Chapters, Intros
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Being & Death: Both, and yet Neither

Being & Death: Both, and yet Neither is a spiritual philosophy book unfolding in real time on the internet while it is written. This book is my lifeblood, a meta-project that spans everything I’ve been doing for the past 30 years through art, meditation, personal experience, academic research, intimate love, and endless conversations with friends and mentors. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel I have the words to speak about these themes directly. So, I’m going to do so, but only with your help.

As outlined in the manifesto, my goal is that this book can become more than a text by unfolding before us as a process. I hope that this website becomes a space for radical inquiry and community participation, a living source of sincere engagement. My highest goal is that this project can help participate in the re-telling our story as humans. If what we do is enact the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, then change must first come in the form of understanding and narrative. Simply put: we need a new story about selves, about death, about the unknown, and about living together in this world. Let’s re-write this story together, and then, hopefully, live it.

So how are we going to do that?

When the two poles of “being a self” and “not being a self” become a balanced process, a synthesis beyond the two emerges.

To put it compactly: Being & Death explores the dialectic of self and non-self in respiration. Let me unpack these terms a bit.1 By “respiration,” I mean a process of dualism in balance. Respiration refers to breath, where “breathing in” is no more or less important than “breathing out.” These two poles – lungs full and lungs empty – must exist in balance for respiration to be healthy. Thus, self and non-self must exist in non-antagonistic balance. However, this duality is also “dialectical,”2 which means: from the thesis of “self” and the antithesis of “non-self” a synthesis emerges. This synthesis is paradoxically both poles, but somehow also neither, somehow something new (or perhaps more ancient). As we will explore, this synthesis is not a production but a subtraction. By removing the barriers and separaters of difference, we arrive at something beyond, something that feels like “the source.”3 Thus: “the dialectic of self and non-self in respiration” means: when the two poles of “being a self” and “not being a self” become a balanced process, a synthesis beyond the two emerges. I call this entire process: “Both, and yet Neither.”4

The balance of yin and yang are here in literal respiration as two sides of lungs. Art credit: Uniqueyinyangs.

The balance of yin and yang are in literal respiration as two sides of lungs. “Both, and yet neither” would be the Tao. | Art credit: Uniqueyinyangs.

There are three main dialectics explored in this book, each being analogies for one another. There is that of “self” / “non-self,” that of “being” / “death,” and that of “conscious” / “the unconscious.” Exploring each of these separately will be fruitful, since they reveal different aspects of thinking about reality. However, each is also an analogy for the other, which links us to a common structure, or “metapattern,” as my friend and fellow philosopher Carson Bowley has coined.

I’m a visual learner. I love drawings and diagrams that get my mind cranking and open the possibility for seeing new connections words can’t express. So, an important aspect of this book will be its engagement with deeply metaphoric diagrams. These diagrams then become spiritual mandalas, ways of conceptualizing and meditating on complex ideas.

Let’s take a closer look.

The Void Mandala

The Void Mandala

If you only remember this diagram, then you’ve understood the core thesis of this project. Everything comes from this.5 So, what is it?

Visually it connotes a mandala, a circular geometric design representing the entire universe, both inside and outside. It looks like a planetary system, with a sun or a black hole at the center. The arrows make it feel like something gravitational is happening. There is a spiraling process at work, an inward and outward action that feels fractal. It also looks like an eye, like an organ of perception and awareness. It feels navigational like a compass. I’ll stop there, and leave further visual metonymy to you. That’s the joy of an image: you bring personal associations to make it your own.

The black hole at the center of a galaxy. Artist rendition, credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library.

A black hole at the center of a galaxy. | Artist rendition, credit: Victor de Schwanberg/Science Photo Library.

However, this isn’t just a drawing but a diagram – every aspect of it is intentionally symbolical. Everything means something, and the fun part is: these meanings are analogies for other meanings, allowing this diagram to represent many processes. This diagram will help us conceptualize metapattern, analogy after analogy, and how each interacts.

