Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Spiritual Politics and Political Spirituality

This morning was, I think, the first time I have been personally accused of being less than "spiritual" for offering political commentary. So I will take this as an opportunity to clarify a few points, if I may.
First, since most of you know that I offer seminars, retreats, and trips to India as "Rajanaka Yoga" allow me to make plain that I am wholly responsible for my opinions. But I mean to speak here for a moment as Rajanaka Yoga. Rajanaka Yoga will not remain neutral or withhold our opinions with regard to the current political climate in the United States.
To put this explicitly, Rajanaka Yoga stands against the Trump Administration’s actions on immigration and many, many other issues. 
Furthermore, we oppose the Trump administration's explicit intentions and efforts to pit people against each other, and to demand compliance with their policies, without regard or respect for diverse political opinions. Rajanaka stands for open and civil discourse, and endorses genuinely diverse opinion. We will not remain silent on issues that threaten the human values we hold dear and the moral implications of policies and opinions. Those values include tolerance, diversity, inclusion, and the continued fight for social justice and equality for all. We will not refrain from expressing our moral values or refrain from "judgments". Abdication of judgment is merely another form of judgment. If you stand for something, walk tall.
I'd also like to comment on an even more personal note. Partly this is a response to criticism I take seriously. 
I have over the past year of contentious politics been vigilant to reject even the slightest suggestion of violence as a viable course of action. I have tried with every fiber of my being to offer ideas and actions that are not only entirely within the boundaries of the law but also hold us all to standards of personality morality that bring credit to our character. Of course, I am willing to fight vociferously for values I hold dear and opinions I take seriously. If I have erred or insulted, I am happy to apologize. However, there has never been any violence suggested or implied in words or ideas or initiatives. If that is another's interpretation then I want to be presented with examples and evidence, rather than accusation. I don't mince words and feel no need to defend my language. By virtue of professional life, I am privileged to speak out with little threat to my livelihood. I use that privilege to speak plainly, conspicuously, and shamelessly. I recognize that privilege as a responsibility, which leads me to another point about being "spiritual" and being political. 
What does it mean _to me_ to be a "yogi" or a "spiritual person"? 
Yoga means connection and engagement, however you see fit. None of what I regard as my own "spirituality" I mean to foist upon anyone else. We are each responsible for creating our own character and, in stressful times, it seems appropriate to have clear understandings. 
(1) I can endorse _no_ claim that _any_ individual's opinion warrants special privilege or reverence on some putative "spiritual" grounds. Honestly, little is more offensive to me than religious claims that "enlightened" or religious authorities of any ilk are somehow exempt from the same standards to which we are all accountable. No guru, no lama, no pope, _no one_ has an opinion exempt from the same standards of argument that apply to all. We are all _only_ human beings, and everyone's ideas and behaviors are wholly accountable to exactly the _same_ critical scrutiny. So my first point about "spirituality" is that no one gets a pass because they claim or are offered privilege to their views. We defer to learning and respect experience, we respond with civility to the models of argument that put us all under the same rules of discourse, but I reject religious prerogative as any source of authority. My "spiritual" views here simply endorse humanist values of civil conversation.
(2) But more to the point: I would maintain that being "spiritual" _requires_ human beings to participate in all important human endeavors, especially social justice, politics, and work towards civil conversation and community-based learning. Further, I would maintain that it is _incumbent_ upon the so-called "spiritual" person not only to foster conversations, including political conversations, but to have the temerity to take a stand, to advance a clearly articulated opinion, and to be held accountable for those views. Politics is not somehow off limits from spirituality. Religion may be sequestered by the First Amendment from political power (thank goodness) but responsibility for our opinions is not diminished by our right to express or abstain from expressing our deepest beliefs. I feel, in fact, quite the opposite: every serious human endeavor, every process of committed learning, and every person who holds the slightest shard of power or authority in community has a moral responsibility to engage in some form of political life.
You may be less public or "outspoken," you may in fact prefer a far more private expression of your life choices, but to be human is to be social and no social world exists without the complications of politics. If you are not wiling to be involved in a world greater than your personal interests, to take a moral responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, then for my part your "yoga", your "spiritual life" is of little interest to me. If you choose not to share your politics, that doesn't mean I think you less caring or involved. We each have our ways, my point is that spiritual people are caring people and that _is_ political. 
