This story caught my interest because it points out a fascinating but problematic fact about our minds. The adult rational mind "infers": it uses information to create patterns, then fills in missing pieces with its own information.
We unconsciously "fill in the blanks" with what we think should be there. We then search in vain for the "missing" piece. Children's minds are what the Buddhists call "beginners’ minds": truly discovering the world rather than fitting it into recognizable patterns. That is why it is so much more enjoyable to teach and explore with children than with adults.
The mind of the adult has been "programmed" into conditioned patterns of thought, interpretation, and behavior, and is less able to "see" what is new, different, and expansive. The adult mind is so busy looking for what it thinks should be, that it stops seeing what is. The sense of awe and appreciation is lost.
The double edged sword of the Rational Dimension of Mind
This story illustrates that the ability of the rational mind to create patterns, despite obvious advantages, has the great disadvantage of getting caught in in its own patterns and conditioning. Our familial, social, cultural, and academic "conditioning" creates fixed images about self, ideas about what life and what others "should be". We then spend our time and energy focusing on what we infer is missing in us, in our environment, or in others so that this "ideal" can be realized. We see incompleteness where there is none. How much of our lives are spent looking for illusive goat number three? We seek the "missing piece" that will make everything right. We spend our energy on problems created by our imagination.
True creativity, originality, and discovery do not emerge from lack, striving or incompleteness, or from the smugness of "success". They emerge from openness, from the mind in the brief moments when it is free from conditioning. Living creatively is not wrought from lack or smugness: true passion has no end goal: no image to live up to, no seeking out the third goat.
Our sense of lack, incompleteness, competition, or smugness forms the basis of stress and disease. It is in this way that our suffering, and our dis-ease(s) are directly linked to the phenomenon of the third goat.
I have always considered the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness - which is really seeing the fullness of life rather than striving to fill up or compensate for the feeling of lack or emptiness – to be a universal guide to health and well being. The feeling of lack, of some condition that one must fulfill in order to maintain or create one’s individuality or existence as an individual creates chronic stress, and many symptoms associated with chronic physical and mental diseases.
These perceived needs are the basis of susceptibility and therefore can be considered as an important basis of prescription in homeopathy.
Becoming aware of when you are listening from your point of view, your acquired experience, and your conditioned patterns instead of truly listening with a beginner’s mind, will help you be more mindful, reduce the tendency to seek the third goat, and be a better friend, therapist or homeopath.
Tell-tale signs of “filling in the blanks” instead of being open are:
- Questions or statements that are conclusive, thus ending the movement of dialogue and the expansive process of open inquiry.
- Questions or statements that "translate" what is being said into terms you feel more familiar with, or that relate to your experience, will not elicit not true discovery and exploration of new learning. They are merely fitting what is being taught into your pre-existing understanding and concepts.
These are indications that you are no longer in beginner's mind, and inquiry has stopped.
This is normal for the human mind, and in the final stages of inquiry can be appropriate.
However, becoming aware of when this happens is necessary to realizing when you are no longer in dialogue, and when the learning process has ended.
This type of mindfulness is essential in order to be more fruitful and expansive: expanding beyond the rational dimension.
Also, age is not an issue with this practice. We can all be more mindful, whether you are 8 or 89! You can embark on a new journey of discovery of life at any age.
3 things you can do this week that will engage your 'beginner's mind':
1. Are you justifying what you already know? When you hear yourself asking a question, or just before you ask a question, ask yourself: "Am I asking this question to justify what I think I already know? or my already formed opinion?"
2. Listen and look for things you have never heard or seen. Even walking down the street where you have lived for years can be an adventure of new discovery if you look for something you might not have noticed, or something that has changed.
3. Start a gratitude practice. Most importantly, make your first thought in the morning and the last thought at night a moment of gratitude. Consider all the things to be grateful for in your life. Not for what you have achieved, but for what life has offered you, and offers you now. This is a traditional practice in most monasteries, and often the first exercise given to new monks: awareness of your first thought.
A note on gratitude: If you cannot think of anything to be grateful for, then recognize that you are in a state which is disabling that ability. Staying in that state is not conducive to well being and can impede your healing process if you are not well. Know that it is a only "a state", one state of many other possibilities, and that you can choose to be in a different state. Think of states as different rooms in a house. You can change rooms, and in doing so, your entire perspective changes, and it will change the way you experience your day. It may take some effort, but it is a worthwhile effort. Do not indulge a negative mind space, it is unhealthy and has deep repercussions on your health, relationships and well being. Tune your brain to a more positive frequency: one of gratitude.