“(Taoism) isn’t a process of learning more facts or greater skills. It is the unlearning of wrong habits and opinions.” — Alan Watts
It’s not just the Singularity Boys who get this wrong….
What is unlearning?
This question has taken a lot of sitting. Resting attention on a feeling that something’s missing. On the tip of the tongue….
It all comes back to a certain take on Krishnamurti’s call to let go of conditioning. That and a gnawing sense that the way I’ve taken this – the way it seems to be taken – leaves something hanging.
Resting with this question for some time; along with my recent stumble upon Donald D. Hoffman‘s work; has brought me to this point of leaping after some further observations.
I keep returning to the deep roots of habit and ritual. This coupled with a lingering doubt that the desire to transcend nature; while perhaps missing from Krishnamurti’s own view; is so easily slipped into when we seek to live without conditioning.
What keeps coming back is a need to distinguish between habit and ritual, and conditioning. What is meant by conditioning, the absorption and retention of attitudes and modes of thought and behavior that have been instilled in us by a predatory culture; is not the same thing as this vast ocean of habit and ritual in which all living creatures swim.
To carry on with this metaphor of the sea, it’s said that a fish does not consider the water in which it lives. Enlightenment – for a fish – would be to have an awareness of being immersed in water. Not jumping out of the ocean onto the land.
This ties in with what has long appeared to me to be the greatest value of ritual: It is a knowing repetition of actions taken on willingly as a sign and a sacrifice of time and attention towards a bed of value hidden from superficial pragmatism. A ritual action appears “a waste of time.” What it can do though is challenge the conception that we have time to waste or the capacity to know what would grant us what we desire. Ultimately it challenges our belief in our capacity to know what we want and have any idea how to go about getting it.
Ritual is a way to rest with mystery.
Ritual connects us with the deep bed of habit upon which life is built.
Ritual acknowledges that we are immersed in quotidian existence. We live, “day by day.” We function by doing what we have always done. Change happens in spite of all our efforts to have things stay the same.
In this light innovating is another silly form of doing everything twice. We encumber our existence by distrusting what got us here and pretending that we can will ourselves to be.
In this light the limitations of the body are our guide. As with any clear view of limitations such a view opens us to see how our limitations not only shape us but free us.
We need to look at this change of how we perceive thought in a way that does not tie us to continuing to over-think it.
Resisting limitations, we refuse to accept them and seek to see them only as shackles. This maintains us in a perpetual state of frustration and fatigue in which we flail about unable to respond to our situation.
To relate this view of habit and ritual to Hoffman’s insights; we can turn proprioception on to our view of the “desk-top” in which we function. We can see that the reliance we have as living creatures on a fabric of habit and reaction-to-stimuli is part of that “desk-top.” It is a layer close enough to the surface of “things” that we can actually perceive its functions. But, only if we attend to them. Only if we do not fall into conditioned responses acting as a virus, hiding the results of our actions behind false projections on our “desk-top.”
Within an un-proprioceptive conditioned condition we think we have put away our precious file when in fact we have trashed it. We then react to a loss we can only blame on another with anger and frustration. As we continue down this path our error and incoherence increases exponentially. This is where we find our selves.
Let’s not conflate and condemn all of habit and the perspective towards ritual that may keep us from this error with a particular form of habit that we consider to be conditioned.
Let’s step back from yet again wishing to jump out of our skins and CHANGE!
This understanding is a part of what shows us where we are. All successful navigation must start from an accurate sense of our current position, dead reckoning.
We need to rest with attention to have a full sense of where we are. We need to – even in the midst and not just on the periphery of danger – to rest and absorb where we are before we can expect a response to form and make itself known.
Beyond this. Unless we bring this form of humility to our actions we are prone to the fallacies of cause & effect. We confuse our reaction against something we fear with a solution to our situation. Resting with attention and accepting a response developing between us – us being all the parties involved from air to rocks to water to people to thoughts and voices – we never fall for this illusion that an act has solved anything. That we can find a platform above and beyond….
Any attempt to respond to our Enormity must meet the resistance and manufactured confusion brought on by an aspect of our conditioning that is well defined by John Michael Greer’s term, thoughtstoppers. Our habits of mind have been hemmed in by a reflexive aversion to even enter any level of discomfort at any challenge to our received opinions. The last thing we want is to be asked to stay with that discomfort. Our imaginations run away with the fantastic perils that lay in wait, “That way lies MADNESS!”
In this fear of “losing our minds” we have lost the capacity to recognize one.
Any attempt to shine any light on our predicament must come to grips with this salient fact, “No one wants to hear it….”
To continue in the face of this is – it can be – a radical act. Perhaps one of the few radical acts available to us. But to do so is to take seriously the dangers of falling into reactive frustration and/or a self-censoring paralysis.
These are the limitations hemming in my course on this site. There are plenty of things to be pointed to as hazards. We are surrounded by dangers. At a certain point there is no added value to be gained by focusing attention on yet another reef, or maelstrom. It suffices to understand that we are in the thick of it.
Likewise, there is little value in hectoring with favorite solutions….
The challenge is clear. It has always been there. It may be that our predicament has added to this clarity…. What needs to be said must be simple, modest. It must signal that following no particular “course of action” will lead to salvation…. What it does need to provide is at best a heuristic. A note of clarification that shows us where another has passed this way and found a way to proceed….
There is no “Life beyond!” There is only life here.
And this living is made up of a creature’s immersion in, well, everything.
This immersion is experienced and supported, fed and clothed and sheltered within a fabric of habit taking care of necessities. Nothing can happen beyond this, outside of these parameters, without accepting and respecting the limitations of this body.
Whenever we feel the first inklings of that particular nausea signaling Ego’s enticements to chase after its will; we can rest in an assurance that our dis-ease in this regard is genuine. It is a call to step-back from a perilous edge.
A ritual taken in all sincerity at this moment is an acknowledgement of where we are. It provides – by way of its sacrificial nature – a place from which we can see our situation proprioceptively and await a response. It’s comfort is vital not vicious. From it we can discover how we can fulfill the form of this moment and prepare for the next.
2 thoughts on “There’s no freeing the mind without respecting the limitations of the body.”
Another way of looking at the metaphor of the fish in water might be this: A fish who doesn’t realize it’s in water is unaware of the absence of water. The realization of absence and presence arise together. The ignorance of the fish is similar to the ignorance of people who think they know what thought is. The fish and the person both might claim to know what silence or nowhere or non-water is all about. They may have an intellectual picture of absence of thought or water. But it’s a “watery” image that actually remains submerged in ignorance. The discovery of the limitations of thought or water is simultaneously the discovery that Everything is water (is thought). There’s no escape by way of imagery, by way of swimming. This confrontation with the ultimate limit of thought or swimming frees the fish and the person from the compulsion to speak of things outside the realm of thought or sea. The freedom to not respond internally to the compulsions of escape is freedom from conditioning psychologically. It has nothing to do with freedom from bodily conditioning, from the conditioning necessary for making a living. It’s freedom from the conditioning of the self, who is always imagining himself (Walter Mitty-wise) leaping from the constraints of thought (by way of thought).