Today it occurred to me that I always feel as if nobody listens to me -- but (keep listening!) as I was feeling that, I thought, more rationally, that people do listen to me at a fairly normal clip. Then why this feeling? Why did I write a dissertation placing "listening" at the center of ethics? Why does it sometimes feel like even my mom doesn't listen to me? Anyone else ever get this feeling, even while they know "rationally" that it isn't the case that no one listens?
The post I'm aiming at is going to deal with the comments in the last post, but it's going to take me a few days -- if you (Fenhopper, Monica, etc.) have anything to add, now's the time. I'm sticking with the keywords I mentioned there, and a few others:
Time, narrative, sequence, order, Conversion, abstraction, "lived experience," transformation, mysticism, testament(s), perspective, One/Many, solution to oldest philosophical problem known to humankind, dawning of age of Aquarius, most important idea in American history, turkey.
Yesterday I watched a documentary about something you might remember: the 2001 destruction of the giant stone Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. The statues were pre-Islamic, 1500 years old, and the Taliban didn't like them... the film is about the history of the statues and the region, etc.
I was telling my wife about the movie this morning and I got to describing how old and revered the statues were, and how the Taliban purposely tore them down -- my wife said, "Buddha would have loved that." She interrupted me just as I was about to say something like, "Isn't it a shame?" And I'm glad she did -- she's so right. Buddha would have loved the destruction of his image, just as he did the first time around so many moons earlier, when he "died." Here's a link to the movie. Here's a link to Buddha's "Fire Sermon." And here's a picture of the larger of the statues being blown to bits on March 21, 2001:
There's a cool video about all of this on YouTube, unrelated to the movie:
Given the entrenched nature of certain perceptions of Poe [Harris alludes here to the consensus view that Poe was purely an aesthetician, unconcerned with practical affairs] and his work, specific objections should be addressed at the outset. One is that if Poe means to address problems of social organization, cosmology is an oblique way to do so... [but] cosmology is always about the construction, revision, and legitimation of social order. (46)
And so say all the world, the men who know not God, of all that are of Paul's religion: of every one who is so a follower of him as he was of Christ. It is true, there is a sort of religion, nay, and it is called Christianity too, which may be practised without any such Imputation, which is generally allowed to be consistent with common sense, --that is, a religion of form, a round of outward duties, performed in a decent, regular manner. You may add orthodoxy thereto, a system of right opinions, yea, and some quantity of heathen morality; and yet not many will pronounce, that "much religion hath made you mad." But if you aim at the religion of the heart, if you talk of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," then it will not be long before your sentence is passed, "Thou art beside thyself."
I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike... At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable." (Acts 26)
And so, Glaucon, I said, we have at last arrived at the hymn of dialectic. This is that strain which is of the intellect only, but which the faculty of sight will nevertheless be found to imitate; for sight, as you may remember, was imagined by us after a while to behold the real animals and stars, and last of all the sun himself. And so with dialectic; when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by pure intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at last finds himself at the end of the intellectual world... (Bk. 7 emphasis added)
To paraphrase from memory (maybe to quote!) Henry Thoreau, the mind is a cleaver. But the question seems to be unanswerable whether cleaving is worthy of esteem or pity. Read Today's story about a 2,800-year old monument implying a separation between the body and the soul -- I like that the article contrasts the ancient "mountainous" king's view of the soul with his contemporaries, the ancient Israelites, who did not agree to such a separation.
I really love the movie Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001), and this is one of my favorite scenes. I'm going to post clips occasionally, because I recently discovered that the entire movie is available for free on some of the internets. I may comment, sometimes -- but not this time.
-Lunch with full-faculty on Wednesdays.
Forgive me, Walt, for I have sinned...
