognized that you have a problem, you are responsible for overcoming it so you can act in accord with your interests and principles.
You have now examined two defining strategies for coping with addictive traps. Soon you will design a plan to guide yourself through the heroic challenges you are bound to encounter. You will then have to follow the plan through a real world full of predictable and unpredictable circumstances that would motivate you to abandon it. How flexible should you be? At one extreme is the Impeccable Path in which you rigidly adhere to your plan with no exceptions, at the other extreme is an OPEN Path where errors are opportunities for growth.
The Enlightened Path is a middle way and contains elements of both. You must honor all commitments without exception, but you must only commit to what you can control. You control your behavior and attitudes, but not outcomes! You can accept responsibility for what you do, but it would be imprudent to accept responsibility for the outcomes of what you do; forces other than you have an influence on how events play out in the objective world. So be careful about committing to improving your life or to repairing relationships; you may have less control over such things than you think.
This middle way is an opportunity to apply the scientific method, in a gentle and forgiving manner. The Enlightened Path presupposes that your understanding of reality will always be imperfect, so you must be open to disconfirming information and use it to nurture your understanding of cause-and-effect. Please click here for exercises that can enhance your ability to follow this path.