Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Accessing the New Non-Dualism: The Sacred and Why Our Lives May Depend On It

It is not a little ironic that the majority of yoga traditions share with traditional forms of Christianity the ethos of the spiritual-is-not-material. The fraudulent “Prosperity Gospel” types notwithstanding, let us not forget that early Christianity not only abjured the world and Caesar’s materialism, it was quite sure that The End was near. ‘Seems we’re still waiting (look busy).

But in the meantime remember that the call to poverty, simplicity, and non-attachment can in certain yoga traditions go just as far as the End of the Worlders, it can mean a downright aversion to life itself. (You have to do third level chart asana to get that word “abhinive┼Ťa” not to mean something like “disdain” or “aversion” to life. Really.) So since at least Vivekananda ---no friend to asana practitioners, by the way--- there’s been a consistent yoga meme that a “true” spiritual life diminishes our interests in material acquisition, attenuates our desires, and brings us closer to [name your goal here] when we are less interested in “things.”

To make a little irony a lot more irony, modern postural yoga better known around here as Aisle 9a where you find it in the local grocery store (I kid you not…), is all about the body, wellness, cool tights and mats and stuff, and apparently smoothies too. Lord knows, you’re not supposed to aver your embodiment but care of it--- all the while looking for some kind of honest relief from the maelstrom, maybe even buy yourself a mattress from Rodney. (Bless him, my calling him out here I mean to express a pure sense of envy and acquisitive admiration…) Yogis seem conflicted over things until they realize that they can’t actually live without them.

Your yoga hasn’t made any of that getting along with stuff easier on you because it's working from the subliminal cultural ethos of our ol’Protestant ethic and that pesky spirit of capitalism. Who knew capitalism had spirit? Weber? We ephemeral temporal beings have a helluva’ time talking about our temporal needs much less our desires, much less those kinds of desires that speak to things we don’t absolutelypositively-reallyreally say we need. 

 Guilt follows us around like a ten minute ASPCA commercial. But nonetheless we persist, laden as we are with bodies that wear clothes, are stuck at 98.6 degrees and so workin’ that complicated comfort thing known as homeostasis, getting a bit warmer or cooler all the time. We still having to get around the world as we age, procreate, get sick, die, and mostly dissimulate further and further about being material selves. Since we don’t survive death, we invent ways to say we do.

Well, I have had just about enough of this disavowal of “stuff.” You may want some next spiritual garage sale or to make your bourgeoisie case for even less Scandinavian furniture and more Zen walls but I got news for ya’: you are a material being, stuff matters, and we need to read this stuff memo far more carefully before we go and recycle it. We are not just our thoughts and feelings. We are not less material and somehow just ethereal. However limited, mortal, and conditioned we are, you are here right now, never less a churnin’urn of burnin’funk and I gots news for you, you wouldn’t want it any other way. At least not anytime soon. So get with stuff. Get that you like it, need it, want it, and must deal with it.

Now all of this is to say that stuff actually can be the cause of our problems, even if you were just thinking that I was going to tell you otherwise. So fear not, I don’t have a problem with stuff, until I do. I have a serious problem with the kinds of stuff that make other people’s lives miserable. I call that stuff, profane stuff. And this spiritual thing is about getting with the sacred. Where I live lawn darts are illegal because people can get hurt, especially children. Lawn darts are profane. Guns too. But guns are more than readily available things, they are a right, and so by my sacred criteria even more of a thing, not less.

That too is part of the problem: guns are not treated enough like other things or, to put it plainly, as plain things. Guns in America are somehow your right, no matter what thing they are, and rights are sacred. That means that rights are things we protect and claim provide special purpose and meaning. Rights protect our freedoms by limiting certain kinds of access. That’s at least some of the important issue here in America and our problem. In other places decidedly more sane and no less material or stuff-ly, guns are things that, like lawn darts, are either illegal or, like Sudafed, something you have to have a reason to buy if, you know, you’re looking to do some real damage.

But in America, guns are your Constitutional Right, a fact writ so large into our consciousness that it warrants Capital Letters. We not only fetish our guns, we really, really fetish our rights. That’s not a terrible thing or wrong thing. It’s a sacred thing. And while rights are mere propositions, virtual things that exist in our heads in ways that are only secondarily in our bodies, they take us to the issues that make things sacred, or not. The guns are real and rights are sacred, let’s be clear. It’s not at all clear than everyone still believes that our rights to guns should be sacred. For the time being, let that one slide. We need to make a more important point.

