Tag: Nietzsche

The death of tragedy

Wisdom is the recognition of which activities, attention and language realise freedom from suffering and which activities, attention, thought, focus and language trap us into replicating rigid patterns that recreate suffering. Differentiating between them requires a strategy. This strategy can vary enormously from individual to individual and throughout time. After all, the context of one’s understanding is utterly dependent upon the conditions and history that have led to the current situation. One size most certainly does not fit all.

Imagine a situation in which you would be utterly free of suffering, now and ever after. This situation is only possible if you release all attachments. It is not a state most people would even desire, since it requires that there is no attachment even to loved ones. It is, in a scientific understanding, the achievement of absolute entropy, when the exchange of information becomes nothing more than potential, never realisable because the distance between potential points of exchange has spread too wide. This is the state towards which we are, in any event, headed, albeit in the long term. Who would voluntarily choose to pursue a strategy that led to this state being realised even a moment before all other options had been explored? It is a kind of anti-state. Nothingness. And yet…

And yet living so that this is the state to realise, to release into, has some extraordinary effects. For a start, the emptiness that this state implies is not emptiness but potential. Entropy is not the end. It is pure potential. A point at which nothing more can happen and yet at which all potential exists. Flat calm. Think of it as a metaphor rather than as something that you can imagine (it is unimaginable). Then zoom in on this little human life and see what would happen if you put this understanding into practice.

Firstly, imagine that you understand, fully, that the implications of existence are the inevitable end of entropy. Imagine that in the context of conscious existence. See if you can imagine the death of each entity, each relationship that had any level at all of awareness of itself. Human death may be the easiest to empathise with but the more creative among you will also be able to visualise how it might be to be a whale, a seal, a fish, a worm, even, or seaweed: all driven by the urge to avoid annihilation. Imagine all the ways in which annihilation can potentially occur, even the kindest, the gentlest still being an end, a cut-off point. Then see how different the relationship to this point is when there is any level at all of acceptance, of realisation, compassionate and considered as relational, that the acceptance, the release from holding, allows this process to unfold with more ease, and it is just this ease that allows relationships to flourish in the moment to moment awareness of the exchange, taking joy in its temporality, knowing that it will pass but making an art of the impermanence and setting, as a resonant pattern, the very idea that each connection holds briefly, casts a shadow hunched or dancing, and is gone. To the idea that there is no point in making an effort to release into this free flow of interchange, it can only be answered that if it is the right way because it frees not only my own attachment to suffering but also that of all my relationships, then it justifies itself by the same logic of its recognition that impermanence is necessarily the state we’re in. Why make impermanence a hell of attempting to hold things in a rigid state when that resistance only causes suffering? And when the opportunity to draw one’s life into the liberating pattern of letting things interact exists as a potential at every moment? And to the idea that insists that this asks too much of us, there’s only this to say: resistance is, in the end, more work. Investing all that energy in keeping a hold of things when you could be appreciating the free interchange between yourself and any other relationship, that’s suffering.

In practice, what might this approach mean? I’m disinclined to give guidelines since already, those lay rigid patterns around which ideologies can be built and guilt at not having done enough builds itself quickly into a prison of inadequacy and doubt. What it means in each individual case will emerge individually. For this person, it might mean giving up the urge to accumulate wealth. But for someone else, if the wealth is accumulated in ways that involve free exchange of information and which allow that person to invest in restoration of natural systems of interchange, like biosystems, then this might also be how the meaning of this approach pans out. Developing an ability to watch where one’s own conditioning has created vulnerabilities and then working out how to develop strategies to draw one’s awareness into a broader arena around those strategies so that new possibilities for how to respond begin to emerge, that is the way of liberation.

Supervisory support

I worked for an organisation once that had sessions, periodically, that offered supervisory support. This was something both I and the supervisor dreaded, I’m sure (I’m sure I dreaded it) because I was subtly but manifestly not pulling the same line as the institution demanded. In other words, I had a particular idea of what might benefit the organisation, and since the organisation was service based, of what might benefit the people who used the organisation’s services (I won’t call them clients: they weren’t voluntarily availing of the service). Now, much about the organisation was good and admirable: the general ethos of concern and consideration brooked no argument. It was the subtle stuff that bothered me. Some of the subtle stuff was dealt with in the literature that each employee was required to read, stuff about how to talk to people, and how to think while interacting. But you can’t really tell people how to think, can you? It’s somewhat more intrinsic than that, isn’t it? Telling someone how to think if they don’t have what they call in Ireland a ‘gra’, or a heart, for it, is akin to the reeducation policies that operate when any extreme ideological governance takes control. I hasten to add that no violence was done to me. None at all. Except the grinding sense that I was inclined to go one way – towards less medication, less control, more holistic thinking, compost loos, organic beansprouts (I exaggerate, but you get the general gist) – while the organisation, for all their dedication to the principles of considerate care, was inclined, and indeed, felt itself forced, to go another (medication, health and safety issues involving heavy use of chemicals, sanitation, boundaries, distance).

Tomorrow I leave in preparation for the third meeting. since I transferred, with my supervisor. I’m very aware that writing this is writing in a public space, that anything and everything can be seen. That writing on the web is like writing postcards – one must imagine that anyone, benign or malevolent, has access. Therefore I will say very little about what I anticipate. Part of my preparation has been this uploading of different sections of work I’ve undertaken over the last couple of years as an attempt to organise what it is I think is worth preserving from the alteration in focus. Yet I do see parallels.

European Philosophy is a jungle to one ‘brought up’ in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. It offers no safe quarters. The temptation to resort to earlier positions of ridicule or contempt are exhausted, and one is thrust into the sunlit glade with nothing to defend one but a vague sense that all the boundaries have collapsed.

I am attempting to incorporate two bodies of work – one which is entirely new to me, the Shobogenzo, the Zen tradition of zazen – and yet, which is somewhat familiar, given that I have involved myself, informally and through the teaching of yoga, in a rough and ready study of the practice of observation as a core shift in perceptive inclusion.

The second, older (for me) tradition is that of environmental ethics. But it has been suggested that I work to excise the notion of ethics from the work entirely, using the ideas of evolutionary biology as well as the philosophical work of Hans Georg Moeller to show that taking an ethical stance involves exclusion, involves staking out an ideological territory, and one that will necessarily create opposition among those who don’t share the common ground. In many ways, I applaud this approach: I would love to believe that there is some way in which we can dissolve our ideological boundaries. Yet my more pragmatic inclination is to imagine that it is impossible to include every perspective on the burning boat that is our ecological crisis. We have to find some formula that will allow us to include only those activities that bring us a reasonable chance of response.

I’m all at sea. This is not an unfamiliar situation but it carries the same deep dread as those supervisory support meetings: I will arrive, supplicant, veiled witness, muffling myself with politesse, while the whirling gears of rational thought screech at the impossibility of encompassing the sense that I had made of things before with the demands of a new, somewhat empty, paradigm.

Wish me well.