Associations between mysticism and madness have been made since earliest recorded history, and the striking resemblance between self-reports of both mystical and psychotic experience suggests that similar psychological processes may be involved in their occurrence. By exploring the similarities, and proposing a common element to mystical and psychotic experience (referred to here as the experience of "oneness"), this paper aims to place mysticism and madness onto the same experiential continuum. However, in contrast to much of the previous literature, the intention is not to pathologize mystical experience, but rather to normalize psychotic experience. The paper argues not only that the experience of oneness is entirely genuine and available to all humans, but also that it has an important psychological (and evolutionary) function. Using cognitive terminology, it then attempts to explain the processes determining whether an individual enjoys a fulfilling mystical experience, or suffers a debilitating psychotic breakdown (i.e., how "oneness" is experienced). Finally, this paper turns to look at some of the important implications such an approach might have for clinical practice and for the mental health of people in general.
Update: Another recent article in the same journal makes a similar case. One of you might be interested--here's the abstract:
*Full citation: Raab, KA. "Manic depression and religious experience: the use of religion in therapy." Mental Health, Religion & Culture 10.5 (Sept. 2007). Pgs. 473-87.
In the article, I explore the use of spiritual strategies in the treatment of manic depression in religiously oriented psychiatric inpatients. Manic depression, a disorder primarily of mood, is characterized by bouts of mania alternating with depression. Religious themes and mystical experiences pervade the language of manic depressive illness, e.g., sensing one is God, being given a divine mission, receiving divine messages, having ecstatic experiences, and so on. Debate exists concerning the effectiveness of spiritual interventions in manic patients. I suggest that a trained religious leader may be able to work therapeutically with such patients, provided that two goals are kept in mind: emphasizing beliefs that facilitate positive coping and challenging irrational religious beliefs (i.e., beliefs that lead to negative coping). When examined psychoanalytically, patients' religious symbols and beliefs reveal deeply held beliefs about themselves. In particular, splitting and idealization and devaluation can be seen in their religious belief system. The role of culture in promoting maladaptive belief systems must not be overlooked. In employing spiritual interventions in patients diagnosed with manic depression, potential dangers are imposing one's values on patients and overstating the importance of spirituality.*
Hmm... I can't quite find the right transition, for some reason; that national emblem of Bhutan will have to do. In any case, I thought somebody might get a kick out of the NPR story I heard this morning about Bhutan. Bhutan is one of my favorite countries, not only because it is practically the "least among us," but also because its last monarch instituted a policy that replaced the focus on Gross Domestic Product with (seriously) Gross Domestic Happiness.
So let's back at it:
In J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Franny discovers decides to walk the path(s?) of spiritual refinement after discovering the many (seemingly authentic) narratives of mystical experience. She is buzzing along in life perfectly content until she recognizes that it is--how to put it?--very strange that there are so many bizarre first person accounts of spiritual experience. I can't remember which writers she cites, but it was a list like this: Buddha, St. Paul, Augustine, Plotinus, Mohammed, St. Augustine, Hildegard of Bignen, Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Emanuel Swedenborg, T.S. Eliot, and so on...
Franny moves quickly from simply "recognizing" the fact of the existence of these testimonies to an interest in experiencing such a phenomena for herself. I don't know how to account for that. William James seems to have been interested in mysticism without being a mystic, but sometimes I suspect he was a mystic in disguise.
Anyway, Franny discovers the fabled Russian book, The Way of the Pilgrim, which tells the story of a "seeker" who is interested in learning what St. Paul meant by the phrase, "Pray unceasingly." The seeking pilgrim finds a monk that tells him that he can have the experience of Gd: all he has to do is say the words, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." The monk tells him to really focus on the word mercy. The monk also mentions that it doesn't matter whether you believe the prayer or not, so long as you are actually saying it aloud (you can say it to yourself after you've let it settle into your... heart/mind/soul.)
Following in the soul-steps of the Pilgrim, Franny begins muttering the prayer. The "Franny" section of the book ends with her having, apparently, a nervous breakdown, muttering, it is implied, the "Jesus prayer."
Well, I suppose I could claim one similar -- ahem -- "nervous breakdown" in my life. In my experience, it could not be described as "fun," but I don't think of it as a bad thing. Anyway, my point is this: I'm reading St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul lately, and I'm finding it really compelling -- not least because I presumed that the Dark Night was a bad thing for the spirit. It turns out, the Dark Night is actually a necessary process, a kind of purgative and preparatory cleansing. The most interesting part is that St. J of the C describes it all as deterministic. Not unlike the Buddhist Sotapanna, who, once entering the stream, cannot turn back, John's archetypal saint seems driven forward (or rather, pulled nearer to G-d).
