Taken-for-grantedness is insidious because often we become blind to the thing’s presence and we are always blind to its specific taken-for-grantedness.

That is, when we take Jill’s kindness for granted, we no longer notice her kindness. We also lose track of the fact that we no longer notice her kindness (we don’t know that we don’t notice her kindness). This inability to notice leads to a kind of error which is unrecoverable unless one of two possibilities occur: Jill stops behaving kindly and becomes unkind, or someone points her kindness out to us.

The first possibility reminds me of Heidegger’s hammer. If you have handled the hammer enough, you stop noticing it. It becomes part of you-in-your-activity. It’s only when something goes wrong that the hammer suddenly reappears as a hammer.

As for the second, my own teacher liked to invoke Thich Nhat Hanh’s no-toothache” doctrine: When we’re having a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. Yet when we don’t have a toothache, we’re still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant.” But how is our awareness called to this kind of non-presence of experience?

One way is through dialogue. Every conversation holds (at least) two channels of information — what we’re talking about, and what we take for granted about what we talk about. For a literary example of this, read Ray Carver’s short story, What we talk about when we talk about love.” In dialogue, when I describe why Jill is such a great colleague, my conversational partner might add, Yes, but her kindness is even more important.” The point hits me like revelation, because I had once known and already forgotten this about Jill, and now it is called back to me in a way that reveals the taken-for-grantedness cloaking of this truth.

Rationalists might argue that dialogue enables a marketplace of ideas from which the best” decision or choice emerges. But a pragmatist might reply that dialogue is primarily a tool to increase or enhance our agency. These are not incompatible, but perhaps the latter better explains its evolutionary advantage.

How does this relate to Deinos?

It bears greater thought and more reading, but it seems to me that:

  1. Transformation, waking, enlightenment — choose your term — begins when one finally recognizes that the personality is not the self. The essence of personality is to increase predictability (for both the individual and her groups), the apogee of which is that everything can be taken for granted.
  2. Since many of us take for granted that we are our personality, we are asleep to the fact that this condition is contingent, or that an alternative identity exists. This is why, I think, meditation can wake us up” to the nature and origin of our thoughts. Witnessing thoughts as they arise, originating from or conditioned by personality, we might suddenly experience the presence of personality where before it was hidden by our taking it for granted. Once it is recalled, we can then direct it rather than being directed by it.
  3. If one reaches that awareness via Heidegger’s hammer, it is an experience that has been called the dark night of the soul” or more recently, the death of the small self.”
  4. Alternatively, one can reach that same awareness through an intensive dialogic process, one example of which is therapy (but far from the only example). And the two are not mutually exclusive — therapy and its kin can lead to dark nights.

Last updated on 2024-06-28

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