Congruence…

So a couple days ago I posted a video on my YouTube channel called ” Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind.”

In that video I talk about how exploring your curiosities is an expression of authenticity and that this kind of authentic open-mindedness geared towards the exploration of wonder and discovery is synonymous with the Zen Buddhist idea of Beginner’s mind.

I won’t rehash the whole video here. I’ll include a link and you can check it out for yourself.

Anyway, sometimes after I release a video I read something or I hear something that connects to what I was trying to say in that already released video, and I wish I would have read it or heard it before I released the video so that I could have included that little nugget in the video.

Well, yesterday that happened. I was listening to an episode of the Office Hours podcast with T.K. Coleman and Isaac Morehouse. The episode was called “Results Matter More Than Status and Rules.” In the conversation between Morehouse and Coleman, Coleman says something that I think poignantly conveys what I was getting at in my recent YouTube Video.

Coleman says: “It doesn’t matter if I’m like everyone else, it doesn’t even matter if I’m different, what matters is that I’m congruent with what I’m doing.”

What Coleman’s getting at is that sometimes we wax and wane between two fearful poles when it comes to exploring our interests and curiosities.

Sometimes we’re afraid to explore an interest because its something that everyone else is doing, and we don’t want to be just like everyone else.

Sometimes, the opposite is true, and we’re afraid to explore our curiosities if they are dramatically different than everyone else’s.

Both positions are obstacles and obstructions blocking our authenticity and impeding exploration, innovation, and discovery.

It doesn’t matter if you’re congruent or in-congruent with what ever social or cultural group you may find yourself a part of. What matters is if you are congruent with yourself.

As I say towards the conclusion of my video “Curiosity, Authenticity, & Beginner’s Mind” –

Sometimes we get so rooted to a specific tradition,a particular school of thought, a particular way of being, or a particular way of doing things that we cease to examine anything at or outside the periphery of who or what we think we are or should be.

But, Beginner’s Mind is what beckons us to explore our curiosity no matter what it is. It calls us to give voice to these curiosities regardless of whether it is an interest shared by everyone else, or whether it is something directly related to whatever traditions or groups we belong to. In this regard, Beginner’s Mind calls us to explore these curiosities even and especially when it is starkly different. The most important thing to ask ourselves is, are we being authentically congruent with who we are, with what we’re doing, with what we believe, and with what we value?

The curiosity and wonder expressed within Beginner’s Mind is the active expression of one’s emerging congruence with one’s authentic nature.

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Zen Teachers?

 

So, I’ve been doing a lot thinking about Zen teachers, about what it means to have a teacher, about what a zen teacher even is, and about what it means to be a zen student, especially in our particular, modern, Western context or situation. So, let’s talk about that right now!

I guess you could say I’ve predominantly been a kind of a self-taught Zen practitioner. I’ve gotten deeper into Buddhism and Zen from practicing meditation, reading various books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, dharma talks etc. It’s only been in the past several weeks that I’ve found a teacher, that I’ve joined a Sangha, and that I’ve taken the Refuge vows and the Five Precepts. In other words, my forays into Buddhism, and now Zen, has been something of a self-guided or self-directed multimedia production.

Yet, the more I continue to study Zen, the more I realize how much the role of a Zen teacher is emphasized. Zen literature is overwhelmingly littered with examples of would be zen students desperately searching for a teacher, often times doing so with great difficulty.

One of the more famous stories is the story of Huike (hwee-kay) trying to convince Bodhidhamra to take him on as a student. Huike stands in the snow all night, the snow piles up to his waist. Bodhidharma still refuses to accept him as a student, and so in an effort to prove his sincerity to Bodhidharma Huike cuts off his own arm and gives it to Bodhidharma. It’s only then that Bodhidhamra relents and takes Huike on as his student.

Now, don’t get me wrong I don’t think this story is literally true. I think its a highly mythologized tale. However, like all mythology, its purpose is not to convey a facticity of historical events but, to convey a deeper meaning. In this case, I think part of the purpose of this story is to suggest that becoming a zen student and finding a teacher is difficult, it isn’t easy, it will take some effort, and it will probably cost you something.

Dogen, himself, writes that “You may have to climb mountains and cross oceans when you look for a teacher to inquire about the way.” In other words, according to Dogen, seeking out a teacher, seeking out training, one must take on a perilous quest to find one. Dogen seems to suggest that its so vitally important to have a teacher that he even goes so far as to say that “If you cannot find a true teacher, it is better not to study (Buddhism) at all.” That seems like a rather bleak prescription.

