You need non-practice! (Audio)

Something like a provocation, something of an introduction; this audio-cast presents a recent piece of work over at the Imperfect Buddha site on non-practice for all those interested in how to apply the non- to the practising life.

Built on Complex world, Complex Practice and prior to a series on applied practice, this is the audio version of an elaboration of the opening shots of a revolutionary practice.

See what you think, do the warm up and get ready for the main meal.

Background music by Funki Porcini.

Accompanying texts;

Complex World, Complex Practice

You Need Non-Practice!

You Need Non-Practice!

Sales Pitch: Non-thought and non-practice constitute a set of antidotes to ideological entrapment and identity formation within the social and cultural apparatus of our age, and to the reactionary identities that make up the emotionally charged extremes of today’s dominant identity groups, and is an ideal companion to the practice of coming to inhabit the consequences of anatman, when explored at the Great Feast.

This piece mixes old and new insights in order to elaborate a more explicit understanding of how non-thought (non-contemplation), and non-practice can be a combined practice for working on the self and in a way that fits with well-executed explorations of anatman (no-self, not-self & other takes). This resource engages with the challenge of the social formation of selfhood and acts to resist inculcation into the paradigms of identity that are available to us in the social spaces that we inhabit, from dharma halls to social media tribes, from politics to activism, from intellectual life to practice life. Complex life, complex practice indeed. This piece is followed by a series of posts featuring insights, practice tips and questions for the interested, shaped by my own meddling, drawn from non-philosophy and non-Buddhism.

This first and longest post will also be available as an audio-cast.

Old Frank

To approach Francois Laruelle’s work on non-philosophy is to quickly find yourself in a world of new ideas, absurd linguistic demands, and complex manoeuvres intended to make non-philosophy a practice of itself. Laruelle is constantly striving to put his ideas into practice through his writing and this can make it a rather odd sort of adventure to participate in: His persona and cultural products can appear very slippery as a consequence and difficult to grasp. In a sense, Laruelle is challenging us to practice non-philosophy ourselves through his many works and in doing so discover its liberational capacity and immensely creative potential. In a funny sort of way, his work is an elaborate koan; the form of the writing is the expression of the act it describes. Despite appearances, non-philosophy, or better what emerges from it, is less complicated that it may first appear if we approach it as curious practitioners willing to take his ideas as invitations to enter specific kinds of practice spaces, not of the sort you might get from a koan, but no less enigmatic, or disruptive of our sense of who we are. Though not many of its proponents would likely consider it so explicitly to be a practice that can be harnessed towards the transformation of self, I will suggest otherwise throughout what follows.

For those without PhDs or membership of radical thought groups in Paris, Berlin, Philadelphia or New York, non-philosophy may initially appear as an insurmountable challenge yet many of its ideas are intuitive and will resonate once lifted from the strange codex Laruelle employs to defend his thinking from philosophers and the circular, sometimes insular, nature of philosophy. For those who are philosophically trained, Laruelle may be dismissed as yet another French charlatan producing intolerable prose, or a distraction from far better thought taking place somewhere else, or as a recycler of ideas already present in previous philosophers, and they may be right, but only in part, and as Vicky Pollard, would say, “Yes, but, not but…”. For Buddhists, he may appear as a waste of time, yet another western ‘philosopher’ who spends his days in intellectual masturbation, and whose ideas are of no use to us practical folks. That is one way to view him. In each case, however, to settle on such a reading would be to miss out on a remarkable opportunity that I have yet to find elsewhere.

Laruelle provides a means for picking apart the mechanics of identification with worlds of knowledge and practice. Worlds that end up, almost always it seems, capturing subjectivity and harnessing it to their own ends. So that when insight, freedom, or justice are sought through a given world of knowledge, say Buddhism or Progressivism, the practices and outcomes that result struggle to become other than images of liberation, wisdom, or equality, imagined ideals, if you will. This results in practices of performance in which the fantasy replaces the actual radical potential held within the knowledge world it was drawn from with the fantasy becoming a simulacrum, or in the realm of spirituality and religion, multiple holy simulacra ready to be purchased on the market of salvation as cures for the human condition.

