“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love that quote. It turns consistency on its head. Most of us think of consistency as something very positive and important, and certainly there are instances where it’s necessary to maintain a consistent attitude. But here’s where the contrarian in me slips out. Rather than becoming more and more consistent as I progress through life, I’m instead starting to celebrate and encourage my own inconsistency.
To maintain a “foolish consistency” is to rigidly stick to your beliefs, ideas and opinions without ever questioning them and without venturing out of your little mental cul de sac, which may be comfortable, but is nevertheless a prison. Too often consciousness gets trapped in crystallised mental formations: rigid, dogmatic beliefs, inflexible opinions, erroneous viewpoints and countless unconscious habits and patterns.
To live like this is to not live at all. We just sleep-walk our way through life, habitually, unconsciously and automatically reacting to life and other people. The masquerade of our “social self” is something contrary to what might be called our “essential self”, which is what we really are: unconditioned awareness, free-flowing consciousness.
I’m wary of beliefs. I know it’s almost impossible to exist in this world without forming myriad beliefs about this, that and the next thing.
But beliefs are constraining and, loathe though we may be to admit it, are largely erroneous. We tend to mistake our belief about a thing as being the thing itself. We also have a tendency to worship our own beliefs and belief systems, as they form the basis of our “self-identity”. People are literally prepared to kill and be killed for their beliefs, simply because a threat to their belief system is a perceived threat to the essence of their identity (a totally fabricated, mind-created identity at that, but that’s the topic of another discussion).
Furthermore, to quote Robert Anton Wilson (I’m an all-round quoting monkey, I know):
“Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.”
Perhaps now it’s easier to see what Emerson was getting at. Stubbornly clinging to our beliefs and viewpoints and thus upholding a “foolish consistency” reduces us to nothing more than walking sets of conditioned behaviour and belief systems.
We close ourselves off to life, content to remain in a cosy yet blinded little mental bubble. It’s a sorry way for consciousness to exist, for it’s trapped and limited when it yearns to be free and to flow like water. Rather than existing in a state of vast expansiveness like the ocean — a true reflection of our essential nature — we become nothing more than little isolated rock pools filled with stagnant water.
That’s why I now actually see inconsistency as a positive thing (although, like anything in life, moderation is the key). Why be consistent in my opinions, viewpoints, tastes, likes and dislikes? I no longer take my opinions quite as seriously as I used to. I still have them, and I express them when I feel the wish, but I no longer see them as absolutely important or everlasting. Some of my beliefs and viewpoints are very static, such as those relating to topics such as human and animal rights. Others are changing all the time, week by week. Music and food I like this month, I might be less keen on the following month. Artists I always loved might begin to hold less appeal, and those I was never into might suddenly ‘click’. Embracing this ‘internal inconsistency’ rather than trying to uphold rigidly consistent viewpoints makes life much more more fun and interesting.
If you’re really honest with yourself, I’m sure you can see how your opinions, viewpoints and beliefs are changing all the time. They’re not generally as static and set in stone as you might like to believe. The opinions and beliefs you now hold are no doubt different in subtle or major ways to those you held when you were a child, or those you’ll hold as an elderly person. In fact, they might even be different to those you’ll hold next week or next month.
Observing the natural inconsistency of our mental content frees us from overly identifying with it. It’s still there, but we can take it less seriously and perhaps be a little more open-minded, freer in our opinions and find it easier to consider alternative viewpoints.
And also, here’s a very important point — the less meaning we invest in our thoughts, beliefs and opinions, the less we identify with them and invest our sense of ‘self’ in them…the less we suffer!
Life becomes a little easier, more peaceful and it flows just a bit more. Consciousness is freed from its prison and that’s one of the greatest steps to finding inner peace and joy. Consciousness just wants to flow freely and be unobstructed and unconstrained. If we allow it to flow, and follow it wherever it wants to go, then we can be amazed at the sheer feeling of liberation and exhilaration we experience.
So, my invitation is to stop being “foolishly consistent”. Allow yourself to be inconsistent whenever you damn well feel like it. We may tend to be “creatures of habit”, but there’s no fun in that and it kind of deadens us to life. Instead be open, aware and see every moment as new and fresh. Allow yourself to relate to life in different ways. Always be prepared to re-evaluate your opinions, beliefs, ideas and even your tastes and preferences. Celebrate inconsistency! Have fun.