Now, I can’t help but think about the fact that the world has changed dramatically since the time of these quasi-mythical tales of Buddhist seekers traversing to far-off distant lands, risking and limb (especially in the case of Huike), all in an effort to find someone to provide them information, guidance, and direction. This was not a world of high-speed data and an always-on internet connection. Their world was a world in which google searches had to be performed on foot, their search results could take years, if they came at all.

If there is anything I have learned throughout my academic studies of world religion, it is that religion can be extremely adaptive to cultural and contextual change. Religion seems to be constantly reevaluating itself and its orientation to its particular time and place as the social world continues to shift forward.

This is not to say that there is not always a fundamentalist, orthodox, or conservative element that remains. There will, perhaps, always be those who cling rigidly to the classically accepted and well-fortified demarcations of their religion’s ideologies, those who are unwilling to alter or expand the borders and boundaries of their religion.

Yet, it seems to be an undeniable truth of most religions, that within the changing contexts of each new age or era there is to be found some form of reformational endeavor (i.e. the emergence of varying denominations and expanding theologies in Christianity, the evolution of the different schools of Buddhist thought and their corresponding philosophies, etc.).

In each case, the devotee is tasked with answering the question of what it means to be devoted to their particular religion in their particular time and in their particular place. They must ask what their religion or philosophy means in the present moment. A Christian must grapple with what it means to be a Christian and what Christianity means in what whatever socio-cultural context it is present within. A Buddhist must come to a cognizant understanding of what it means to be a Buddhist and what Buddhism means here and now.

Ok, so I’m not totally sure that I think of Buddhism or Zen as a religion, although there are probably those who do, and clearly that is how they have been traditionally defined. Regardless, I think it remains true that whether we are talking about religion or philosophy, we must recognize that times change, people change, things change, everything changes, and if the ideas that we value are to continue to be of any value they must change as well.

Also, I’m not trying to downplay the significance of a zen teacher or the potential importance of having a zen teacher. Honestly, I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to know whether or not a zen teacher is still so necessary in the this burgeoning world resplendent with readily available resources and information. What I am trying to do is mindfully recognize the significant ways in which the world we are all presently a part of has and continues to change.

For instance, Rob Bell is a Christian speaker, writer, and thinker, and in one of his books that I read years ago called Velvet Elvis he writes about the necessity of adapting and evolving our ideas:

“Times change… We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

Full disclosure, I’m not a Christian or a theist but, I still think he’s making a really important point here, and one that can easily be applied to Buddhism, or any other tradition or idea for that matter.

Everything is impermanent. Nothing is static. Nothings stays the same.

Not only does everything change but, everything is in the constant and never-ending process of actively changing.

The world around us is constantly shifting and as such, we must continue to learn, grow, and evolve. Our traditions, beliefs, or ideals are alive only when they are listening, morphing, innovating, and letting go of whatever has gotten in the way, and embracing whatever will help us continue to learn and grow along the way.

In fact, my Zen teacher recently wrote an article about being a Reluctant Zen teacher, and he makes a very similar point.

“I think we should be re-evaluating our devotion to authority figures all the time and that we shouldn’t be accepting things on tradition alone. And, as teachers, I think we need to constantly be re-evaluating what we’re doing and making sure we aren’t doing things that drive a lot of people away or don’t work.”

“I wonder if we make a mistake when we think that models of practice that worked in India, China and Korea should be used here. Should we be making our own way instead?”

“I also wonder sometimes if we could reform Zen for the west, in the same way that a few organizations like Insight Meditation Society have been able to reform Theravada.”
So, if we’re going to explore this approach we have to begin to ask “what is a Zen teacher?”

In his book, What is Zen?, Norman Fischer explains that “A Zen teacher isn’t a person; a “Zen teacher” inevitably involves a world, a context.” On the one hand a “Zen teachers exist in the context of Zen teaching, Zen communities, a Zen practice environment, so finding a teacher means finding a community, a sangha, a teaching, a context.” But, I also can’t help but think there’s more to it than just that.

As I mentioned Earlier I now belong to the Morning Sky Zen Sangha. In our discussions there, we’ve been going through The Mirror of Zen. One of the verses that really sticks out to me is verse two which says the following:

“The appearance of all Buddha and Patriarchs in this world can be likened to waves arising suddenly on a windless ocean”.

