It is hard to deny that the power of language has been substantial. One might argue that it has been too substantial, or perhaps more to the point, too substantializing. Neither an exaggerated faith in the power of language nor the expressed apprehension that language is being granted too much power is a novel feature of the late twentieth century and the early twentyfirst. For example, during the nineteenth century, Nietzsche warned against the mistaken tendency to take grammar too seriously: allowing linguistic structure to shape or determine our understanding of the world, believing that the subject-and-predicate structure of language reflects a prior ontological reality of substance and attribute. The belief that grammatical categories reflect the underlying structure of the world is a continuing seductive habit of mind worth questioning. Continue reading “TAKING MATTER SERIOUSLY”
For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point, a rope pulled tighter and tighter, waiting for a nip of the black swan’s beak to snap it in two. Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them?
Charles Eisenstein, The Coronation.
Listen to/or read the full essay Here.
The anthropocentrism that looks out on the world and says “we did this!” – including the more tolerable kind that looks out on the so-called Anthropocene and sadly mutters “we did this” – denies the significance of the other-than human in the world’s emergence. The closer we look, the more we find that we never act alone: every small gesture is a generation of the collective. Every small gesture is already cooked in a cauldron of many spoons, stirred by things whose names we can pronounce, and other things that are not quite nameable. Every small gesture is already a compost heap of a million critters. The “human” is a carnival of nonhuman doings; it is, to use Karen Barad’s term, a posthumanist performativity that shapes the world, allocates agency, and troubles boundaries. Like dust.
We are fundamentally porous and promiscuous. This is the world we live in – a carnival of the unexpected, of the irregular, the grotesque, or monstrous bodies – where the hard and cold lines that distinguish you from me, us from trees, trees from economics, and economics from whale shit are blurry, leaky and wet. our own bodies are populated by trillions of other bacterial cells in their own becomings, but these cells do not live “on” you, or with you, or through you. They are you: they are necessary to your body’s ongoing survival. You couldn’t be human without these alien entanglements that breach the fences between you and your environment. These overlapping bodies, pressed together in this strange material world characterised by a “horrifying kind of intimacy,” make it impossible to make a once-and-for-all cut between where I stop and where you begin, or where life stops and death triumphs, or where matter gallops forward and mind allegedly tugs on the reins. It is in this sense we are monsters. We are one and many. You are only yourself through others.
Is this a way of easing oneself out of responsibility for, say, the impact of industrial activity on climate and environmental well-being? No, it is a way of deepening it – because to so summarily assign blame and pin an entire upholstery of multiple events to a single factor, or an essential substrate working behind the scenes, is to further distance ourselves from the world’s happenings and – intentions notwithstanding – reduce the world to separable parts where our technological mastery is its main driver. It is to strip matter of its own desire, will, intention, and movement so that it doesn’t present an impediment to our concerns.
Bayo Akomolafe, These Wilds Beyond Our Fences.
The word maya is used in the non-dual traditions to describe consciousness’s ability to assume a form with which it seems to limit itself. It is the power that a screen possesses to appear as a landscape and, as such, seem to veil itself with its own creativity. From this perspective maya is often translated as ‘illusion,’ that is, the ability of infinite consciousness, the self-aware screen, to appear as something other than itself, which it now knows from the perspective of a separate subject within its own dream. However, the illusion is only such from the limited and ultimately imaginary perspective of the separate subject of experience that seems to come into existence as a result of consciousness’s veiling power.
Maya, as illusion, is the activity of the mind through which infinite consciousness brings manifestation out of its own being into apparent existence. It is its own cause. However, from the point of view of consciousness, its ability to assume innumerable names and forms does not create the illusion of a world, but is rather seen and experienced as an ever-changing outpouring of itself within itself in order to realise, manifest and enjoy the endless flow of its own infinite potential in form. Thus, the deeper meaning of the word maya is ‘creativity,’ the process by which consciousness manifests itself as an ever-changing flow of experience without ever ceasing to be and know itself alone.
In other words, the veiling of consciousness is only such from the perspective of the separate subject of experience. From the perspective of a separate self, maya is an illusion; from the perspective of consciousness, it is an expression of its own inherent freedom and creativity, with which its never-changing reality appears in the form of ever-changing experience.
Thus, when the apparently separate self is divested of its self-assumed limitations and stands revealed as the true and only self of infinite awareness, maya ceases to be a veiling power and is experienced as a revealing power, and in correspondence with this change, objective experience, which once seemed to veil consciousness, now shines within it.
