“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.”
― George Orwell, In Front of Your Nose: 1945-1950
Most of us never learn how to be who we are because most of us never even learn who we are in the first place. We never learn what we are. We don’t want to learn. We want to believe we can be more and better by already being more and better. We never want to start at the beginning.
We’ve been chasing contentment, happiness, and perfect but for all our achievement and progress have we really gotten any closer? Perhaps it’s because we never started from the beginning. We went straight to work creating a world for the perfect beings we wanted to be, not the beings we are. We made a world in which our emotions, desires, and natural habits and qualities are repressed and redirected in unrecognizable and unhealthy ways. We, paradoxically, created a world in which contentment, happiness, and perfect do not, and can not, exist.
I don’t know one person who feels the kind of happiness our great stories and self-help books tell us is possible, do you? I have seen people be happy and I have been happy too, but happiness never sticks around for long. I’m talking about the kind of happiness that is an attainment of a place or achievement of purpose, the kind that is an ending, that kind of happiness is nowhere to be found. It can’t just be that I live in a bubble of misery. No, I’m more inclined to believe that what is in those stories, and in a lot of those self-help books too, is a lie.
I think we all know this, but that begs the questions, if we all know it, why do we go on chasing what we know we can’t have? Why do we blame ourselves when we are struggling, sad, and suffering? Why do we hate ourselves for our inability to be more than what we are? I think we do it because we don’t understand what we are. We do it because we have forgotten, by both accident and by choice, what we know.
Have you ever heard the quote from former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”? When it comes to human nature, I propose a new category, the unknown knowns.
Unknown knowns are things we know but that we do not realize we know, take for granted that we know, or cannot articulate accurately that we know. They are simple everyday facts of our existence and everyday beliefs and actions we struggle to access our reasoning for. The human condition is full of unknown knowns. It’s the things we pretend not to know. The things we would rather not know. The things that are too hard to know.
The things I believe are worth really knowing.
It’s our cultural experiences we consider obvious and morally superior. It’s the social constructs we mistake for facts of reality. The bad faith beliefs about what is possible. The people we become when swept up in the rage of a crowd. The manipulations and the false justifications we employ to get and keep what we want. It’s the trauma resurfacing as patterns and obsessions. It’s the indignities we suffered and then perpetuated on others. It’s the unhappiness we accept as “the way life is”.
And there are so many reasons why we are unhappy aren’t there? The world, it turns out, just isn’t a great place to live. Capitalism is killing people, ecosystems are dying, individualism and meritocracy is creating mass populations of stressed and lonely people, elections are for entertainment rather than policymaking, and social media makes us hate ourselves and one another, just to name a few, but this is the human world, not the “real world”. The human world, perhaps if we all agreed, could be different, and if we can’t agree, perhaps it can simply look different.
I don’t know about you but, I’m exhausted. We’ve all been trying so hard to be something more than we are, both as individuals and as a species, but how many of us have tried just being for a while. Very few of us outside the realms of professional philosophy, psychology, sociology, and neuroscience are concerned with who or what we are but my gut tells me that if ordinary and everyday people were able to stop for a moment and examine themselves without judgment, the peace of that act could change the whole world.
And that is what Zen and Pi sets out to do.
Zen is a school of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation and mindfulness with the aim of achieving enlightenment. Pi is an irrational and infinite mathematical constant representing the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter. Both of these concepts and have meant something to me at one time or another. Pi represents the perfect reality outside of human experience and Zen represents a kind of perfection within the human world, both in my opinion, are impossible for humans to comprehend or touch. We do not exist in the realm of perfect things.
We exist in the chaos between.
I want to explore that place. I want to know who we are. I want to know myself. Who am I without all the expectations, the fear, the morality, the desire, the cruelty, and the pain? I suspect that is a nonsensical question. I suspect that for me, and for all of us, the expectations, the fear, the morality, the desire, and the pain, and more—the love, the compassion, the creativity, and innovation, and the cleverness—is part of the chaos. It is our home. It is part of us.
And I want to embrace us.