One way to interpret this verse, as my teacher does, is to say that there is no separation between you and the teacher, both the teacher and student arise from the very same ocean of one-ness, and that “we tend to worship teachers or put them on a pedestal or something” and this is a bit of a mistake. But, also I think that you could read it another way.

Teachers, Buddhas, Patriarchs, arise suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly sometimes from unexpected places. What I mean to say is that because a Zen teacher “inevitably involves a world, a context” and because of this kind on inseparable oneness, anything and anyone that arises can potentially be your zen teacher.

A zen teacher is anyone and anything that you garner experiential wisdom and knowledge from.

I did a four part series on Montaigne and Buddhism (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Michel de Montaigne was a French Renaissance writer/philosopher, and certainly not a Buddhist but, while I was reading Montaigne’s essays, it felt as though he was teaching me about Zen and Buddhism, at that moment Montaigne became my Zen teacher.
Returning to my Zen teacher, Daniel Scharpenburg, he says that “the role of a teacher is more about reflecting you back at yourself rather than being above you”

In his book, Sit Down and Shut Up, Brad Warner makes the same kind of analogy when talking about a Zen teacher. He says that
“You need to have a mirror to be able to fix your hair or apply your lipstick properly. It’s certainly physically possible to do these things without a mirror and there are no laws against it. But you’d have no real idea what you actually looked like until you walked outside and everyone started giggling at you because you’ve got lipstick all over your nose. A good Buddhist teacher can be your mirror. The teacher, in turn, learns to use her students as a mirror in a similar way.”
Brad Warner explains the following in a post on his blog:

“If you’re serious about finding a teacher, you’re probably going to have to do some work looking for one.”

“There’s value to working for things that are important.”

You’re going to have to search. You’re going to have to keep your eyes and ears open, especially in unexpected places, and maybe with unexpected people. You’re going to have to cultivate a kind of open-awareness.

Perhaps, as Dogen says, we do need to climb mountains and cross oceans to find a teacher but, maybe that’s not so much an external journey any more. I think we all have mental mountains that we need to traverse, as well emotional and psychological oceans that we will have to cross if we ever hope to reach the other shore. And what if its the process itself, the journey itself, that is the teacher? What if its the effort and the act of scaling the internal mountainous terrain and sailing across these treacherous and tumultuous seas that teaches us the most?

Maybe its the search itself that is the teacher?

Dogen writes that “You should remember that how much you study and how fast you progress are secondary matters. The joyfully seeking mind is primary.” Dogen places special emphasis on the “Way-seeking mind” (doshin).

He says that “wisdom is seeking wisdom” – I think, in a way, he’s suggesting that the act of seeking wisdom is an indication of wisdom or wisdom is attained by the very process of aspiring to wisdom. There is no distance between the two – aspiration is itself a kind of attainment or maybe the aspiration is indicative that you have already attained it, its something you already have. So when he talks about the “Way-seeking mind” or when says that the “joyfully seeking mind” is primary – I think it is an emphasis on the eager openness of beginners mind.

There’s an article I read a few weeks ago by Norman Fisher called “No Teacher of Zen”. In it recounts another Zen story, in which Huangbo says “Don’t you know that in all of China, there are no teachers of Zen?” Imagine his students confusion, their teacher announcing that there are no teachers of Zen – obviously they had questions – if there are no Zen teachers why are they there? Why are there these places of Zen training and study? Why are there people like Huangbo who have set up these places of Zen training and study? Huangbo clarifies stating, “I don’t say there is no Zen, only that there are no teachers.”

“the teacher can’t teach you.”

“there are no Zen teachers because Zen isn’t a teachable subject matter or skill.”

“students are responsible for their own practice and their own awakening. No one can communicate a truth worth knowing; the only worthwhile truth is the one you find uniquely, for your own life.”

What does it mean to be a student? Perhaps, to be a student of zen it is not to be so fundamentally devoted to a particular ‘teacher’ but, instead to rooted to the practice, rooted to the quest, to search, to the study. Perhaps, it means constantly scanning the horizon in search of any person, place, or thing that can teach you.

Someone recently sent me a great quote from a book called The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by The Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. I think it summarizes what I’ve been trying to get at in this video and I think its a great place to end.