When it comes to things, what we call “the sacred” is both the thing and it is access to the thing. To possess a thing is to have access. Materially speaking, this is the veritable meaning of a difference without a distinction. The things we call “sacred” require privileged access and particular kinds of restrictions, limitations, and values. Otherwise they are nothing but profanity. When a right is unrestricted is it no longer sacred, by definition; rather it is the profane itself, divorced from things and from access to things.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying that guns are sacred. I am saying we view our rights to be sacred, and that sacred is about access to things. In fact, I want to say that our rights are especially meaningful when they are connected to material things and so speak to the sacred, to our accessing things. The point is simple: let’s not separate our thoughts from our things, let’s not separate the ideas we deem valuable from the material world in which we live. 

We can even propose this to be our entirely new definition of “non-dualism”: the kind that insists that thoughts and feelings must not be separated from bodies, things, and the…ummm, you know, the real world. Further, our non-duality is better fathomed NOT as oneness but as a world of manyness: the things of the world, like our thoughts and feelings, are plural, diverse, complex, and often so necessarily confusing. So much more the reason we need a concept of the sacred that identifies things with access and our access to things as sacred.

We will not be made less complicated by our new non-dualism though life did, in fact, just get a wee bit simpler. You see, we can now take the indissolvable relationship we really have between thoughts and feelings and things in the world more seriously. We don’t get to say that how we feel is somehow independent of things anymore than we claim that things burden our thinking and feeling. We’re now of this world in everyway. If we want the sacred, that is, a spiritual life with things and thoughts and feelings, then we are going to have to create meaningful points of access. Access, we already know, leads us back to things.

As we witness America's failing leadership and test our collective character, we're heartened by the resolve and candor, the decency and determination of teenagers. They know what needs to be done. Hand it to young millenials to know that the virtual world is real, that their feelings and thoughts involve their relationship to real things in the world, like guns and locks and doors and crazy people. They understand there are serious issues of mental health and moral decency. But, more importantly, they are attuned to a world of material facts and the consequences of access, corruption, and ethical denial. They are mad as hell and they mean to make a difference because they know that our rights are profane if there is no burden of access to the things of the world. Too much access not only renders the sacred meaningless: it renders things promiscuous, usually downright dangerous and wrong. That too is what we mean by “profane.” Their ferocity and spirit is our gateway to the sacred, if we too have the willingness to take mortal thought and the material world as seriously they do, if we are willing to make spirit and matter inextricable from one another.

So let's first be clear here about our feelings: anger, outrage, and passion can indeed be allies. What _might_ be different this time is that there is enough of all of these feelings to animate voters and provoke change. What we need to change involves things, not just ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Lemme put this as plainly as I can: It's the guns, stupid. What we must manage is access. As these young people have said time and again now, the change we must demand is not limited to feelings and thoughts and ideas about freedom. We can’t be free unless we decide too that our points of access to things either free us or burden us further.

The NRA and the vast majority of Republicans have supported and advanced _unrestricted_ access to guns because, as Senator Lankford of OK put it again, for them it's not the guns but the person behind the gun. Ironically, the Party most committed to pecuniary material profit, to a pure economics of greed is the one claiming our situation is purely a matter of soul. The thing, the gun doesn’t matter because that too is not a thing at all. It is truly a right. Their dualism is complete. The person is nothing but a responsibility, the gun is a right, thus the gun cannot be the problem because, well, it's only sort of a thing at all.  Leave to a Republican to make the case that the material world is nothing but spirit.

Listening to Lankford drove me further into apoplexy and asperity. I could feel it all the way down to my spleen, wherever exactly that is. And I also tell myself that in a democracy we make room for dissonance, for irreconcilable differences of opinion, for rancorous, even repugnant values we cannot abide. But the issue before us is not just rights or feelings or freedom as if these were not about things. To separate the two is the true false dualism. That dualism is the NRA’s religion. It has infected the souls of living, material beings. We must not succumb to their dualism.

Our opponents say that when we control our feelings, when we become responsible for our thoughts, then the gun is not the problem. This is an irrefutable argument. Or is it? What if we understand that things-in-the-world and access-to-things are just as real, in fact inseparable from feelings. Is there any care you have that doesn’t mean a thing?

We don’t need to be mentally ill to use a gun for nefarious or self-destructive purposes. We need access to realize our thoughts and feelings. In our new non-dualism that access, that thing, that gun can’t be separated from our thoughts and feelings, no matter what sorts we have. What I can and cannot access in the material world may in truth bring the world more sacred truth. Our lives may depend on that. The sacred surely does.