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  Ask the Guide: "Clarity and Confusion"
(In Our Practice, Summer 1999)

By Cheri Huber

Question: What is the difference between lack of clarity and confusion? I encountered this last evening when I went to a mini-workshop at the Zen Center and we discussed the third part of the steps to awakening. I was trying to concentrate on the problem that I've been exploring the past two mini-workshops, and the only thing that seemed to come up was confusion. We did a guided imagery, like we did in the workshop you lead, and I would immediately be somewhere else, doing something completely different! Then, when the next question was asked, the same thing happened. I was able to get a lot of it out and we ended up discussing that there is someone who tells us what problems are and what they mean, then when we are willing to look at it deeper, it hides the problem away.

I felt very frustrated at times. I left the practice last evening in hundreds of different ways and for hundreds of different reasons in my imagination! I haven't had those feelings so intensely since I've started the practice, and it was a bit scary. However, I felt a lot better after we talked it out at the mini-workshop, and did my daily meditation this morning (15 minutes every morning, whether I need it or not!).

The facilitator helped by bringing me back to the problem and noting some very interesting things. My particular problem is about my issues around marriage. I realized I had many things come out about marriage when I initially started examining it at the beginning of this month. But last night, it was as if there was no problem at all! I surely couldn't concentrate on it. So, I shared that I felt very confused. The facilitator pointed out that there is a difference between lack of clarity and confusion. I'll tell you, I feel confused by that too!

So, I'd appreciate any thoughts you have on the difference between clarity and confusion.

Answer: Well, first I wish to note that we have two issues under discussion here, or so it seems to me. There is the difference between clarity and confusion as well as the difference between a lack of clarity and confusion. I don't wonder that such a discussion set off some confusion – this is some subtle territory you are exploring here.

There is of course a world of difference between confusion and clarity. The simplest explanation is that confusion results when we look to conditioned mind to understand something that is happening presently. This equals looking to then to see now, or looking over there to see here. No can do. It is not possible, and so the system goes into, as they say in the world of Star Trek, "evasive maneuvers."

Most folks walk around all day long using conditioning not to interpret the present, but instead of the present. It is possible to project conditioning onto current circumstances and never have a clue that there are present circumstances aside from one's projections. Example: I walk into a bank and never see the people in there. My whole reality is internal and those people simply do not exist for me. Obviously, they exist for themselves, and I, if they notice me, am a briefly glimpsed, perhaps unregistered, bit player in their drama. At the end of the day, my only experience of the day I have just had is my conditioned projections. In other words, we walk around in an invisible bubble, we project onto the inside of that bubble and believe we are participating in the world. Periodically something slips through the wall of the bubble, and we briefly incorporate it as we project onto it.

It would seem that I am describing a confused state, but it isn't necessarily so. It is possible for a person to have no experience of confusion while traversing the world in their bubble. (This does not mean the person is clear, it only means the person does not feel confused.) The feeling of confusion happens when there is a moment of conscious awareness that penetrates the bubble, and the two realities are comprehended simultaneously. There is a moment of clarity: "What is going on here? I have this problem, but I can't remember it, can't focus on it even though I'm trying, and I can't do anything about what's happening to me." The moment of clarity reveals the colliding worlds – conscious awareness illuminates conditioned awareness – and the conditioned survival system goes to "red alert."

If we have been practicing long enough to be present when this collision occurs, we can stay conscious through the collision instead of being thrown out of the moment and into a conditioned reaction. Confusion is the swirl of dust around the collision that prevents us from being able to observe the details of the crash. To stay with that analogy, if you are suddenly in a whirlwind of dust and your view is obscured, but you are expecting the dust and just keep focusing, trying to see, you will begin to be able to pick out shapes and then colors and then relationships, etc.

Back to your original circumstances... You were looking at the idea of marriage and you saw a lot of, I would guess, beliefs and assumptions, projections, various aspects of you who have notions about marriage, and conditioning was telling you what the problems are about marriage, you, and your attitudes. So, being a student of awareness practice, you decide to focus on this issue to see through the causes of suffering and let go. Suddenly you can't see anything –no problems, no issues, no suffering, no nothing. Yes! That is the whole point. Conditioning is interested in controlling you through a belief that something is wrong. Conditioning is not interested in having you resolve the issues it has defined as problems nor in having you let them go. As long as you remain in the "this is what's wrong with me, why can't I get this right, I'm inherently flawed" approach to life, conditioning is fine. When you attempt to see through that process of keeping you stuck in irrelevant, imaginary faults, conditioning goes into evasive maneuvers. We call it having stupid dust sprinkled on you. "Who am I? What was I thinking about? Why did I think that was a problem?" You go into "confusion" – which you will then be encouraged to feel bad about – and by the time you come to you're back in the bubble and all the holes are patched.

A place to watch very carefully is when your attention is pulled away from what you're doing (a guided imagery) and focused on something else (something you need to do at work tomorrow) and then that process is labeled "confusion." You are not confused, you are being bamboozled. The only thing that might be called confusion is the disorientation you feel when you start out in one place and end up in another without knowing how you got from place to place. You are here doing this, you are distracted, you are there doing that. Nothing confusing there. You just missed the transition point from here to there. What throws you off is that you think you are in charge of going from place to place. These humbling little moments in practice let us know that, in fact, a horrifying amount of the time conditioning is in full charge and we have not the foggiest notion what is going on.

Once again: Conditioning is beating me up because I keep yelling at the kids. I feel so bad. What an awful person I am. Through some sort of miracle I encounter an awareness practice and it dawns on me that I have been trying to change all my life and I haven't succeeded and that for once I am going to try to see how this yelling at my kids happens. I will meditate and pay attention and I will see how I am doing this and then perhaps I won't do it any more. The fog descends. What kids? Yelling? I forget... why was I going to pay attention? The threat to egocentricity passes and I come to screaming at my kids. What an awful person I am.

I doubt I answered your question, but hopefully you have some new angles from which to consider the issue. My favorite thought about confusion is this: If I know I'm confused, I'm at least clear about that!


Copyright 2003-2011 Cheri Huber