“The teachings and teachers are ubiquitous. Reality is your teacher. Everything that appears can become your teacher. The four seasons can teach you. Anything can be a teacher of Buddhist teachings. Anything.”

Abstraction, Production, and the Possibility of Cosmopolitanism

 

diogenes-statue-sinop-enhanced

Last week I wrote a post entitled “Nature, Nihilism, Nationalism, Morality, and the Existence of Superiority.” I’ve continued to ponder those same musings.

I’ve wondered to myself “What is the actual value of ‘nationalism’?”

This is at once both a genuine and a rhetorical question. (Here my thinking is both scattered an nonlinear, please bear with me).

Humanity has persisted primariy because of its capacity as a Tool Being. For example, our survival has been predicated upon the following ‘tools’:

  1. abstraction – the ability to create meaning-laden ‘symbols’ and ideas (language, mathematical notation, etc.)
  2. cooperation – the complex creation of ‘social’ life throug the establishment of norms and values (also abstractions).
  3. production – that is, the ability to create ‘tools'(/technology) – both material and non-material (symbols, ideas, norms, values, ect.)

In this regard, perhaps above all, the key to our survival is our neural plasticity. That is, our ability to not oly cognize but, to ‘re’-cognize, examine, observe, evaluate, and change/adapt ourselves, our ‘tools’ and ‘tool’ methodologies, i.e. our symbols, ideas, norms, and values.

A nation-state, for example, is but an abstraction, a non-material tool, its underpinnings being only symbolic. It is a ‘Production’ of ‘Abstraction’ and ‘Cooperation’. The nation-state is a combinative outcome (production) of ‘social’ (cooperative) Institutions (abstraction); the combination of the ‘state’ (Political Institution) and the ‘nation’ (Cultural Institution). Even its borders are non-material and are an arbitrary creation. No doubt like any other symbolic product of tool creation, it was an attempt to serve a purpose but, at what prce? At what cost? Has the ‘end’ justified the means? It has certainly not been without its faults. It has been and continues to be historically rife with tension, terror, and turmoil. Perhaps, it is a tool/technology that has out lived its usefulness, especially given the immense economic and ‘ecological’ disasters we are facing at present.

Rather than attempt to continue to ‘cement’ and ‘concretize’ a non-material notion, perhaps we should begin to ‘plasticize’ such cognitions, re-evaluate their performance, and make the necessary adaptations. Perhaps, a return (of sorts) is in order, a return and re-invention of the thought of Diogenes, a reinvigoration of a kind of cosmopolitanism, in which one’s primary identification is neither the nation-state nor the city-state but, to the polis of the cosmos, citizens of the world.

However, I don’t mean this in some idealistic or utopia way. In proposing a kind of cosmopolitanism I’m not advocating cultural relativism (multiculturalism/’tolerance’) – whch suggests that all cultures and all cultural practices have equal vaue.This is an ideological tool for hegemonic utilization which seeks to establish something of an implicitly or explicitly homgoneous mono-culture. In many cases, the multiculturalist endeavor actually avoids ‘difference’ and fails to honestly or authentically acknowledge the Otherness of the other and the corresponding inequalities. In this way multiculturalism actually serves as a means to maintain the status-qou. Multiculturalism functions as a kind of invisible imperialism and a cloaked colonialism supporting dominant culture (cosumeristic globalization, perhaps?).

By saying that I question the supremacy/superiority of some cultures or doubting that there are superior cultures I am not proposing that they are all of equal vaue.

On one hand, I’m attempting to avoid ethnocentrism, which attempts to judge another cuture by the standards of one’s own. This impairs sociological analysis, and what is needed is the furthered development of a sociological uderstading of culture.

On the other hand, I’m acknowledging that the atrocities denounced by the ‘tolerance’ of multiculturalism is, in fact, implicitly persistent within the muticuturalist’s culture. For instance, one may openly protest the malevolent sexism within the barbarous act of female genital mutilation but, will probably have nothing to say about the litanty of mutilations known as Plastic Surgery performed and undergone for no other reason than as an attempt to conform one’s body to the Western notions of sexiness, masquerading as a free-choice.

“The thing to do,”as Zizek explains, “is to change the entire field, introducing a totally different Universal, that of an antagonistic struggle which does not take place between particular communities, but splits from within each community, so that the ‘trans-cultural’ link between communities is that of a shared struggle”.

