Wednesday, February 6, 2013

damned expertise!

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki is frequently quoted as writing: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

It's one of those encouragements that can arouse a sense of simultaneous longing and guilt: Longing for a wide-open and accepting approach that is frequently flummoxed by my own intellectual and emotional bits of expertise ... expertise in what I know, what I believe, what I assume. 

Yessir! I sure can screw the pooch! How wonderful it would be if I became Henry David Thoreau and adopted a simple and straightforward lifestyle! How wonderful if I could stop imposing my will on the circumstances around me! How wonderful if I weren't such a fucking expert, so gullibly 'in control,' so knowledgeable, so attached, so ... oh, you know what I mean -- all that confusing, unsatisfactory stuff that seems to bar the door to a reliable peace.

But today I think maybe aspirations can be overrated. Everyone is, in one way or another, an expert and it's nothing anyone could avoid. More important, it is precisely that expertise that creates a useful possibility: Who could know better than an expert the deeply flawed nature of expertise? And this sort of understanding -- oops, I made a mistake -- is honest, grounded stuff ... it lacks the la-la land yearning for some pie-in-the-sky reversal of fortune.

Some experts never learn ... that's their problem.

But others, I think, are offered a genuine opportunity ... to reflect and then make the actual-factual effort to set the record straight ... not with wishful thinking (however pleasant), but with an understanding grounded in the experience that a mistaken expertise has provided.

Sometimes there are many possibilities. Sometimes there are few. With a little reflection, it's a winning formula either way.

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