My job here is not to convince critics that they are wrong or misguided about Laruelle’s project, or should be practising differently. I am concerned primarily with those folks who seek a third way to dichotomies and side-taking, and who feel something is deeply amiss in groups that demand conformity to modes of being that alienate the individual from their own capacity to think, feel and act for themselves. Additionally, my desire is to present non-thought and non-practice as fundamentally concerned with a topic central to practitioners such as Buddhists, philosophers, and spiritual practitioners, and even intelligent activists, namely that of human freedom, with particular attention to an aspect of freedom that has been neglected by these groups. The sort of freedom that is not an end in itself, but rather a practice that can be embodied or incarnated as an ongoing movement through the rich, complex, social and cultural human made world we all inhabit. It is a means for avoiding getting stuck in the way-stations that are endless in a life dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. I would argue that handled well, non-philosophy acts as an antidote to ideological entrapment more broadly. It doesn’t eliminate it or take us to some land where ideologies no longer reign, but rather provides a set of tools and principles, a style of thought, that creates wiggle room to allow us to become far more creative thinkers, phenomenologically diverse, and liberate us from the allure of becoming Buddha Zombies, Activist Mascots, Parroting Spiritualists, or whatever other identities are currently traded on the market of selves today.

Practised well, such thought provides a form of liberational practice that cannot be found so well articulated in Buddhism and only really echoes quietly in the potential of more radical philosophical, spiritual and religious thought elsewhere. Ultimately, non-philosophy as practice provides the means to allow the spiritual and religious to be reinvigorated with the potential that is inevitably lost when new practices solidify into ideological machines designed to produce subjects that adhere to highly predictable structures of thought, desire, feeling and being. This is the virus that inhibits traditions from practising what they preach; from producing awakened beings, for example, or truly independent minds capable of acting on the world, or birthing genuinely innovative solutions to the endless problems our species faces.

I recognise these are big claims, so I guess I’m going to have to try and illustrate how it all might look, in practice. Shall we toddle on?  

Continue reading “You Need Non-Practice!”

Simone Weil: Attention as Generosity

First off, I should admit to being a pretty poor intellectual, though any solid attention aimed at my writing would reveal my imposter-like habit of feasting on other’s idea. But that is how I am; I like to take a spoonful of something incredible, chew on it until it softens and melts in my mouth, so it becomes inseparable from my own body, my own ever-changing way of being in the world. It is then that I might honour its creator and think or feel something worthwhile, something fresh and unknown. We could steal a bone from Tara Brach’s world and call it radical eating.
This is the ideal of the Great Feast: we must all be generous diners, feasting well on the kindness of those others who have questioned and birthed this world in all its human sadness and glory into being. We are meant to be inspired, to be filled with revelation, but it need not be pointed to God, or the solipsistic pursuit of personal freedom, or the heady thrill of pop activism. Grace defines those who refuse the allure of the frenzies of our age, but engage carefully, to the point of mastering a soft touch, where needed, and a heavy blow when necessary; though in this man’s case, of the non-physical sort.
I am not sure I am an Anarchist despite Glenn Wallis’s rather seductive invitation to think of one’s self as such in his most recent book on the topic (check out the interview). I am too ignorant to make up my mind about the sort of political stance I should commit too when they all appear so imperfect and so deeply flawed. I am muddling through at best and seeking to participate where I feel most driven to do so. I am though always appreciative of Glenn’s careful and considerate thought and this piece on Simon Weil is a delight to read and touches on very deep themes that transcend much of the utilitarian discourse surroundings its material and insights. I recommend it. If Glenn continues to write so sweetly (in the dining sense of the word), his will be a feast worth dining at.

Our New Classroom

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

Simone Weil (1909-1943; pronounced vay) was an extraordinary person. If you do not know her life story, I highly recommend watching Julia Haslett’s moving and deeply personal movie, “An Encounter with Simone Weil” (at the bottom of this post). The movie opens with the filmmaker channelling Weil to ask, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”

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Happy EASTER

Have you been enjoying a bit of fasting, self-denial and religious thought over the last six weeks in preparation for some chocolate today? Probably not. But I can’t help but think it may not be a bad thing to do in this day and age to at least try a bit of social media fasting, some News fasting, some internet fasting. My dips back into Twitter and Facebook have proven my minimal engagement there to be worthwhile: Facebook has become a dated, sad looking affair, and Twitter seems to have driven everyone slightly mad. Leaving the hyperreal worlds they represent has been liberating to say the least. This is the last I shall mention of this for a while. “Mi sono sfogato” as the Italians say.

As we enter Easter, life seems more chaotic than ever over here and the demands on my time just keep increasing. Italy is in yet another lock down and I am personally finding it difficult to respect the rules after a year of confinement: It’s as if every home has become a sort of pressure cooker, and having my in-laws living in the apartment downstairs means the pressure is coming from more than one location. I have been secretly exploring all of the hidden angles and urban walks my adopted home has to offer and there are so many of them; providing opportunities for meditative walks, contemplative meanders through hidden woods, and shamanic ceremony that connects to themes in the first episode.

I have also been spending more of my formal practice on concentration as a way to manage the level of challenge life keeps throwing up with long days spent in lock down with family, neighbours, online work, home schooling, in-laws and too much time staring at screens. Even our two cats seem stressed by this third wave of the pandemic. This change in practice focus connects to the second episode.

