Though I’m vitally concerned with the return of whole body elements of thought, there is still a place for logic, nearer to mathematical “if-then” thinking. For instance, what if we replaced the Christian obsession with life after death with something more like “belonging to creation”. The great harmony and enfolding that is described after someone experiences “mystical” deep experience might be a persuasive emotional matrix as much as some abstract goal like “progress”.
These experiences, when they are claimed by “religion”, become just another justification for theories and organizations invested in self-perpetuation. They are claimed as “founding” but they are more like “found and exploited.” The Big Three (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have been particularly resourceful at enveloping deep experiences of individuals into pre-existing governmental and cultural structures, so that they provide vocations and fine buildings. They have coped with competition by building what they take to be power.
Most of the time they also frame reasons for responsible moral behavior, but occasionally they become perverted into sin and destruction, often because they are picked up by pre-existing greed for control. This is particularly enabled by the pattern of the patriarch, the monarch, the anthropomorphic god — because the imaging becomes exemplars of humans complete with their shortcomings. Simply shooting the king so as to become him is a consequence.
Widening inclusion of concerns as far as one can is a better alternative to obeying “the highest”, which blurs into status, entitlement, and domination. Turning a perversion of Darwin’s theory of evolution into Hobbs’ idea of survival of the bloodiest and most violent is not a path to a healthy society or a joyful life. Domination as a key to relationship needs to be replaced by attachment, an evolved phenomenon basic to mammal life but not well explored except as human belonging, patriotism, loyalty. This is partly because we see “attachment” in terms of sentimentality that is a cultural construct rather than the intrinsically evolutionary and physical foundation of survival, arising from the need to nurture babies.
We love what we know in a sensory flesh-based way, the way your dog loves you even if you’re mean to him. His expression of love is contact and protection, just as in the best of families who have shared experience over time, each helping the belonging to the whole. We’re told (that’s my phrase for “scientific information based on research”) that the outside limits of our capacity to know individuals is probably about a hundred people, the size of an original tribe or an extended family. About the number that a public school teacher has responsibility for in a year. It’s a limit — not an ideal.
Few people know well a hundred places, but we tend to attach to them as we do to people, in that sensory way of naming, seeing metaphor and interacting. Someone who can’t do this is limited at best and a form of, well, “sociopath” at worst. The results of inability to attach to place are unhappy. As reassurance, many have learned to attach to virtual people and places depicted in stories — writing, film, paintings, dance, whatever has this sensory narrative dimension. We sometimes call it “church.”
Going back, one moral principle is that “good” is doing the best for as many involved entities as possible, including animals and land. Maybe conceptualized virtual things like nations or books. The difficulty is our not knowing enough, which explains our yearning for omniscience, and our “explanation” for why God lets bad things happen — bad things in our view which might be justified by a greater good somewhere else, though we don’t know what that might be.
How do we make that concrete, felt? This pandemic is good for viruses (bitter laugh). It is breaking open pre-existing and fossilized systems and schools of thought that have been preventing growth or even justice. (Incarcerating poor and stigmatized people.) But the price is tearing open attachments around the planet, a high price in grief and confusion. As the more steely among us suggest, the virus is the predator that culls the herd by killing the old, the infirm, and the unwary. Part of the price is numbness, failure to reinvest, avoidance of future attachment.
It will take generations to forget. Already the deification of family is raised up without explaining that a family is not necessarily biological, genomic. And yet the kernel of attachment is formed during gestation and the infant years afterwards when the mother/caregiver teaches the new being the sensory stroking, cleaning, cherishing that create a virtual world of communication between them. This first experience of embrace is what becomes the ability to experience one's engulfment by Being.
The funniest google I’ve run across is a list of “Disney’s Best Epiphanies” which are the sentimental plot changers and pay-offs of cartoon stories. I shouldn’t sneer, but . . . Childish examples include things like falling in love or winning a prize — happy immediate human moments. I wish I’d kept a notebook with examples of the deeper, truly ultimate moments. This is William James whom we did not study in seminary.
“In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which bring it about that the mystical classics have, as been said, neither birthday nor native land.”
Today’s Western attitude is “how can I make money off this?” (Disney?) The preponderant Buddhist attitude has been, “sit down and be part of it.” If we could maintain a consciousness of the stunning photos of the galaxies, an awareness of their melodic gyring through space, and the echo in our own blood molecules, we might accept the idea that we are minute participants — nevertheless messengers from the past to the future, links that are not broken but transformed. Our grief over lost attachments is valid but not the whole story.
Yet not to attach is not to be human.
Yet not to attach is not to be human.