Like walking along a crumbling cliff

The thing that I keep coming back to is that self-respect and respect are two sides of the same coin, but also that respect and self-respect are attitudes that have evolved as survival tools. The comparison with Zen is because in some very important ways, Dogen’s ideas and images perfectly describe the attitude that comes into awareness and is realised when the perceiver is in a state of respect. Respect is, in fact, enlightenment. It’s as simple as that. It’s respect, not love, that we need, to deal with the ecological emergency. Respect is more impartial, and it’s possible to respect indifferent entities, like the mountains, the sea (or the ocean) and the weather, without feeling any kind of affection towards them. However, out of respect, compassion can emerge. If you respect, in the simplest sense of reflectively observe, the ways in which your entire activity is enmeshed in a system of causes and effects, none of which you have actual control over, you can begin to feel compassion emerge. It’s like watching yourself as though you were observing someone caught in some mythical tragedy, unable to do anything except obey the universal laws. The very act of watching allows compassion to emerge. You can respect the intricacy of the system of interrelationships, and you can see that these are systems, and not mechanisms, so there’s a fluidity, an unpredictability, about them. Yet there is no point at which your own activity becomes any less enmeshed when it is observed, unless in this strange sense that your observation itself creates effects and these eddy back through the system, and new patterns emerge. Compassion as a response creates more and more space for this emergence.

Respecting everything, and complete self-respect: well, that is realisation, that is the emergence of a whole new layer of possiblities. This is why respect is so important. Respect is the emergent, extravagant, ‘what if’, consciousness that creates the conditions for positive regard.

I still can’t see how to present all this material in a coherent argument and I would love some advice but it might interest the people who bother to take a look at this to know that, just as every PhD is, in some sense, a process in self-development as well as in the development of knowledge, so, this PhD is a specific effort to deal with a lack of self-respect. I know intimately how damaging a lack of self-respect is. I believe that I can show that even those who consider themselves to have great self-respect will ring hollow if their attitude to others, or to the wider ecology, doesn’t demonstrate the same level of regard.

All PhDs probably have that cartoon sense of walking along the edge of a crumbling cliff. You are looking for something new to say. The body of existing knowledge lies behind you, the unknown is spread before you. You are shoving the cliffline outwards, claiming more ground for knowledge. But much of what you have to say is instantly dismissable, and much that is left begins to look shakey and unsound when you step back a bit. What to do? Retreat to safer ground? How? This is the edge, the place where interesting things are happening, and your a knowledge junkie, looking for the next hit. But full of self-doubt. I can’t imagine I’m the first to have experienced this much uncertainty (in fact, I read Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity at 20 and was marked to wander the unsettled ways of questioning ever since. Ho Hum. Some of the ideas here came while I was out running. I might be able to grapple with some more after a yoga session. I’ll let you know.

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