An old friend was fond of saying that most people begin at paragraph two. The point he was making was that the foundational assumptions of any argument tend to be taken as givens by the person advancing it and, as a result, they feel no need to explain them.
But, when such arguments are subjective to the Socratic method, they tend to fall apart. To paraphrase Socrates, an assumption unexamined is not worth holding.
During the early sessions of most of my Zen Mentoring work this issue comes up. It is generally triggered by the very human tendency to create a self-image which is then considered the “real person”. Most of the time this avatar is shrouded in positively value loaded words like honest, trustworthy, intelligent, empathetic, loving and the like. All of these tend to be foundational assumptions about the nature of the self that is busily constructing the avatar. But a single question tends to throw this project into chaos.
“You have developed a virtual representation of yourself and are working to convince the world that that is the real you. Isn’t that the very definition of deception?”
What tends to follow involves a lot of push-back and denial. But eventually the point almost always sinks in. “The statue of you is not you. The virtual representation of the unique person that you are is nowhere near as wonderful and amazing as the person you are.” I call this realization a “rite of passage”. I particularly like a verse from a song by Dougie MacLean.
You need that rite of passage before you can continue on
that brave self-understanding you can lean your dreams upon.
It’s self-understanding that should be the foundation stone of your being. Zen Mentoring involves a journey inward – a journey of self-discovery. And, along the way, the determined traveler tends to lose much of the baggage which has kept them from making the journey. A sense of shame and suspicion of self-bad-faith are sheared away. Apprehension about what will be found evaporators. The journey from here to there becomes a journey from here to here. And the most amazing discovery is that the moment is perfect and lacking nothing – that there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose. The resulting lightness and freedom tends to generate euphoria and a determination to continue the journey.
The foundation – your self-understanding – is the critical paragraph one in your life. It’s the most important paragraph that you will ever write. Each time I help someone discover and author that paragraph, it is like watching them be reborn. The world opens up for them and a tremendous weight is lifted off of their shoulders.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD