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  • Writer's picturedavidauten


Drunkenness and devotion are not far apart, the former induced with EtOH, the latter a muse or maybe the divine, but both an intoxication disorienting and so thoroughgoing as to free us from our inhibitions, insecurities, and most notably ourselves, even if temporarily. Devotion need not be religious of course, and yet is redolent with the religious even when the object of the devotee is areligious, for devotion is a kind of dissolution, with logic and the ego gracefully receding somewhat as we are immersed in something sublime: a craft or composition, a passion or project, a marriage or friendship, an idea or praxis, a discipline or vocation. Unlike drunkenness, devotion can only be discovered, not manufactured, and is akin to a flow-like-state, an inebriation of the most splendid sort wherein we lose ourselves and find ourselves at the same time. It is a bit curious from this vantage point that knowledge, therefore, and specifically self-knowledge, has so often been the counsel of countless sages over the years, dating back to the ancient Greeks at least who famously inscribed “Know Thyself” above the Temple of Apollo. Ignorance, by contrast, along with her cousins forgetfulness and absentmindedness, have been cast to the shadows, pariahs to the learned, symptoms of the drunkard, and medicalized as maladies of the demented. There have been a few iconoclasts to be sure, here and there, celebrating the unconventional freedoms of mental waywardness. Nicholas of Cusa called such liberty “learned ignorance” (docta ignorantia) worthy of our full embrace, a virtue and not a vice, one of humanity’s most honest admissions, to know, at base, we really do not know much of anything at all. Lao Tzu (with perhaps a dash too much panache) celebrated his own spiritual amnesia saying “I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty,” believing the root of our problems lie in thinking about them and ourselves far too often. Albert Camus gladly confessed in his Intuitions “my happiness, you see, is in my ability to forget.” Such praise of ignorance is not to be confused with folly, for it is largely the memory of pain that extends pain’s effects, and thus at times a learned ignorance and forgetfulness embraced which can serve as a pathway of release, a sacred discipline of letting go, indeed a healing artistry of the highest order. While we cannot escape the mind, while knowledge will always be with us and a part of us, a gift as much as a curse, how much pain and suffering, melancholy and misery, are simply a result of too much mind-full-ness? For some of our ills the freedom we seek is actually found in the opposite way of mind-less-ness: being more and thinking less, joyfully losing and forgetting ourselves through the portal of some devotion.


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