Are Ignorance and Bliss Even Related?
I’m convinced that Thomas Gray did not intend to imply that a lack of knowledge helps us maintain an ongoing state of bliss, yet 250 years later, that sentiment persists. According to Oxford, bliss is defined as: perfect happiness; great joy, while Ignorance weighs in as: lack of knowledge or information. Since we’ve made it nearly impossible to feel happy until we’ve attained a certain amount of knowledge, it’s hard to find common ground in these concepts. “Ignorance is Bliss” gets spoken with emotions ranging from pity to pride, as we each have to make peace with the things that we don’t know (or don’t want to know) on a regular basis. As I’m writing this blog, I’m not entirely sure what my point is going to be, but because it is Ignorance Week, I'm going to release some control and see where the writing leads me…
Since I completed healing school, bliss and joy have taken on fascinating meaning for me. What I used to see as a goal to attain has shifted to become my natural state of being. That doesn’t mean I don’t have really hard shit to deal with, In fact, I can’t say that much has changed in my life, conditionally. The shift to joy came from releasing the standards that I had come to believe I needed to embody. I had an unhealthy relationship with fear, and once I broke it off for good, I was able to see how often I was letting fear interrupt my positive thoughts and usurp my confidence. It was shocking, because I’ve always viewed myself as a fairly self-assured individual. I love myself. I’m good with me. All the positives! …Except for the things I didn’t acknowledge or talk about, that is.
It wasn’t on purpose, necessarily. There are simply so many other things to focus on that it was super easy to gloss over my triggers as if they weren’t even there. Failing to be in touch with my own emotional movement made it easy to see any problems as someone else’s fault–not my own. As a teenager, it drove my confidence through the roof, even though looking back, I had very little to back it up. I like to remind myself that I was never as smart as I was at 18 years old. It was the height of my misguided belief that I could maintain an air of superiority to others, and be a spiritual being. I honestly believed that! Today, I call that trying to be soulful on the ego scale, but back then I only knew to tend my ego so that it stayed out in front. It shielded the experiences I left out of my stories, my memories, and my dreams–even to myself in some cases. Publically, I was pretty damn good at it, or at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself. Privately, somewhere deep inside me, I knew I was synthesizing my emotions to the point of true distortion, and it would take the deep dive that my healing class required to even recognize the path I had actually taken, separate from the one I had carved out and deemed ‘acceptable’ – the one I wore out in public.
It’s not hard to skip life’s gory details when you’re trying to make a good impression. I think it goes along with the belief that we can affect the perception of others by spinning a story the way we want it received, as if we have any real ability to know how another person might take something. In truth, we are so busy trying to put our best foot forward that we miss the crucial part ignorance plays in our ability to feel spontaneously joyful. Ignorance has no intention to cause harm, yet our refusal to believe in its innocence keeps it suspect. We rarely even try to trust it. The opportunity to pause, breathe, learn and educate gets passed over because we are convinced that we know the motive, intention or purpose of someone else’s words or actions. And too often, that ends the conversation.
Thomas Jefferson took Gray’s quote a step further with “If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?”, but it seems to me his words land more like a punch line than a true ask. The blend of bliss and ignorance (blignorance?!) is difficult to imagine as a final product, since the very idea goes directly against who we are, essentially: people who place a great amount of value on knowledge and intellect. I believe this is the heart of where our collective roads diverge, as we each take on our own separate heartbeats into the uniqueness of individual human experience. The memory of that connection lies underneath the energetic matrix of who we are while the feelings of being separate drive our experience and form our beliefs. When we realize how much ignorance we actually live with inside our own experience, we no longer feel the need to act like we know more, or feel shame from not knowing enough. There’s so much more to know in this world than we could even begin to encounter in one lifetime! Remembering that helps lead us into enjoying life in bliss, while knowing full well that sometimes we will be ignorant.
Apart from the details of our individual lives, we each have a specific set of beliefs that guide our boundaries and inform our natural judgments. Everything from what the room that you wake up in looks and sounds like, to the places that you frequent, to the people you interact with, all play an important role in how you, personally, perceive the world. If someone else were to follow through your day, they would see different things than you do, and their idea of what your life is like might be more known to them, but the picture will never be fully clear. It can’t be–we are each a beautiful kaleidoscope of differing beliefs and expectations. Even if we spent every single day with another person, we would each walk away from those days with a different chord or tone of feeling about the day itself. It is both how and why we are so different, yet rooted in far-reaching, powerful connections. The exact same experiences elicit vastly differing reactions. That is the natural state of the human condition, but we find ourselves expecting something different, and then hiding our disappointment, rather than expressing it. This lays the groundwork for fear and negativity to grow rampant, unless we learn to ask more questions and arrive at understanding. And to be clear, those questions aren’t always well-received! We should feel good diving in anyway. It’s okay - even good! - for all of us to be uncomfortable sometimes.
I’ll leave one last quote from Thomas Jefferson–mostly because he wrote it on January 6, 1816, and I find the date very auspicious:
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” - Thomas Jefferson, January 6, 1816
We can’t know everything. No one can. And we can’t spend every moment feeling happy. If we could somehow stop believing that was attainable, it would immediately limit the amount of time we spend entertaining fear, and true joy could spread through the human race like wildfire. Human goals.