The point, then, of this re-invented cosmopolitanism is not  cultures of ‘equal value’ but, equal struggle. It is the universality of struggle and power relations. The universal unification of struggle betwen more and less advantaged groups. Universal Citizens of universal struggle universally united by the emancipatory struggle towards universal liberation.

 

 

What to do When Something You Love is Part of the Problem?

The past year and a half of my life has been tumultuous at best. It has been the epitome of what Shakespeare defined as the “winter of our discontent”. It has been a time marked almost exclusively by loss and misfortune. I’ve lost my job,having been laid off twice. I’ve lost my home. I’ve lost financial security. I’ve lost friends and relationships. I’m at the verge of losing my marriage. I’ve lost hope. I’ve lost belief in damn near everything. I’ve lost mental stability and above all, I’ve lost myself somewhere along the way, that is, if I had ever truly found myself to begin with. I’ve had to come to terms with what I’ve been denying for most of my life, the fact that I am clinically depressed. That diagnosis didn’t exactly come as a shock and it certainly is far from a new development. I’ve had bouts with dark periods and reoccurring instances of intense melancholy for almost as long as I can remember but, I had never been officially diagnosed, nor had I ever sought treatment until now. The maelstrom that has become my everyday life has simply exacerbated these already prevalent propensities.

I’ve recently started reading Jennifer Michael Hecht‘s book, The Happiness Myth, in it she gives an illustration that seems to all too accurately represent my experience here. She writes:

Consider that we all have an internal empty field at birth, and as we grow, we experience shocks in certain areas of the field, which we respond to by building up a great pile of stones in that spot, to protect ourselves from being hurt again. As time goes on, the inner field grows crowded with stone mounds. Moving around in such a field requires inventive choreography; and that dance is what a personality is. When life circumstances change, the situation turns worse, since none of your long-developed shortcuts and coping methods work now. You crash into walls. The crashing makes you go to therapy, but you go to therapy looking for new shortcuts that will allow you to navigate your city of rock piles under these different circumstances, and what the therapist wants to do is bring you to the pillars and help you unpile the stones. There is nothing in the mounds to be scared of anymore, so if you can just budge the rocks, you will come to have free reign of your mind, and of the world, again.

I conceded to therapy because, as Hecht explains, I have become claustrophobic in my ‘inner-field’ and all my coping maneuvers and mechanisms have failed me. It seems I can’t see the forest for the …pile of rocks. The horizon is blocked by the infinite burial mounds I’ve continually constructed. Underneath, something festers but, hasn’t died. I am full of the undead, things unresolved, a field of tell-tale hearts pounding, pulsing, beating, unceasingly under the floor boards of my psyche. And as Hecht illustrates, rather than providing me with the means to muffle the noise, to drown out the sound, or teaching a new methodology for avoiding the mound, my therapist is trying to give me the tools to pry up the floor boards and to unpile the rocks.

However, due to the previously mentioned financial instability I haven’t been able to afford to meet with my therapist frequently. In this regard, one of the things that has managed to bring me a bit of joy and grant me a welcomed and much needed distraction, as odd as it may sound, has been the World Cup matches. Within the 90 plus minutes of each match I can forgetfully sit in something closely resembling peace, blissfully ignorant, unaware, and mindful of the tragedy of where I am, temporarily pausing the sorrow and the pain of my context. Perhaps, even teleologically suspending my discontent, disdain, my regret, guilt, and my shame. Yet, even here there is something still being denied. Something dishonest.

Anyone moderately aware of current world events knows of the mass protests surrounding the World Cup and its oppressive presence within the country of Brazil. The Brazilian government’s involvement with FIFA has been nothing short of corrupt. They have torn down whole villages, wrongfully evicted families already impoverished by the injustices of an uncaring bureaucracy. People force-ably removed from their homes, thrown out into the streets with nothing and nowhere to go., weeping as they watch the demolition, witnessing the conversion, the transformation of what was once their neighborhood become stadium parking. All this done for the benefit of a sport that will line the pockets of those already bloated with wealth exploitatively acquired from the plight of the poor. And yet I tune in to every match. I watch religiously, all the while sweeping under the rug the terror and trauma of thousands of dislocated Brazilians grieving and mourning losses far greater than my own.

Does my loss justify my viewership?

