Wednesday, January 09, 2019


The essential insight of this manuscript (written over time as blog posts) is that intense experience of meaning as well as ordinary sustained harmony with life are based on the physical experience of the human animal, as much coded and recorded in the whole body as it is guided and initiated by the brain.  Such a stance is not quite religious, but rather phenomenological: because that's what happens that we can perceive.

The title is pretentious but also based on a body of research, history, and thought.  At other moments I might call it "Holy Crap" just to reduce expectations. It is generated by the body and it feels different, sacred, no matter what is technically secular or not.

"It comes from a Greek word for manifestation or appearance. For many Christians, Epiphany refers to the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus and is marked by a feast day Jan. 6. But the word "epiphany" has another a sudden popular meaning:a sudden flash of understanding or insight."

I choose the secular meaning of epiphany -- "flash of understanding or insight." Except not so much brain as gut.

"Embodiment is a concept in constant motion, threading through swaths of literature from anthropology, cultural studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and, more recently, neuroscience. Although the concept becomes different things in different places, broadly speaking in anthropology, embodiment is a way of describing porous, visceral, felt, enlivened bodily experiences, in and with inhabited worlds".

OBJECT RELATIONS:  I came to this idea largely through a branch of psychotherapy called "Object relations" based on how children use objects to make their thinking and relationships concrete.   "It is a theory describing the relationship felt or the emotional energy directed by the self or ego toward a chosen object."  "Object relations theory aims to give an account of the world of the infant in the very earliest months of life."

ANTHROPOLOGY:  The 19th century roots of anthropology are in the devising of the tall masted ships with sails that spread out over the world from Europe and so discovered how different people could be.  At first they weren't even considered human, were killed and subjugated.  Then -- as humanly recurs -- the "different" people were thought to be disappearing, studied by the discipline that became called "salvation anthropology."  Now the cultures differed in time as much as place, so that the culture of the Blackfeet in 1500 or even 1900 is quite different from what it is in 2019.

I don't know what other countries besides Europe and its empire have this concept of cultures as "things" and pursue it with such zeal.  As modernity has dislocated people, they have used anthropology to leap from their own origins to more mystical and confident settings (often imagined), feeling that their dislocation is a call to explore and convert.  This is partly motivated by the emptying of religious traditions that are thousands of years old, developed to respond to much older cultures but unfitting now.  Resourceful Christianity has been able to develop its roots in the family, but today -- at least in the Americas -- families are broken apart by the elimination of the link to physical parenting through contraception, ignored laws, constant moving, and educations that throw origins into doubt.

This document is meant to propose a path from conception to death that will illuminate how people find meaning in their lives and manage it, with or without institutional religion, but through stabilizing ritual.  It also suggests ways to create or renew meaning, through feelings.  Not a pledge of allegiance, as "beliefs" have come to be defined, but a feeling of the innate holy.  This is apart from churches or clergy.

"Religion" is so various, so power-infused, that it is something entirely different that only intersects with the individual's task.  In our times the access to individual meaning, and the motivation for finding a community of meaning and support, has been confused, eroded, and overwhelmed by modern media and globalization.  Maybe this approach will help.

It may take a generation to move the concept of the sacred away from the European constructs that have controlled our thoughts since the Axial Age when the major religious institutions formed, a kind of nations-in-nation that are sometimes conflated with governance as theocracies.  But then maybe we can stop the endless arguments about whether God does or does not exist, to what extent "he" is a human construct.  Maybe then we can begin to think through the necessity of revision of our morality and ethics, our guidelines and safeguards, so we can stop converting the life of the planet into dead profit.  Maybe we can stop impounding and killing children in acts of war against the "other."

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