Two episodes; Two very different themes.

My desire to get Jane Affleck onto the podcast was inspired by a piece she wrote for The Side View. It had a title that caught my attention, Meditative Awareness and the Symbiotic Real.  The basic idea was that meditation and meditative relationships with the environment can behave as an antidote to anthropocentrism; an extension, if you will, of our over-focus on the selfing process that Buddhism is so concerned with. If ideology is collective selfing, anthropocentrism is species level selfing; this theme is set to be a central one in practice as this century unfolds so expect more guests on here to discuss it. With Jane, we talk about the intimate relationship with the environment that can be fostered and the way that relationship can challenge experiences of selfhood and many of the traps that accompany a self focussed approach to the practising life. We explore how art and the process of creation are integral to this process too.

P.S. I chatted with the Side View’s founder a while back and had a rather unusual conversation with him you might like to revisit after this one. Follow the link down the rabbit hole if you dare.

Tina Rassmussen is one of our first meditation teachers on in a long while. Well, being a practice based series, this was inevitable. Tina was co-author of a book on jhana states and concentration that I have had on my shelf for a long time. Concentration is not the topic of our conversation, however. Here are some of the themes we explored;

  • Compatibility issues between neo-Advaita and Buddhism
  • Generational conceptions of practice; from Boomers to Millennials
  • The need to evolve our understanding and ways of thinking about and describing awakening/enlightenment
  • The phases and stages of a practising life
  • Roadblocks, hurdles, maturation; limitations
  • Critiquing the language we use to talk about self, ego, awakening
  • The way belief shapes practice, perception, expectations and the contours of subjectivity

Enjoy the spring everyone and let’s all wish a swift end to this pandemic.

Links

Jane Affleck https://www.jane-affleck.com/

Adam Robbert, Side View founder https://soundcloud.com/imperfect-buddha-podcast/64-ibp-adam-robbert-on-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life

Tina Rassmussen https://luminousmindsangha.com/who-we-are/  

Complex World Complex Practice

Pollock, Jackson (1912_1956) © Museum of Modern Art, New York Painting 173×264,2 Abstract Art Number 1A, 1948

What are we to make of the times we live in? How are we to approach practice? No, not just meditation, but life as practice, knowing and not knowing as practice, relationship with ideas and concepts as practice. I know a few decent enough answers to these questions, as many of you do too, yet there is something missing in these complex times where the self and politics have nestled inside each other so comfortably, and where the online world has supplanted so much and in some ways reality itself. This nestled space is certainly a practice arena too; one many are absorbed into as their primary source of meaning making in the current cultural ferment and varied expressions of the culture war. Though this idea of war is rather limited and very American and presumably we’ll need a war on war soon. The truth is our current age is marked by many, many intersecting worldviews crashing into each other, and they go beyond the dichotomies evident in the culture war’s excesses. Our age is characterised by complexity and a need for practices that can engage with the complex as the starting point for any serious thought. Simplistic narratives and dichotomies are a distraction from an historical moment which demands so much from us.

The multiplicity of our age & accompanying reality disjuncture represent a picture of the postmodern characteristics of our age. After all, the excesses that characterise this period of human history are rooted in a fascinating conflict between the realities of our material and human worlds, and the hyperreal fantasies that run through the cultural products, practices and visions hyperreal experience give birth to: Fantasies that run all the way from far-right to far-left and all of the dysfunctional stop off points in-between. These worlds do exist, but they consist of alternative realities where the imaginary and the real can be so far apart that they are impossible to square. The ability to distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy, what is desired and what is imminent may be the defining issue of our age and one that shapes the contours our future follows, towards what I suspect will be a new age of harsh pragmatism dominated by the cynical, anti-democratic antics of China, and the West’s slow reaction to them.

One of my reasons for getting off of social media was the well-known role these platforms play in the dysfunctional eruptions of our current ferment and their capacity to distract us from thinking deeply about our current collective state. They pull us further into polarised thinking, and feeling, and this happens even to those of us who dabble ever so lightly, tweet rarely, and glance only occasionally at Facebook or Instagram. It is difficult to avoid becoming a pawn in the role-play that characterises the polarisation evident in many western countries, even if you spend minimal time on social media. I personally hate being a pawn, I despise being enrolled in clubs and events I did not sign up for, and sucked into causes that may be good, or right, but are rooted in the reactive subject or hyperreal fantasies. When I realised I was being dragged into the anti-woke camp (no, not the alt-right), I had to put my foot down and cut the oxygen feed of Twitter, the sugar rush of Facebook, and the less savoury recommendations coming at me from Youtube: I admit it, they caught me off guard in a slow, insipid fashion.

Continue reading “Complex World Complex Practice”