Clever Mind: Just Another Form of Greed


There’s a lot of talking out there. In here too. My own mind can churn up ideas like nobody’s business. And much of it is dressed up like things I need to pay attention to. It’s just my habit though. Thing is – a lot of all that is just noise. Self-serving noise. Okay, most of it really.

There’s a saying, some say it’s a Zen thing but others lay claim to it. What ever.  Don’t speak unless it improves the silence. Maybe, my first Dharma teacher told me that. (Carl? Do you remember?) Does it matter?

We’ve been trained to believe that lots of ideas are a sign of cleverness…much to be valued. Where I grew up, the faster your retort and the snarkier it could be, the more points you earned in the unwritten code of the fastest mouth/mind wins.

But here’s the thing. If you think about it…how much happiness has your cleverness ever really gotten you? Let me modify that. How much lasting happiness has it gotten you?

Let me guess. Not so much. Yes? Because here’s the thing. Cleverness is all about greed. Right. You know what I mean. We feel brilliant when we’re fast with a comeback. But if we really think about it …what’s the truth? And, how quickly that kind of power shifts, vanishes…it’s got some kind of super fast half-life as far as I can tell.

Clever is the Gordon Gekko of our mental habits. Greed is king.  Greed is good. We might feel pretty swell to be at the top of whatever heap… I think we do. We fall for that feeling. Pretty often… if we are honest. But at what price? And, what if all those assumptions we’ve held about greed, okay, a more nobel sounding label, self enterprise, rugged individualism … Milton Friedman ideology? What is all that really? Is there a set of unpleasant notions below the ground on which we walk? Exactly just what are those assumptions and how unconsciously do we hold them?

Surprised? Do you think self-awareness matters?

Well … don’t take my word for it. Do your own assessment.

Ask yourself next time you’re at some party, or at the office…why does being quick and clever feel so good? Then ask yourself, – Who suffers as a result?

So, here, ever so briefly…what really matters?

Patience. A mind under control.

I hope I don’t need to argue or compare any more. I practice to leave that old habit behind. All any of us needs to do is practice. Piece by piece. Slowly slowly. Breath by breath. And that means dropping our greed for holding views. The my way or the highway thoughts, however secret or public.

I don’t have much direct experience with or knowledge of, “true freedom…” whatever that really means. Do you? All I know is that my own teacher says – don’t take my word for it. Do your on investigation. See what your own experience tells you.

Just sit. Just breathe. Know you are doing it. Practice taiji maybe or qigong. The main thing is to be here, awake…aware. And why does this matter? We can try to rid ourselves of a little discomfort here and now. Sure. But what matters more?

We have big questions facing us, globally. As a species. As members of the collective o f living beings…things are changing fast. How can we possibly address this reality well?

The best we can do is to have the clearest mind we can. Because the mind fogged by emotion and bias and fear, hate, anger, delusion and so on … can not possibly see its way to any real solution. We need another model.

But don’t take my word for it. Learn to sit. See what your own insight is.

And then please, come back and share it with us. Let’s talk about it.

And then?

Let’s stop all the talk and just sit. Mindfully sit.

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Author: Hillary Johnson

Improvisational documentary and fine art photographer.

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