I loved, immediately-upon-reading, St. J/of/C's description of the descent into the Dark Night -- and some of you might, too. Let me quote a couple paragraphs:
What does it mean to pray without ceasing? Does all of this sound deeply, even physically, familiar to anyone else, or am I alone on this very strange road?--me and Franny. Later that page, St. J/of/C says,
...as G-d sets the soul in this dark night to the end that He may quench and purge its sensual desire, He allows it not to find attraction or sweetness in anything whatsoever. In such a case it may be considered very probable that this aridity and insipidity proceed not from recently committed sins or imperfections. For, if this were so, the soul would feel in its nature some inclination or desire to taste other things than those of God; since, whenever the desire is allowed indulgence in any imperfection, it immediately feels inclined thereto, whether little or much, in proportion to the pleasure and love that it has put into it. Since, however, this lack of enjoyment in things above or below might proceed from some indisposition or melancholy humor, which oftentimes makes it impossible for the soul to take pleasure in anything, it becomes necessary to apply the second sign and condition.
The second sign whereby a man may believe himself to be experiencing the said purgation is that the memory is ordinarily centered upon G-d, with painful care and solicitude, thinking that it is not serving G-d, but is backsliding, because it finds itself without sweetness in the things of G-d. And in such a case it is evident that this lack of sweetness and this aridity come not from weakness and lukewarmness; for it is the nature of lukewarmness not to care greatly or to have any inward solicitude for the things of G-d. There is thus a great difference between aridity and lukewarmness...
...when it is the spirit that receives the pleasure, the flesh is left without savour and is too weak to perform any action. But the spirit, which all the time is being fed, goes forward in strength, and with more alertness and solicitude than before, in its anxiety not to fail G-d; and if it is not immediately conscious of spiritual sweetness and delight, but only of aridity and lack of sweetness, the reason for this is the strangeness of the exchange; for its palate has been accustomed to those other sensual pleasures upon which its eyes are still fixed...
...although at first the spirit feels no sweetness, for the reasons that we have just given, it feels that it is deriving stength and energy to act from the substance which this inward food gives it, the which food is the beginning of a contemplation that is dark and arid to the senses; which contemplation is secret and hidden from the very person that experiences it; and ordinarily, together with the aridity and emptiness which it causes in the senses, it gives the soul an inclination and desire to be alone and in quietness, without being able to think of any particular thing or having the desire to do so. If those souls to whom this comes to pass knew how to be quiet at this time, and troubled not about performing any kind of action, whether inward or outward, neither had any anxiety about doing anything, then they would delicately experience this inward refreshment in that ease and freedom from care. So delicate is this refreshment that ordinarily, if a man have desire or care to experience it, he experiences it not; for as I say, it does its work when the soul is most at ease and freest from care; it is like the air which, if one would close one's hand upon it, escapes.Hmm... so that's what this is going to be about? Learning (again, Gd?!) to be quiet, letting go of anxiety? Seems so easy.
Sometimes, infrequently, and involuntarily, as I'm about to fall asleep at night, I feel what seems to be an extra-warm liquid oozing through my body, especially in my fingers an up the middle of my back, up my neck, and (it feels like) into my whole head. So refreshing.
I do not recall programming this alert into my phone, so it must have been months ago when I did this -- but my phone was alerting me that, at some time early this morning, probably as I slept, a "note change" was played in Halberstadt, Germany as a part of a peformance of John Cage's most incredible composition, As Slow as Possible (Organ²/ASLSP ). This page is also interesting, on the same subject.
If you don't know about this -- learn. The single playing of this very long song started on an organ in 2001, but you haven't missed so much (about 12 notes?) that you can't catch up... the song will still be playing long after all of us are dead and gone. I'm not saying the synchronous timing of this incident had anything to do with the promise of a new day in America and the world, but... yes I am:
Barack Obama's facebook page lists Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, The Bible, Lincolin's writings, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" as our next president's favorite books. A near perfect list, in my humble opinion. I might suggest he add this one: