November Meditation and Conversation

Keweenaw Philosophical Practice presents a morning of Meditation and Conversation on Friday, November 11th, where we will explore the philosophy and practices of Thelema.   The session will begin at 9am and we will wrap up around noon.  All are welcome.  The event is free.  Space is limited.  Send us an email today to reserve seating: keweenawphilosophicalpractice@gmail.com. 

Keweenaw Philosophical Practice is located in a residential home.  Our address is 400 Agate Street, Houghton, MI 49931.  Parking is available on the streets running perpendicular to Agate.  If you need to call with questions or for directions, reach us at 612-548-1584.

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Holiness and the Real Human

The Pharisees of the gospels are stereotypes made to ease the dirty business of judgment.  The truth is more likely that when Jesus overturned the tables of the temple, Jesus was marked as a crank, seen as crossing the line of propriety if not morality, and taken as more than a little self-righteous.  We do not behave in vacuums.  Acting outside the boundaries is not recognized as an innovation, but, interpreted in light of the boundaries, is recognized as violence.  The hermeneutic by which our behavior is read is the norm of behavior.  Reformation and revolution can never be recognized outright as the need of the time.  The Pharisees will be our natural measure of holiness.

Of course, this is a difficult and dangerous lesson to learn.  It is difficult to learn because we resist change as the psychologically and sociologically conservative species that we are.  The lesson is dangerous because it makes it seem impossible that we will recognize the limits of authentic and beneficial movements for change, thus rejecting self-serving and possibly deadly calls for revolution.  There is a wariness because we cannot formulate a new law to govern behavior in the face of a truly open society.  But the Gospel call is for love, and not for law.  Paul even goes so far as to reject the legitimacy of the law after the resurrection.  (Understand that how you will.)  As Aleister Crowley wrote not so long ago, “Love is the law, love under will.”

And that is really as much guidance as there may be with regard to love, at least as far as I can see.  Reflections on love should not end.  Views may shift and mutate.  But love is the guide in my worldview…  beyond all good and evil.

Humans are relatively predictable, we act in light of pretty clear material interests even if those interests are not clear to us, when we are fortunate enough to have such settled interests.  We act out of fear of the out-group to protect interests, when we have no material interests worth mentioning, and a hundred other heuristic shortcuts lead to mistakes that govern our behavior.  War and politics are just the highest level expressions of those psychological and sociological mistakes, possibly preventable but definitely predictable.  Good and evil is molded by this evolution of moral vision.  Only love escapes the rule that says the Pharisee is the holy man, only a love that sees with the vision of the other and pours itself out.  This all but guarantees that we will see love as a violence to the domain of holiness.  May we have the courage of the vision of love.

A Holistic Approach to Miracles

My odd article “Against Santa Claus” is flawed, horrendously flawed.  I think.  (Let me never be dogmatic or unchanging in my thinking.  I have been wrong too many times, often due to staking out such immovable opinions.)  Miracles are not the drawing close of the divine to the human.  There is no God but man (or a man.  Choose your scripture.)  This seems to be as close as we get.  The holy is within the ordinary.

As I incensed my little chapel this morning, I was drawn to sit in zazen and seek the holy, which is Nothing.   As Aleister Crowley long ago pointed out, our methods are techniques made to produce specific effects.  Incense and meditation are practically guaranteed to evoke the holy.  A Pure Vision, as far as I can tell, is the Holy evoked within the ordinary.  No miracles, no siddhis.  Just a quiet gaze at the ground.

Evidence is against the miraculous.  To assert otherwise is to lie.  No one has yet brought to me a miracle, a magical power or a siddhi that can stand up to the demand for evidence.  The argument usually follows that faith demands a lack of evidence.  This seems to be a misunderstanding of faith.  Hebrews 11:1 defines Christian faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  But what sort of conviction can we have apart from evidence? What assurance do we have in a mere belief that flies in the face of all of history? At best they are irrational positions.  Hebrews doesn’t demand such foolishness.  My spiritual experience leads me to my convictions.  And my convictions lead me to my spiritual experience.  There is a virtuous circle here, indeed.  But that is not a denial of experience.  Rather, we interpret our experience.  And experience our interpretations.

Santa Claus is still a lie.  But the bigger lie is the one that teaches children to wish harder rather than to work smarter to achieve their ends.

Life is miraculous.  Don’t turn the depths of creation into a lie.

An End to Imprisonment

The line sounds impossible.  How could we ever do without imprisoning offenders? Surely, we would be overrun by criminals unchecked by even a non-violent punishment such as incarceration.  We have become a society formed by repression, repression of our fears and our prejudices and our wounds.  We fear the criminal.  We hate the other, especially those we see as part of another race or class (or, even more disturbingly, we hate the other who is part of the class we believe we should no longer be a part of).  We destroy ourselves with drugs and alcohol, abuse of our loved ones, and medically destructive life styles.  So we incarcerate and repress.

The practice we have adopted is pathological.  We currently hold either the 1st or 2nd place in the world in terms of the percentage of our population held in custody, depending on whose numbers you read.  Freedom is not a value in the United States of America.  Only if we ignore the fact that many of our criminals are non-violent offenders, medically and psychologically in need rather than a threat to you or me, do we have even the shadow of a chance of grounding our penal practice.  The fact is that as a nation we are very sick.  We destroy lives rather than listen and cooperate to see all our members flourish.  We are more like a viral infection than a citizenry.

Incarceration is a crime.  It has no rehabilitative value in almost all cases.  Dehumanizing a woman because of, in many, if not most, cases, psychological disorder is hateful.  And literally millions are being dehumanized via forced confinement in the United States.  If this issue is not the most pressing issue of our time, it certainly reaches to the top of the list.  Our nation must reform.  Not to do so is to risk a guilty blindness to a political and moral tragedy playing out on our own land.  Imagination and tolerance and science are our only way forward.

Patriotism or Citizenship

As we move deeper and deeper into the current election year, civic virtues and their place in our lives takes a central place in my reflections.  Democracy, for instance, is inefficient and makes decisions which are less than optimal, as the mean of our individual choices is not intelligent but average.  And thus we have Donald Trump.  Average is mean spirited and fearful of the inescapable wave of changes that the future brings.  Average wants to maintain the status quo.  But in a world of evolution, change is the only constant and the status quo is a dangerous, usually bigoted, delusion.

 

Trump is good for something, of course.  He exposes the blindness of patriotism.  Patriots are not principled defenders of the right, the good and the true.  They are nationalists, and nationalism is as ugly today as it was in 1944.  The fact that patriotic Republicans take Trump to be a well-informed representative of the right reveals the fact that those patriots are blinded by fear-mongers, with Trump in the lead.

 

I was a soldier once.  I risked my life for the United States of America.  I have a love for the land of America, and my community is my home.  But I do not love America above all else.  I love the people of Costa Rica and Iraq and Greece and Mexico.  Canada’s vastness is a treasure as is China’s expanse.  In my dreams, Africa’s many states are overrun with wealth.  Try selling that vision.

 

Trump risks nothing.  Everyone knows that hate and fear are blockbusters.  We are built preloaded with the in-group/out-group software installed.  The real challenge is stripping ourselves of the bullshit we are programmed with and becoming the seeds of intentional communities.  So try something new.  Be a citizen of the Earth or the coming Kingdom, but, please, God, do not tell me you are a patriot.  Besides, I have more medals than you.

Philosophy and Friendship

Philosophy is not generally thought of as a social force or a means of healing. My general impression is that academic philosophy is a force for division and it leaves more psychic wounds than it ever heals. But this is my personal impression based on an academic career that was troubled by drugs and alcohol and mental illness. Academia, however, is not the only place to practice philosophy. Philosophy is alive in the living rooms and coffee shops where friends gather to speculate about our mysterious existence. In my mind, that is where philosophical friendship thrives.

Philosophical friendship, as far as I can tell, builds rather than tears down. So much of academic philosophy is given to the adversarial picture of how to stake out a position: the opposition must be destroyed in order to clear cut land for building one’s own position. But I have been blessed to have stumbled into a group of hungry minds who do not operate under the adversarial picture. Instead, my circle of philosophers is a circle of friends, mostly in their 80s, confronting questions of health and mortality, worried over the political and economic and environmental legacy we will leave the following generations. They are genuinely curious about how to make sense of human life. And they respect each other to the point that they listen and build on one another’s insights. There is no clear cutting.

This picture of philosophical friendship is radically different from the picture we have in American life of how to pursue, for example, economic and political questions. There is little room for truth in the American debates because the aim is not discovery but victory. We do not value truth or beauty. If we pay attention to the intellectual landscape, we must prize fear and anger, and winning over everything.

But that picture is one that leads to death. Spiritual death. The life of the soul, as I read it, is deepest when we confront the unknown. The American way cannot handle the unknown. What we confront must be reduced to an object, fully understood when it has its pay off realized. To confront and appreciate the unknown is to have the insight that all is false, every insight misses the mark. And with that we come to realize that we are on an endless journey of discovery. We do not make the mark, but we continue to get closer. And every miss is an insight.

Perhaps in death we make the mark. I do not know, but I have hope. Along the way, though, I have friends.

Delusions and Philosophy

Several years ago my life came apart. All my life seemed to have been building to that time, with ongoing struggles over drugs and alcohol, depression and paranoia. Somehow, though, the struggles were seen as a sort of moral failure rather than the effects of a maladaptive brain. In that moral light, the question was how I could be so weak or so cruel rather than seeing the important questions as questions of causality and health.

It is still difficult for me to look on those recurring disturbed episodes in my life as anything less than a moral failure on my part. We have been trained, after all, to categorize actions in terms of right and wrong, guilt or innocence, freedom or coercion. That moral language demands moral activity: I must assert my will and make the right choice.

The more I learn about behavior and cognition, the less my moral language appears accurate or useful. Moral language is a relic of a discredited dualistic belief system… even if that language is still alive today. Human psychology is too enmeshed in the world to speak simply of freedom. We make choices, certainly, but the many causes of any given choice are impossible to tease out in any intellectually satisfying way.

So that time of mental unravelling in my life, was it a failure on my part or the culmination of a series of biological and sociological blunders? Both, I suppose. My mental hygiene was not very sound, as is the case for so many of us who are found on the schizophrenic spectrum. I often enough sought psychological help only to reject the help offered when my paranoia drove me to believe that my doctor, for instance, was a criminal in hiding, living under a false identity. Am I to blame for how I acted when overwhelmed by such delusions? The question is unhelpful. What we really should be asking is how to prevent the episodes of paranoia, how to recognize when they are in the process of developing and how to react once a paranoid episode has taken off.

Philosophical practice cannot address a medical crisis such as a delusion in full bloom. (Anyone who says otherwise is, in my mind, an irresponsible quack.) Philosophy, if it is anything, is an attempt to make meaning or find value in the world. Such concerns are important, but hardly seem relevant to the immediate need of the woman grappling with schizoaffective disorder. Real healing grounded in our material reality is what is needed most.

What philosophical practice offers is a process of making room in my life for the delusions of the past. I can look upon paranoia as an opportunity, a way of making my soul with my own hands. But what comes first is health, not valuing or soul-making. What that really tells me is that love is the virtue of a new order, because love does not seek to force any of us to fit into an artificial moral mold. We must embrace the world as we find it, even ourselves, or we fail to live in reality.