We tend to favor choices between pairs of extremes. Why? Because with so many issues concurrently facing us in our complex lives we don’t give ourselves time to ponder. We need a McGoogle answer now! When the turbulence of our life on Earth is beyond the capacity of our brains to process, binary choices provide us a way to make quicker, “cleaner” decisions.
As Ringo once said, “Simpull choices keeps thungs simplah.”
True or False pairs of extremes are everywhere from stay or go, fight or flight, good or bad, existence and emptiness, buy or pass, theist or atheist, and the trillions of IF-THEN statements embedded in practically all software. These pairs of extremes define each other. One doesn’t make sense without the other. What is courage without fear? There’s nothing courageous about an act with nothing to fear.
To borrow from Alan Watts, “… black implies white, self implies other, life implies death … “. Further, “… what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one.” All of these pairs of extremes are two sides of the same coin. This is a powerful insight which opens the door for the realization that the Universe is One Big Process, not just a big bag of fragments.
Expanding on the latter Alan Watts quote above, “… what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one. If you forget that, very funny things happen.” Those “funny things that happen” are the results of choosing and clinging to one extreme which leads to fighting off the other extreme. It’s easy to take refuge in the simplicity of an extreme, hiding behind the trash that collects in that corner with nowhere else to go.
Instead, we need to know that there is somewhere in the middle to be. If we find ourselves clinging to one side of a coin, it’s not just the other side of the coin we reject – it’s everything else in the middle. Unlike the extremes tucked in a corner where there is little ambiguity, the middle is vast and all about the dreaded “It Depends” answers that your bosses hate so much.
Recognizing and choosing between extremes works well enough most of the time (or we wouldn’t be here). But we must be conscious of the fact that those binary choices are just a convenience for our brains and does not reflect the reality of the Universe. How is that? The reality is that between any two extremes is a Universe of possibilities.
During times of calm when our brains are facing less than what it can handle, we have more time to ponder our decisions. Our brains can afford to see beyond just the choices limited to binary extremes to a spectrum of choices. This is like the Goldilocks story of porridge that’s not too cold, not too hot, but somewhere in the middle.
But is the suitability of porridge defined merely by a scale of heat? If Goldilocks were very hungry, maybe just being edible and not burning her mouth and throat is good enough. But in comfortable times, what about the saltiness, sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and umami-ness?
During times when we are at peace, when we are free from the burdens of the past and future, we don’t forget that many such simple scales in reality combine into a complex myriad of possibilities. When Buddhists speak of a middle way, it’s about more than adjusting a volume knob from 0 to 11. On our music system, there is actually an arrays of knobs, each individually set somewhere between 0 to 11. They combine into what is good for the type of music that is playing and the tastes of the people who are listening.
This post continues my guidance for what to meditate upon as we approach Bodhi Day 2020, on December 8, 2020. The series includes:
- Two Months Until Bodhi Day 2020, which shows that the Universe is One Big Process.
For this Part 2, here is my guidance for what to ponder until Bodhi Day:
An array of knobs forms a matrix of possibilities, a “multi-dimensional crystal”, within which are all the combinations between and including the extremes. The Universe is One Big Process. As your body moves about within It, different parts of that “multi-dimensional crystal of possibilities” lights up as points from which your brain can make its choices.
Faith and Patience,
Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
- The graphic at the top of this blog illustrates an example of a universe of possibilities that my fellow software developers will appreciate. Consider the hexadecimal numbers #000000 and #FFFFFF, the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) values for black and white, respectively. They are the extremes of a color spectrum. But it doesn’t take a software developer to know that there are more than just shades of gray in between black and white. There are in fact over 16 million colors in between, all combinations of shades of red, green, and blue.