I mean to stay in the conversations that take responsibility for bringing the real world, the everyday world, the political world closer to my own spiritual aspirations. Those spiritual aspirations involve advocating justice and actions that recognize the power of a privileged life (which I acknowledge has been a blessing to me) and so work towards helping those suffering from far less advantage or worse. How you express yourself is deeply interesting to me. Let us stay in the conversation. Your call.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Self Again, One Chip at a Time

23 January 2017
I'm teaching again Advice and Dissent, a course about philosophers, poets, critics, and others with discourse-laden efforts who have meant to indulge the prospects of a meaningful human life and, at the same time, have refused to submit to dogmas, institutions, or other forms of stifling censorship. What constitutes "good" advice, not in the moral sense of "good" (but sometimes in the moral sense), and why must we capture the essential contrarian's strategy?  We are as much clothed by the sky of consciousness as we are clothed in consciousness.  We are made and we make ourselves.  There's no need to formulate God from that paradox.  It is just as plausible and far more likely that our making was as accidental as our efforts to make ourselves are deliberate.
We must accept and resist the facts because we must at once rely upon them and continue to revise them. We must work within, comply, and cooperate within a world that is made of little else than crisis, conflict, and degrees of criticality appearing in fields of relationships. But we're not by human nature or cultural disposition critical thinkers anymore than we are necessary beings. We seek approval and survival more than we risk censorship or worse. So we censor our ideas and feelings for complex reasons: to comply with coercians, to disengage for polite, congenial purposes, because we are not wholly confident (often literally "with fidelity.")  The paradoxes of our human nature, like our problems, are not things we will fix or resolve entirely.  To embrace the paradox is to remain in the humanizing narrative.
It seems as much the case that we humans _want_ to pour it out, what that "it" is for each of us, somehow, in some fashion, be that in words or actions, in form or movement, even for those who find Self expression elusive, repressed, or under evolved. We long for Self expression, which is in fact the Self for which we long. Self wants to have its day and in the darkness too it exists as yet more information that contributes to the on-going human crisis of merely living.
Appa was steeped in the Vedic worldview encapsulated by the phrase "dehi me, dadami te," which means "_give_ to me, I am giving to you." It is life defined as exchange, network and barter, correspondence, discord and dissent and outright conflicts of interest, interdependence, cooperation, and rearrangement. It is what we have always called "the conversation." This conversation is not merely what we attempt to humanize our relationships with each other, it is life's business, the very definition of a world created, sustained, dissolved and recreated from the processes of repetition, recursion, and accidental change. From within that "field" (ksetra is the key Sanskrit term, of course) emerges Self, the pivot upon which human experience must define itself in order to function within the great information body that makes up the field and of which it is a part. We are, as Purushasukta reminds us (RV 10.90) only the information of a body that is self-animated, that somehow self-fragments in order to reconstitute itself as innumerable other selves, again and again, little by little, for no reason other than that this process goes on (or has for as long as we reckon time). This metaphor suffices to explain both macrocosm and microcosm, and of course there are others we might deem as helpful to understanding our urge, our _human_ urge to be selves of expression. Whether we long for the freedom to express depends as much on our we have been invented as it does on our capacities of self-invention. 
We're not simply free to be "who we want" and what we want depends as much on the complexity of things outside our somatic individuality as it does on our most heartfelt feelings and inner voicing. While we are not necessary beings, we are sufficient to Self as the experience of the worlds we inhabit. Not all of those worlds come to mind or are accessible from within the somatic limitations we possess but that too is a matter still very much under interrogation. The conversation of what we are is really no different than the one about who we are.
Appa always resisted the notion of a single, realer than other real Self. Instead he saw a complex entity creating systems of identity that accumulated, accrued, dissolved, and remade multiple features of Self. Self comes to mind was a phrase he used (in some fashion) long before Demasio's famous treatment (which I think we would both commend as serious and important). We live not behind masks but in them. Every Self is an alternative but not to the facts of Self. Those facts gather and disperse, become part of a collective that holds the psyche not apart from the somatic reality but integrated into a greater, not wholly fathomable experience. It is not as Jung I think mistakenly formulated that the fields of psyche and ego are distinct--- Jung clearly borrowing from the Upanishads here. But rather it is that egos and all the rest of us that is buried beneath ego access (i.e., access = waking, dreaming, meditation) exist in the same somatic field, apart from which we are simply non-conscious. To put it another way, individual consciousness need not exist apart from the living somatic experience in order for certain of the facts of our individual consciousness to exist before or persist after death. Our messaging DNA will take care of that as a material fact and the rest, which is but speculation, need not detain us.
So how many Self alternatives can one possess? Certainly we can have false alternative selves, just like we currently have alternative facts that are misleading, deliberate disinformation. But we also live in multiples of identity that make Self a sammelana, a co-mingling of layers and depths of feeling, non-feeling (i.e., feelings we can't feel) awareness, and non-awareness (matters we which our attention does not or cannot attend ). The Self is, to use a more modern vocabulary, a complex information event composed of multiple forms of information and events. The "information" is all somatic ----for if consciousness is not made of matter (=energy) than it is a mere claim, a chimera of the very material energies of which it is composed. The events too are somatic but exist not merely within us or apart from us but as co-mingled features of a world that exists _when_ we exist to experience it.