Last week was the fourth of July and I was involved in a social media discussion regarding the compatibility/incompatibility of Christianity, the 4th of July, and the declaration of  Independence. I wrote the following:

I must greatly question the legitimacy of an an equality defined by a group of rich, white men who rose to prominence on the backs of slave labor. That fact must be recognized and addressed, to gloss over instances of hypocrisy that maintain oppression, would itself seem to be perpetuation of oppressive injustice. We can commemorate the accomplishments of the founding fathers and the biblical cannon but, equally we must exercise a radical honesty about the immensity of their faults, where they have fallen, and where they have unavoidably failed to live up to their own standards.

This, then, is my confession. My recognition of radical honesty. I am the oppressor. I am the 1%. I am one with the ones I propose to stand against. This is my apology. I am sorry that I tore down your homes so that my own pleasures could be served. I am sorry I took everything from you for my own entertainment. I am sorry that I destroyed everything you’ve worked for, everything you’ve earned, everything you’ve scraped together and scraped by on. I am sorry that I am part of the problem. I am sorry that I will still watch the next match. I am sorry that my apology isn’t enough. I am sorry that “I’m sorry” will never do, never make amends. I am sorry that I don’t know what else to do. I’m sorry…

Night Shift

Here’s another poem I’ve been working on. It still needs work but, let me know what you think.

 

With each new day I awake to the dawning of a brand new yesterday.

Tomorrow never arrives.

No hope on the horizon, just the eternal recurrence of all that has already been.

I am haunted by the ghost of tragedies past

 

Experiential Alterity…

 

In the forward to his book, As a Man Thinketh, James Allen writes that the objective of the text is to “stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that – ‘They themselves are the makers of themselves’ by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage” (5). Allen goes on to say that ” A man literally is what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts” (5).  These passages are quoted not to promote the traditional dichotomy of Cartesian mind/body dualism in which the material reality of one’s outer-world is pitted against one’s psychic inner-world. Instead, they are intended to indicate the “intra-active process” of “a material-semiotic matrix” (Tuana, 57). There is a reflexivity at work in which mind/body, thought/reality, attitude/life, are “performed-and-embodied” (Tuana, 60). In this regard, ‘life’ is “always already” ‘attitude’ and attitude/thought is “always already” reality/material. Nancy Tuana makes clear that “Reality is not composed of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena, but things-in-phenomena” (61). Here, “Entities are not fixed, but emergent” (Tuana, 61).
Life is, as James explains, “present and alive…On freight-trains, on the decks of vessels, in cattleyards and mines, on lumber-rafts, among the firemen and the policemen…There, every day of the year somewhere, is human nature in extremis” (James). James demonstrates that “Divinity lies all about us,…the deepest human life is everywhere,” integrally intertwined with every shift of ‘perspective’, every change of ‘attitude’, and every alteration of thought and thinking (James). Here, every single ‘experience’, no matter how profound or mundane is ‘life-altering’. Every experience is a material-semiotic matrix, in which every ‘material’ experience is a psychological experience and vice versa, there-by altering ‘life’. Whether a breeze, a book, a sunrise, falling in love, or the birth of a child, each contains within it the unimaginable capacity and potentiality for the alteration of one’s attitudes, and correspondingly one’s life. After the death of my grandfather my life was marked by a melancholy, a loneliness, and a sadness which has never left me. The first time I saw a Pollock painting I knew I would never be the same, ‘altering’ what creativity means. With the experience of each reading of Hegel I am awakened, invigorated, and forever altered and changed. Everyday with my wife brings with it the joyous rupture of love’s sting, the vulnerability of what it means to ‘need’ someone, altering what it means to be alive. Every moment with my son is the greatest moment of my life and every experience of my daughter’s affections is rapturous. Every experience of the mundane is at once the experience of the utmost profundity. Every experience of the finite is an experience of the infinite. The absolute fullness of immanence is the excess of transcendence.
Allen, James. As a Man Thinketh and Other Writings. Stilwell: Digireads.com, 2005. Print.
James, William. “What Makes a Life Significant?” Introduction to Ethical Studies: An Open Source Reader. Ed. Lee Archie and John G. Archie. Philosophy.Lander.Edu, 2003. Web. 14 Oct. 2013
Tuana, Nancy. “Fleshing Gender, Sexing the Body: Refiguring the Sex/Gender Distinction.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXXV (1996): 53-71. PDF file.

