Becoming ‘hungry for surprises’: The cultivation of lightness (Part 2)

In Part 1, I discuss the importance of being surprised, arguing that philosophical inquiring presents us with two kinds of surprises: perplexities and illuminations. Today, I discuss the cultivation of lightness in the presence of surprise.

2. The Cultivation of Lightness

One important benefit of learning the art of inquiry is that we become prepared to face up to the ordinary surprises that life reveals to us. Let’s suppose, as I believe we have reason to do, that everyday life is comprised of ordinary surprises, plenty of events occurring in ways or at times that we hadn’t expected, anticipated, or foreseen. We may be disposed to ‘face up’ to these ordinary surprises in any number of unfruitful or problematic ways. In the eyes of the untrained and unvigilant, most attitudinal and emotional responses seem almost like reflex actions, simply–and incorrectly–a deep part of ‘our nature.’

On the one hand, we may respond to an ordinary surprise by raising the intensity of its significance too far up the positive scale. We may simply be astonished, amazed, or nonplussed. Should we accord the event an even greater importance to our lives or our projects, we may experience unwarranted jubilee, ebullience, elation, or ecstasy. A trifle of a surprise gift shouldn’t make us overjoyed to the point of ‘losing ourselves,’ as though our flourishing depended too much on good fortune, the latest news, or good reputation.

On the other hand, we may be disposed to be startled or shocked by surprises, the implication being that this event is creeping up to the status of a threat. In some cases, we may be disappointed or dismayed, and in others frightened, horrified, or paralyzed.

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