Sunday, November 13, 2011

Living with all of our capacities

I have realised that this blog has, at times, taken a markedly spiritual bent. I have realised that in my efforts to try to tread more lightly on this planet, in my conversations with people about environmentalism and being, it is not that only the planet is being transformed, but ourselves. Not in any superficial way, not in a consumerist "Oh, I will buy this instead of that" way, but rather a deeper, more durable way. This durability, this inner reflection, I believe can allow us to live more consciously no matter where we are, to be more open to experience, to be more open to the present, to a be a more satisfied people.

As an engineer, I am taught the ways of western scientific traditions. Data are obtained, and they can be reproduced, given the same conditions, elsewhere on Earth. Of course, these data are reproduceable given the right conditions, given an understanding of the methodologies of "science," given the so-called "laws" of nature. But then again, we are stuck with a culture that is destroying this Earth's capacity for life. There is no doubt about that. And in this secularisation of our worldly experience, we seem to lose track of what makes us human. I am in no way differentiating humans from non-humans, but rather speaking to what makes us human regardless of what the rest of the natural world is like. 

From an evolutionary standpoint, yes, we are "animals," we compete, we fight, we try to pass on our genes. One may think of everything that we partake in, culture, capitalism, industrialisation, education, as just a manifestation of evolution. We want to dominate so that we can survive. But, as linguistics pioneer Jean Berko Gleason says, we also have consciousness. We contemplate, we have an understanding of presence, and it is this consciousness that allows us to reflect on our experiences. I believe then that we temper the evolutionary forces at play, our biological urges, with this consciousness.

So then what is it about this secularised culture and worldview that allows such destruction? Physicist Arthur Zajonc, a contemplative of the Western tradition influenced by Rudolf Steiner, believes that we are not fully engaging ourselves when we try to face the challenges before us. Indeed he says, there are various levels of experience. And these various levels affect what we bring to the table. The only level we deem fit right now is that of secularism and science, devoid of emotion, emotion that is brought up through observing the world in different ways. How do we get to different levels of experience, then? Well, we must calm ourselves, direct attention, sustain that attention, and open up to what is normally invisible. Things then show themselves to you, deepening our human experience. Zajonc says profoundly, that
"[i]f we are committed to knowledge, then we ought to be committed also to exploring the world with these lenses, with this method in mind and heart. And otherwise, we are kind of doing it half way...when we go to solve the problems of our world, whether they are educational or environmental we are bringing only half of our intelligence to bear...we have left the other half idle, or relegated it to religious philosophers. But if we are going to be integral ourselves, from a perspective that is whole, then we need to bring all of our capacities to the issues that we confront."

My mum has always talked to me about such spirituality. A few years ago, I didn't really think twice about it. I had a full faith in science and its secularism when conducting myself. But I have now realised, through this journey, that in any action that takes a stand for something other than oneself, that tries to make a durable change in the world, more must be brought to the table. that our consciousness, our capacities for compassion and empathy play as much, if not a bigger role than science, data, and numbers.

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