“Ignorance is bliss” is quite a common expression – mostly used in one of two contexts: 1) some use it to explain their own conscious choice of ignoring, as in not seeing something as it is in order to preserve a more ideal or optimistic perspective on the world; or 2) some use it to describe, often resentfully, how they feel negatively affected by another person’s choice to “burry their head in the sand” or to “turn a blind eye”, or to “push something under the rug”.
Why is ignorance bliss? On the surface, it seems simple. The expression is self-explanatory. The choice of not seeing something as it is, of not understanding, of turning our attention away, is a choice that protects us. Or so it seems.
To remove the judgment that may be implied with the use of the word ignorance, let’s define it as not knowing. To not know protects us from the adverse affects of living in the knowing. To live in the knowing of something, that is – to stay consciousness, to keep paying attention once something is known – requires being responsible… which takes courage, which can be confronting, and which raises the bar of a life worth living. To wake up out of ignorance demands bringing awareness to areas of incompetence we have within our way of being. The type of incompetencies I’m referring to include areas related to grieving well, sitting still, letting go, staying present through discomfort, accepting, managing disappointment, swelling rejection, not personalizing actions of others, and so much more. Whatever your incompetency is where likely lies your patterns of ignorance. There is nothing more naturally human, however, than circling through cycles of awakening and dormancy. Ignorance can essentially manifest as any of the typical psychological defence mechanisms we consciously or unconsciously resort to in the face of new information that has shaken the ground under our feet: denial, projection, regression, acting out, dissociation, repression, intellectualization, rationalization, displacement, compartmentalization, among others. We get comfortable seeing the world in a certain way. It allows predictability, which can feel safe and stable. Even just a glimpse of an alternate reality from the one we know can, in fact, be too much to process. This is especially true when we know that accepting certain types of new information as valid will require that we be: a) willing to feel things we may not want to feel, and b) that we be willing to face everything else that will unfold from leaning into a new truth.
I’m speak vaguely, with intention. The examples are so vast. Ignorance pervades our relationships – with ourselves, with one another, as well as with our environment. On the daily. Our defence mechanisms come up often. Relationships are hard.
The problem with staying ignorant – choosing to not know certain ultimate truths – is that we end up missing out on connection, growth, and wholehearted living. Ignorance and all the defence mechanisms it expresses itself as keep us in delusion, disconnection, and suffering. When love dies in a relationship and we stay. When violence has occurred and we fail to acknowledge the impact. When our actions are causing harm to our planet and we keep their harmful habits. When our health is at stake and we pretend it’s not. When we’ve harmed another and we blame.
What are you unwilling to feel? A question Tara Brach often poses in her retreat talks and teachings. If you answer this question, you’ll open the door to the areas in your life where ignorance has been bliss. The illusion of bliss, that is.