Friday, June 7


supposedly, Buddha once advised the people of the world "not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly."

all those words... what do they mean? infinitive verbs all strung together so lightly: to mourn, or to anticipate? to live? we can't really define any of that without a bunch of other words. and none of the words make any sense except that which we give them as part of the great social contract(s) we, as civilized English-speakers, have each been cozily wrapped in.

but before I get too lost in a dictionary (or the values or purposes or theoretical implications of a dictionary), I'll settle down and narrow my thoughts a little bit. I'm reading an awesome book right now on how our bodies mediate almost every single thing we know and think and are. Mark Johnson's The Meaning of the Body. I'm only up to page 82 so far... but I've dogeared several of those 82 pages. here is a string of them, accompanied by page numbers and seedling thoughts.

Johnson includes a long quote from D. N. Lee's The Perceived Self on page 52, my favourite parts of which were: "we exist by coupling our bodies to the environment through action" and "We are what we do." this seems a cheeky twisting of Descartes assumption. what, after all, this Lee seems to toss at old Rene, is mere thinking worth? and I am left wondering how "I act, therefore I am" would sound in Latin (friend Allison, or any other students of the great dead language--do you know?).

quote two, this one also concerned with action and interaction, from page 46:
"The world does not come to us prepackaged with determinate objects with their determinate properties. Instead, we have to learn the meaning of physical objects, which we do by watching them, handling them, subjecting them to forces, and seeing how they can be used--in short, by forms of interactive inquiry that are at once bodily and reflective." 
kinesthesia, trial and error. I wish I remembered or knew what it was like, to be a child figuring out how these things work. Johnson discusses research that's been done on children and their brains, but it's all so preliminary and full of conjecture.

however little we seem to understand them, our interactions with the world do seem to teach us things and we've manipulated nature massively over the years. our existence and our actions seem to matter. maybe there are even patterns in there somewhere. there is a section referring to John Dewey's work with the complex but perhaps knowable situatedness of human emotions. there are reasons and spaces and causes for the ways we feel, apparently. our emotions and existence are not independent of the outside world, and neither is the world independent of my existence or emotions. Johnston sums up Dewey's main points and then spits back this paragraph on page 67:
"If emotions are merely private, interior, subjective responses, then they tell us nothing objective about our world. However, once we see that emotions exist precisely because of the ways they are connected to our shared world and permit us to function within it, then it becomes possible to recognize their crucial roles in our communal well-being." 
but can we always see emotions this way? I struggle to, because despite how deeply I ache for someone or something to blame for my moods, it isn't usually clear whose fault it is, or which gremlins have their fingers on which internal buttons. causality is huge and confusing by itself, and emotional causality may perhaps be the most tangled section. earlier in the book, Johnson notes this as a problem on page 13, during an overview of the implications attending conceptions of an embodied mind:
"if there is no transcendent self, no disembodied ego, to serve as the agent of free choice, then what sense can we make of real choice, or of moral responsibility for our actions? This problem has plagued all naturalistic accounts of mind [...]. We need a view of choice that is consistent with cognitive neuroscience and its insistence on the embodiment of mind and yet which doesn’t make a shambles of our notions of moral responsibility"
connections between our past, present, and future selves are pretty important, for many reasons. no matter what our true responsibilities may be for action or inaction, we do mourn for the past from time to time. we worry and we anticipate and we corrode our earnestness in trying to be the kinds of people others won't blame or hate or look down upon. we forget and remember and misremember, selling off this or that chunk of time for this or that unfulfilling activity, so often unsure of why or to what end we do it. truly living in the moment might be impossible. this moment. what is it, other than simply, always, gone?

a last quote from Johnson reminds me of a few things friend Chris has often said about the meaning and 'divinity' or goodness of our species. again found in the overview of implications section, page 14:
"our spirituality cannot be grounded in otherworldliness. It must be grounded in our relation to the human and more-than-human world that we inhabit. It must involve a capacity for horizontal (as opposed to vertical) transcendence, namely, our ability both to transform experience and to be transformed ourselves by something that transcends us: the whole ongoing ever-developing natural process of which we are a part."
the horizontal-ness there caught my imagination. I'm seeing concentric circles. ripples extending from me all the way out as far as anything. a map with new sections being filled in along the way.

infinitive verbs. I haven't quite unstrung them and dissected them all here--to do so might be fruitless. to live. and not to mourn. we know these things much more by doing, not by reading. is it the same for the adverbs? wisely. earnestly. how?

my father once (or twice or a million times) advised me that wisdom is the proper anticipation of consequences. to live wisely seems another skill only gained by experience (which is just the name we give to our mistakes, says Oscar Wilde). so we can't just sit around, though I suppose that is a kind of experience, and doing nothing will not save us from mistake-making either. we must watch and handle the world, and ourselves. and act. be coupled. undergo and exert force. see. be seen. test. be tested.

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