Blissful Ignorance

“Living is easy with eyes closes.”

John Lennon, English singer and songwriter

Bob was an old bachelor who lived down the road from us when I was a kid. Father would occasionally hire Bob to help with odd jobs around the farm. To me, Bob didn’t seem especially good at anything. Looking back, I wonder if Father didn’t feel a little sorry for him.

Bob had a propensity for showing up at meal times, and he always indulged his abundant appetite over a plate of my mother’s home cooking. During the meal and afterwards, over tea, Father often talked about what was happening in the community or about something he’d heard on the news. Bob’s answer was always the same. “Oh, I don’t know much about that.” Bob would always follow the statement with his odd, wheezy laugh.

I began to wonder if Bob knew a damn thing about anything. He seemed blissfully unaware of the world outside his front door. Part of me found Bob’s apparent ignorance humorous, while another was envious. Bob always seemed stress-free and happy just to be alive. Sometimes, I wished my world was so small, safe and predictable.

The other day, someone asked me, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel through life in blissful ignorance – nothing to worry about, nothing to dwell upon, and nothing more to fill our day than the concerns of our little world?” That got me thinking. I believe that most of us are already travelling through the day in a state of blissful ignorance. Think about it. Have you ever heard or said yourself, “The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know”?

The feeling that ignorance is bliss is an illusion, though. Ignorance can be downright life-threatening. I recently encountered some ignorance when I went to the doctor’s office for a physical. Though everything was fine, a couple of red flags around cholesterol and blood pressure popped up. My doctor suggested some simple changes to my diet and lifestyle. She also made it clear that if I continued down the path I was on, my health would ultimately suffer. With the help of my wife, I adjusted my diet – adding more fruits and vegetables and cutting out snacks and soft drinks – and started a weekly exercise regimen.

Reflecting back, it was not unusual for me to grab a few snacks to munch on after fuelling up my vehicle: soft drinks, licorice, pepperoni sticks and such. Recently, I walked into a convenience store and was shocked to realize very little on the shelves met the criteria for my new and healthier diet. I was starting to see things that had once been commonplace in an utterly uncommon way. I was no longer blissfully unaware of the bad choices I had been making and the better choices that were available.

In reality, choosing to expand our awareness and see things in a different light is often anything but blissful. In my experience, raising awareness will often bring a great deal of discomfort. Something shakes our world – challenges our beliefs, and wakes us to a new way of thinking and being. Seeing the world beyond our usual vantage point brings forth a variety of responses, from surprise and delight to fear and discomfort. As with any new experience, especially one that shines a light on our ignorance, there follows a choice to accept or resist it.

Increasing awareness provides us with the opportunity to look into the deeper aspects of ourselves and the limitless possibilities and potential available to all who take the time to search for it. Self-awareness provides insight and wisdom that help us succeed in every aspect of life, whether physically, financially, relationally, emotionally or spiritually. With awareness comes a growing desire to accept self-responsibility.

A natural question arises: “How do I raise my awareness?” That question is probably the best starting point because it suggests a desire to wake up and become aware. My advice is to start by stopping: stop moving through life in a fog. Stop turning your back on possibilities, especially those that frighten you. Stop being afraid to ask and answer the tough questions. Are you living life to the fullest? Are there changes you need to make? Will you make them?

Most people try to bring about change by changing the stories they tell about the past and how it has impacted the present. Their interpretation of events is altered, and excuses are made, but the disruptive behaviour remains unchanged. This is not awareness; this is self-deception. Without conscious awareness, we have little chance of changing anything. Unawareness of a better choice is no choice at all. As we become self-aware, we can make decisions instead of just reacting from habit or negative emotion.

“Ignorance is bliss, or so we’re told,” wrote American best-selling author Gayle Lynds. “Personally, I find ignorance is also destiny.”

I’ve thought a lot about Bob over the years. Was he genuinely unaware and blissfully so, or simply afraid to face the consequences of living with both eyes open? If so, what did his willful ignorance cost him? It may be possible to become aware of too much, to get involved in and concerned about things beyond your control or that don’t directly affect you. But that isn’t an endorsement of ignorance. Perhaps the right balance can be struck when we are aware of what is happening around us yet focus our efforts and energies on what we can influence positively and powerfully.  

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