I used to hate the feeling of being confused. Instead, I loved having a sense of certainty and mental clarity. Whenever I felt confused by anything, I’d try to find some kind of clear answer, to get rid of the emotional state of confusion. I’d distract myself from it or try to get somebody else to give me the answer. I wanted the authorities, the Ajahns, the big guys, to come and say, ‘That’s right, that’s wrong, that’s good, that’s bad.’ I wanted to be clear and needed an authority figure that I trusted and respected to straighten me out.
One time, years ago, I became confused when I found out that one of our American Buddhist nuns had left our community and become a born-again Christian. I had just been saying to another nun, ‘She’s really wonderful, she’s so wise, she’s so pure-hearted. She’ll be a great inspiration to you in your nun’s life.’ I was really embarrassed and confused when I heard the news. I thought, ‘How could she fall for it?’ I remember asking my teacher Ajahn Chah, ‘How could she do that?’ He looked at me with a mischievous smile and said, ‘Maybe she’s right.’ He made me look at what I was doing – feeling defensive and paranoid, wanting a clear explanation, wanting to understand, wanting him to tell me that she’d betrayed the Buddhist religion. So I started looking at the confusion. When I began to embrace it and totally accept it, it dropped away. Through acknowledging the emotional confusion, it ceased being a problem; it seemed to dissolve into thin air. I became aware of how much I resisted confusion as an experience.
In meditation, we can notice these difficult states of mind: not knowing what to do next or feeling confused about practice, ourselves, or life. We can practise not trying to get rid of these mind-states but simply acknowledging what they feel like: this is uncertainty, insecurity, grief and anguish; this is depression, worry, anxiety, fear, self-aversion, guilt or remorse. We might try to make a case that if we were a healthy, normal person, we wouldn’t have these emotions. But the idea of a normal person is a fantasy of the mind. Do you know any really normal people? I don’t.
This reflection from Ajahn Sumedho is from the book, Intuitive Awareness, pp. 133-134.