Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Problem and the Mystery

On a radio talk show a guy was making the distinction between a mystery and a problem. A problem can be solved and its problematic nature resolved, but a mystery, he said, deepens and increases the more you try to fathom it. We know both these experiences of problems and mysteries.

Yet there is a different understanding of the Mystery that you hear from some mystics. This is the experience of the answer to the Mystery – such as the mystery of life - as being so obvious and simple as to be laughable because we make it complicated and profound. Some mystical insights into existence have the quality of letting go or surrendering that result in a liberation from the mysteriousness. The realized mystic says: “Being just Is,” or some such formulation of the insight. Laughter results when the mystic sees how it is that we, not the Mystery itself, that makes it all so complicated and deep. It’s all experienced as a cosmic joke; all that striving after an answer that is so ridiculously simple.

So another facet of the Mystery - which appears as the solution to it – is that there is no Mystery. The profound insight into how the Mystery is different from the problem can also be experienced as the greatest folly because the Mystery is really the easiest problem to solve. Simply don’t try to solve it.

That can work for some and not others. For others, plumbing the depths of the ever expanding Mystery is the solution, the solution that never solves the problem, making it a mystery.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Repetition Compulsion

I’ve noticed a repeating pattern when I try to develop my own ideas. After an initial inspiration and excitedly writing down the ideas they don’t seem so great. The inspiration that caused me to write my thoughts wears off and what I’ve written seems commonplace and uninspiring. Is this caused by a negative self-judgment or a later, more realistic assessment of the material?

It could be a realistic assessment of my work’s value. Maybe the excited moment of inspiration is an illusory overvaluation. While my ideas probably aren’t as novel or wonderful as they first appear, when I detach myself from the dullness that they become shrouded in, they usually seem to at least be an interesting addition to the topics they address.

Additionally, the devaluation that comes later seems too complete. A veil of dullness seems to fall over the ideas, as if they don’t matter at all. That seems suspiciously complete or extreme.

Why does this occur if it isn’t a realistic assessment of the worth of the ideas?

Is it just that I thought the ideas and that if someone else thought them I’d think they were interesting? That’s partially true because I do like the ideas more when I imagine that someone else wrote them and I’m reading them in some reputable source. But that was the case – that it was me who thought them – when I had the inspiring inspiration. Why not devalue them immediately? It still leaves unanswered what causes the later devaluation.

Examining the quality of the experience when the ideas are being devalued is important. The ideas seem old or already known. Maybe there is a generalized, positive valuation of the original. Since they are now old they are no longer fresh. So there may be an issue around originality. And I know I have that issue in that I always want to think of something original. I regularly think of the saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” which is a maxim opposed to and indicative of my desire for the original.

Or the later devaluation is a defense. By devaluing the ideas myself, through a feeling that they are dull and of no interest, I preempt their being rejected by others. I reject them first in order to avoid a rejection by others. But if that’s the case why isn’t the defense present when the inspiration and the initial writing occurs? Why not think they’re dull right after they are thought? Perhaps there isn’t time for the defense to insert itself. Before the defense has a chance to insert itself, the inspiration is felt and there is excitement, but after, there is the defensive protecting of myself by experiencing the ideas as dull.

But if they are not dull, why experience them that way? Well, it stops me from pursuing them, investing time in them and showing them to someone and risking rejection and disappointment. The veil of dullness is the conscious layer; underneath are the discouragement and a fear of disappointment. This anticipation of disappointment is in advance of the expected disappointment I will feel when my thoughts are rejected by others. And this is expected because of past experiences of excited assertion and a resulting lack of interest or mocking and the pain those caused. I learned not to try and to create my own disappointment, veiled in dullness, before it occurs. It is less painful to do it to myself than to have someone else do it.

So it’s hard to make a good assessment of the value of what I’m writing with this psychological condition occurring.

So how not do it?

Well, I can watch it occurring and note it so that it is not acted out unconsciously. Repeating the pattern unconsciously allows it to continue. By becoming more and more aware of it, it is loosened and other feelings towards the material are given room to occur.

I can also force myself to look at the written ideas and, with a simultaneous knowledge of this process of devaluation, work them over despite it until they ignite some interest.

These may work.

Predictably, this same process occurred with this piece. Now it seems old-hat, not worth more attention, yet initially it felt right and potentially of interest to others.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Examining Experience

It’s odd that there should be so much philosophical talk about qualia, sense-datum, raw feels and other names for the contents of our subjective experience and so little time spent examining them subjectively. Philosophers generally respect the methods of the natural sciences yet ignore a mode of examination of subjective experience which can afford a better examination of it. The method amounts to looking more closely. This is the method of mindfulness meditation in Buddhism. One sits still, closes the eyes and “watches,” experiences consciously or examines the arising and passing of thoughts, emotions or feelings and sensations. It may be objected that mindful examination of subjective experience is not a transparent or simple examining, but the same could be said for the microscope. The method itself is quite simple. Sit still for a longish period of time – longer than we normally sit still – and examine the contents of experience as they arise. The experience is one of seeing what is already there but more closely. We already do this in small doses when we check in to know what we are feeling. So why not look more closely for a sustained amount of time? It’s odd that a field with a strong empiricist tradition wouldn’t think to examine their subject matter more closely.