Consciousness knows itself in and as the totality of experience. Even our darkest moods shine with the light of its knowing. This ability of consciousness to be, know or become anything other than itself is the experience of love, which admits no separation, objectivity or otherness. Thus, from the perspective of consciousness, creation is a manifestation of love.
Rupert Spira, The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter.
Prior to any manifestation, awareness remains motionless and alone, knowing only its own eternal, infinite being. Awareness does not know itself as an object in the way the mind seems to know objects, and thus awareness’s knowing of its own eternal, infinite being is said to be ‘empty’ or ‘void’.
However, that is only true from the point of view of the mind, which believes objects to be real things in their own right, made out of stuff called ‘matter’. From such a point of view awareness is empty, void, not-a-thing or nothing. From its own point of view – which is the only real point of view, and is itself not a ‘point’ of view – awareness is not nothing, nor is it something. ‘Nothing’ and ‘something’ both belong to mind, for both derive their meaning from the assumption of independently existing ‘things’. Continue reading “BEING AWARE (INSTINCT/INTELLIGENCE IN SPIRA)”
Thinking cuts furrows into the soil of being. (Heidegger)
Where can I find a man who has forgotten words, so I can talk with him? (Zhuangzi)
To say we have gone further down the rabbit hole the past few years is to measure the present against some vision of normality. It certainly seems as though there is some level of absurdity underpinning events within the modern global culture. Metrics tell us we have never been better off, whilst other metrics tell us we are on the brink of catastrophe. It is within this context that I have been trying to make some sense of what the hell is going on, for some time now but with an earnest over the past few years. This has lead me down several rabbit holes, forcing me to confront my own vision of normality. This year I have read several profound books which have helped me further clarify what I think might describe how things have come to be the way they are. It is not a case of what we think, but how. This is such a simple statement to make, but a much harder one to fully comprehend the significance of.
I started this year by reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and everything fell into place. Building on and clarifying an intuition that had been growing, this book set the tone for what I would read and think about this year. McGilchrist says, “certainty is the greatest of all illusions: whatever kind of fundamentalism it may underwrite, that of religion or of science, it is what the ancients meant by hubris. The only certainty, it seems to me, is that those who believe they are certainly right are certainly wrong,” adding that, “none of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.” And this, it seems to me, is where we are at today. Politics aside, no one seems to have illustrated this global predicament more this year than Jordan Peterson. I read Maps of Meaning after The Master and his Emissary, at the suggestion that Peterson’s ideas mapped somewhat onto McGilchrist’s. It is perhaps this that has occupied my academic enquiry the most this year.
The other two books that most occupied me this year were Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh. Whilst quite different to McGilchrist and Peterson, I have found a common thread underpinning these four books, illuminated along the way by returning to Heraclitus, and a new (to me) philosophical translation of the Daodejing by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall. The implications of this leave no aspect of ourselves and our relationships with each other and our environment untouched, and an appreciation of which could lead the way to a more harmonious way of life. Eisenstein says:
Under the sway of dualism, we have essentially sought to divide the world into two parts, one infinite and the other finite, and then to live wholly in the latter which, because it is finite, is amenable to control. Our lordship over nature is at heart an egregious self-deception, because its first step is to attempt nature’s precipitous reduction, which is equally a reduction of life, a reduction of experience, a reduction of feeling, and a reduction of being: a true Faustian exchange of the infinite for the finite. This reduction comes in many guises and goes by many names. It is the domestication of the wild; it is the measuring and quantification of nature; it is the conversion of cultural, natural, social, and spiritual wealth into money. Because it is a reduction of life, violence is its inevitable accompaniment; hence the rising crescendo of violence that has bled our civilisation for thousands of years and approaches its feverish apogee as we conclude the present wholesale destruction of entire species, oceans, ecosystems, languages, cultures, and peoples.
What follows is my analysis of a way of thinking that has been influenced this year by these books. A few disclaimers: I have done my best to eschew the ‘poeticism’ of my previous years in review and write as clearly and succinctly as possible. It is of course impossible and pointless for me to summarise large academic texts, so I would refer you to the books themselves for the full extrapolation. Rather, I have taken sections from each to build up a picture of how various seemingly different ideas are implicitly interlinked. Despite my intentions, this is not an academic essay and therefore I am well aware that, whilst I have tried hard not to, I may seem to contradict myself in places and to use some terminology confusingly. My hope is that, if you are interested in thinking about the world, you may want to engage with these ideas in constructive discussion. I certainly would not confess to having things figured out, but I feel comfortable, perhaps for the first time in my life, with my narrative.
Adam John Miller
20th December 2018