Spaces

Ah, the traditional New Year’s blog post! 🙂 I have spent time away from the computer to tend to other things, among them, my own “space” for being less busy. Finding that space has not been easy, but it is the sort of discipline we human beings ought to practice in this Age of Information. Without a little inner space, it is far too easy to become anxious and overwhelmed.

So I think of Bachelard’s quiet exhortation to cultivate the creative or childhood space, which I contemplated in 2013 at about this time of year (in this post). And I think of Jon Kabat-Zinn and other writers–often classed as spiritual self-help authors but whose writings need not be considered spiritual at all (Kabat-Zinn, in particular, avoids using the term)–who remind us to be attentive, aware, mindful, compassionate even to ourselves, and willing to take ourselves away to inner stillness now and again.

I am particularly drawn to the notion that contemporary human beings can come to mindfulness through actions rather than through withdrawal from the body and the world. Really, we hardly have any other choice. Although I enjoy solitude more than most people do, I am ill-constituted to be a hermit or a renunciate. My temperament precludes noisy advocacy against injustice or for specific good causes; but I could certainly do more helping, more of the kind gesture, more listening, and more giving of the type that lets not my left hand know what my right hand doeth (Matt. 6:3).

There were difficulties this past year, and aggravations, and sufferings both personal and social. So be it; we can learn from failure and adversity. The best way to learn to problem-solve is by being faced with problems!

In his 2000 book about aging and dying, Ram Dass wrote: “My guru once said to a visitor complaining about her suffering, ‘I love suffering. It brings me so close to God.’” Well, that is another way of looking at things; and perspective matters. Creative thinking involves full analysis (even when the analysis seems intuitive, immediate) and often employs a total restructuring of the problem at hand–a widening or narrowing of scope, a different point of view, a new set of tools or skills for puzzle-solving, or quiet cogitation while the thinker digests the whole situation…which may be, for some folks, prayer.

Or poetry. When I am not writing poetry, I am always reading it. Other writers’ words open me to a sense of communal understanding, a sense that we are not alone, not a single one of us, who can hear or read or remember a poem or a word of love or praise. Even when those poems depict sorrow or suffering, for then we know we are not the only ones who feel troubled.

“And our problems will crumble apart, the soul
blow through like a wind, and here where we live
will all be clean again, with fresh bread on the table.”

Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Let the wind make space for fresh bread on your table in 2015 and always.

 

bread

bread

Phenomenology: a beginner’s understanding

“Phenomenology is the attempt to discover the origin of the object at the very centre of our experience…[to] describe the emergence of being and…how, paradoxically, there is for us an in-itself.”

             Maurice Merleau-Ponty

The philosopher argues that while empiricism, psychology, and neurology (brain science was still in its infancy in 1951, and I think Merleau-Ponty would have been fascinated by current medical science involving brain studies) are valuable and offer insights into philosophy, they fail to uncover the origin of being. He also argued that philosophy could become less relevant if philosophers continued to ignore phenomena. Granted, many of us could not care less about the origin of being; but this philosopher claims there is no way to truth if the questioner does not recognize the limits of his or her own perspective first, including physiological limitations that earlier philosophers ignored. Because of radical, rapid developments in science and medicine during the 20th century, and the impact on medical and environmental ethics, Merleau-Ponty’s writing is significant today.

That for us in the quote above means within each individual’s perspective; that in-itself, derived from the Kantian ding an sich, means we possess the ability to ken that the other is unknowable even as we treat the other as an object empirically, physically, intellectually–hence the paradox. Those readers familiar with Kant will recognize similarities with noumenon.

One of Merleau-Ponty’s analogies involves a house. We name it: house. We perceive only one aspect of it in time: what is visible with our human eyes or our other senses. We see the front of the house while knowing the house has a back, sides, a foundation, and interior–none of which are visible to us simultaneously, given our physiology. Yet we are capable of believing (not merely assuming) that there are hidden facets to the house, the pipes, the insulation, electrical wiring for example. And we can believe in a world that embraces all of these facets, even what we cannot see, hear, touch but all of which we can “know.” The house can be a physical phenomenon, one I encounter with my physiological senses; and it can also be imagined by me (intellectually) whole or in part–the house for-me as opposed to the house in-itself–and the person next to me will experience the house for-her and even the house in-itself in a different way due to a whole spectrum of physiological, psychological, and intellectual perspectives. Are any of these perspectives “true”? Are any of them “false”? The facts of empiricism do not explain the mystery of our knowing what we cannot empirically know through induction. The hypotheses of intellectual philosophy do not acknowledge the being-here of the physical experience and the complex psycho-socio-neurological goings-on that make up cognition.

What appeals to me about phenomenology is its awareness that we are limited by our perspectives to the fields of our physical, physiological, psychological, and intellectual points of view–including the empirical, science and its “facts.” And yet, this philosophy admits of our ability to imagine beyond these limits, to speculate; we function amid apparent paradoxes such as the simultaneous existence of unity and monadic separateness, perspectives that overlap, interconnect, communicate with and relate to those other than our own perspectives (or phenomenological fields). Phenomenology accepts that the philosopher’s thinking must be conditioned by situation. Thus, if I understand it aright–and I may not–phenomenology admits of us being in the world-as-itself.

Hence:

“Be here now,” as Ram Dass famously advocated in a book all of my friends had in their libraries in the 1970s.

Ram Dass' Be Here Now

Ram Dass’ Be Here Now

I’m over-simplifying. Yet I see a correspondence between the phenomenological approach and some aspects of (so-called) Eastern knowledge-practices/philosophies. The idea of consciousness as a network of intentions. The statement that “consciousness does not admit of degree.” The notion that actions and observations matter.

And now I am like the Zen practitioner…as far as phenomenology goes, I have “beginner’s mind.”