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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Contemplation in Action

The more I study philosophy of mind in dialogue with neuroscience, the more I realize the brilliance of St. Ignatius Loyola's ideal for his Jesuits as "contemplatives in action."

When we think of the contemplative tradition, we think hermits in the desert or monks praying and working in monasteries isolated from "the world." Contemplation implies interiority in solitude and communion with the divine. Action implies exteriority, that is, life in the cities, their governments and academies and market places. Action focuses on dealing with worldly people and matters.

Ignatius wanted his Jesuits to bring contemplation and action together. He wasn't the first. The Benedictines though still in monasteries would go out to help the poor. Franciscans found the divine in nature. Dominicans preached in churches and taught in academies. Ignatius wanted his companions to have a deep spirituality nurtured by the imagination of walking with Jesus towards the summit of Christ consciousness. But he wanted therm to go into the cities of the world, to their palaces, universities, and market places to imbue that imagination and consciousness in their interaction with the princes, the teachers, the clerics, the citizens, and especially the youth.

Contemplation is in tension with, but not in opposition to action. As philosophy of mind teaches consciousness emerges in activity in and intentionality to the world. There is no subjective experience without objectivity. Indeed the more we are focused on and given to the world, the higher consciousness manifests itself. Neuroscience shows that self-perception is only achieved in activity with others in the world. The "I" does not exist except through the "We" in concert with the universe.

The self and the other are illusions when you isolate and reify them. They are real only as poles of the dynamic tension of existence. When we treat them as real in isolation from one another in that dynamic tension, bad action with bad consequences occur. Here is the root of conflict and war, of fear and hatred of the other, of the abuse of the earth and her creatures, of domination and slavery, of stripping persons of equality and dignity, of loss of soul and power.

Yes, we must sometimes withdraw to a quiet place to attend to our spirit in order to charge ourselves in our mission to the world. Yet it is only in our action with and for others that our consciousness intensifies and our soul expands. These are but moments in the one movement to both spirit and world. "Immerse yourself in matter!" taught a much later Jesuit. For in the messiness of matter you will find your spirit.

The I/other tension of existence is named by John Briggs the "primal paradox." The paradox is is that for personal individuality and creativity to be, the person must contain and be contained by the "all else." The primal paradox is also the temporal paradox, the tension between past and future. There is no past and no future except in the now, the present. The good paleontologist, archeologist, and historian considers the traces of the past earth and of the ancestors now; and she weaves them into a story that explains the present. The good prophet, visionary, philosopher, theoretician bases his conjectures and predictions on and in the present. The ego and the world are here. The past and present are now.

And the primal paradox is also the reality paradox in which the real and the virtual are two poles of existence. The real is the virtual and the virtual the real since all is information communicating itself. Thus sayeth the philosophers Harborg and Rose: It is only a paper moon, Sailing over a cardboard sea, But it wouldn't be make believe, If you believed in me.

Ray Kurzweil (How to Create a Mind) reflects that western thought generally considers primary the physical universe from which evolves life and consciousness; and eastern thought recognizing the constructive nature of mind makes consciousness fundamental. Kurzweil says that both perspectives are true.  "Evolution can be viewed as a spiritual process in that it creates spiritual beings, that is, entities that are conscious. Evolution also moves to greater complexity, great knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity, and the ability to express more transcendent emotions, such as love."

Liberation theologians taught that the means towards creating a socially just world, one that embodies the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity, and public happiness is what they called "conscientization," or critical consciousness, an in depth critique of the structures of the social order that hold people people back from achieving their higher consciousness of union with each other and nature.  Community organizers, public educators, and religious leaders learn that this consciousness can only occur through concerted and reflective action; that is, through power, which is the stuff of politics.

Contemplation in action. 

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