The Womb of the Social: Nurturing the Birth of ‘Mothering’ Contractions

Gustavo Guiterrez writes that “Human history has been written by a white hand, a male hand, from the dominating social class” (1976, 6). Guiterrez goes on to say explain that “Attempts have been made to wipe from their minds the memories of their struggles” but, “This is to deprive them of a source of energy, of an historical will to rebellion” (1976, 6). Likewise, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza shows that “Historians, philosophers, and anthropologists have emphasized that current scholarly theory and research are deficient because they neglect women’s lives and contributions and construe humanity and human history as male” (1984, xvi). These sentiments exhibit the imperative behind the work of Virginia Held and why the perspective she offers is so elucidating and so integrally vital, especially in regards to political and social thought and theory.

Indeed, Held, herself, makes these precise distinctions in her assessment of societal organization and corresponding social contracts stating that
Actual societies are the results of war, exploitation, racism, far more than of social contracts. Economic and political realities are the outcomes of economic strength triumphing over economic weakness more than of a free market. And rather than a free market of ideas, we have a culture in which the loudspeakers that are the mass media drown out the soft voices of free expression (2011, 782).

In this way, Held is both critical and skeptical of social contract theory’s validity and premises, explicitly questioning its framing narratives. If we look back to our Paleolithic ancestry we will find that our ‘Original Position’ in regards to social formation and interaction is perhaps nothing resembling the civilization of independent contractors supposed necessary by social contract theorists. The necessitation of the social contract proposed by such contract theorists as Rawls, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc,.., seems to be rather ahistorical, in that,they are something of a Westernized reflection of post-agricultural revolution societies posited upon pre-Neolithic civilizations, cultures, and contexts. Held concludes that “To see contractual relations between self-interested or mutually disinterested individuals as constituting a paradigm of human relations is to take a certain historically specific conception of ‘economic man’ as representative of humanity” (2011, 782). From an evolutionary perspective such a posturing would lead to a diminishment rather than an advancement of a species’ evolutionary fitness, that is, it’s ability to succeed in passing it’s genes on to the next generation. What is displayed in the assessments of many social contract theorists is perhaps a fetishization of the predominating structures and institutions as an idealization (perhaps even an idol-ization) set as a welcomed alternative to a fallaciously conceived ‘state of nature’, which is far more representative of the bias implicit within the ‘contractual’ framework rather than anything historically or anthropologically sound.

Instead, what we will see in humanity’s early stages are loose confederations of close-knit, kin-based hunter/gatherer societies that are familial in orientation. Humanity, then, is primarily relational rather than contractual. This seems to give added precedence to Held’s notion of ‘mothering’. Contracts create ‘obligations’, they do not create bonds, kinship, or relationships. Within the social contract individuals are incentivized or coerced to do only their duty, that is, to do only what is required of them, pursuing self-interest above all else with the exclusion of only that which causes harm to another. In this regard, contracts thrive upon ‘volunteerism’, ‘noninterference’ and ‘inaction’. Where as, Held’s focus upon the mother/child relationship centers upon “relationships that are nonvoluntary” and responsibilities that are “noncontractual…where the primary motive is concern for another’s welfare” (Calhoun 2011, 780). Even Rawls,himself, recognizes that “No society can…be a scheme of cooperation which men enter voluntarily in a literal sense; each person finds himself placed at birth in some particular position in some particular society, and the nature of this position materially affects his life prospects” (2011, 695). Kant, too, falls short here. Kant declares the universal imperative to treat others as ends in themselves yet, even his categorical imperative is implicitly self-centered, still treating others as means to an end, in that, one only treats others a certain way as a means to achieving their own preferred treatment. In other words, one’s self remains the ultimate end. Maternality or ‘Mothering’, instead, is responsive to needs, emphasizing care, “fostering transformative growth,” leading to “trust, cooperation, loyalty, and moral concern” (Calhoun 2011, 780). Held seems to make clear that the flourishing (blooming, blossoming, growth, development) of the individual and the flourishing of the community/society will require a ‘nurturing’ cultivation. Nothing short of a mother’s love will do.
Calhoun, Cheshire. “Virginia Held: Introduction.” In Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts, 2nd ed, edited by Steven M. Cahn, 778-781. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Gutierrez, Gustavo. “Where Hunger is, God is Not.” The Witness . April 1976.
Held, Virginia. “From Non-contractual Society: A Feminist View.” In Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts 2nd ed, edited by Steve M. Cahn, 782-795. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. New York: Crossroad Publishing co., 1984.