The easiest mapping to understand is that of the conscious / unconscious respiratory process. To start, think of the whole sphere as you. The white area is your conscious life: everything you’re aware of and identify with. The black area at the center is your unconscious: everything within you that is unknown. Now, what does it mean to be introspective? To meditate deeply? To go on a spiritual journey through yourself? To explore your own darkness? The curved, inward-facing arrows represent these paths. Now, what does intuition feel like? Where does artistic inspiration come from? What are those moments when the unknown emerges through us to produce something new? What is it like to feel something larger than us moving through us? These are the outward-facing arrows, representing ruptures of truth from our deep unknowns.

The Conscious / Unconscious Interface

Personally, I have always made art in order to engage this inward / outward respiratory process. I dive deep into my own unknowns and explore. This is my spiritual journey. I then reemerge to communicate the unknowns I’ve discovered. This is my creative process. I use the term “respiration” because these aren’t separable into easy steps. Exploration and creation, introspection and communication, are two sides of the same coin – one process in respiration.

What does it mean to be introspective? Where does artistic inspiration come from?

We can then think of these inward- and outward-facing lines together as a dance. This is the dance of the spirit, of consciousness and the unconscious in ballet. Neither is more important than the other, but both are needed for the dance to occur. This same logic applies to all the other dialectics explored in this book: being and death, self and non-self, as well as so many other ways of understanding realty. The core of this book will be exploring each of these dances, what we can learn through their analogy, and then investigating what lies “beyond” them – the “both, and yet neither.”

Me, as a rock-climbing butoh dancer, engaging with my own conscious / unconscious respiratory process by making art. Full documentation here.

Me, as a rock-climbing butoh dancer, engaging with my own conscious / unconscious respiratory process through performance art. | Full documentation here.

The reason this book is called Being & Death, as opposed to any of the other dialectics, is because “death” is a scary term in Western culture. “The unconscious” and “non-self” aren’t emotionally charged for us, while “death” is often seen as something to be avoided, feared, and raged against. One of my main goals for this book is to explore these associations, provide new ways of looking and thinking about them, and then hopefully write a new story of death for our culture. The whole point of this book isn’t to be some dry philosophical analysis, but rather to be an active performance, to be a dancer in this dance, and to write a new story of death, of life, and what it means to be human – all so that we may live better.

This leads me now to the thesis of this book, which I will not attempt to explain here (since that’s the whole point of the book), but rather leave as an open door to the dance floor:

“Humanity must embrace a new story of death in order to return balance to being, a process embodied in the philosophy of “Both, and yet Neither,” which leads us through death of the ego, into a practice of love and interdependence, and back full circle to the ego reawakened as the caretaker of life’s respiratory process.”

So we may become ocean in the ocean. Photo credit: Freeimages.co.uk

We are ocean in the ocean. | Photo credit: Freeimages.co.uk


Footnotes:

1. [Why use “jargon” at all, you may ask? Because the language we use explicitly structures what we are capable of thinking and the way we reason about these thoughts. If our goal is to tell a new story about ourselves, then we must use new language and new metaphors. I don’t use a word like “respiration” to be confusing, but rather to sculpt a new way of thinking that’s non-antagonistic and metaphorically linked to the body’s natural processes. For more on conceptual metaphor and the language we use, I would refer you to the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, such as The Metaphors We Live By and Philosophy in the Flesh.]
2. [Think of dialectics like a triangle sitting with the flat part on the ground and the tip pointing towards the sky. One side of the base is your starting term, the “thesis.” Now take its opposite and place it on the other side of the base, your “antithesis.” Moving upwards from the base of the triangle our two sides begin to merge. Difference blurs as opposites combine, leading you to a new term that is a mixture of both, but also new. This is the “synthesis.” For more on dialectics see the work of Georg Hegel, such as Science of Logic and The Phenomenology of Mind.]
3. [Using a term like “the source” is of course problematic if you want to get technical about it. Fans of Jacques Derrida (me included) could have a field-day deconstructing the logic of what is or isn’t a “source” or an “origin.” But that’s not my intention here. I’m not claiming one state is “better” or “more original” than another, but rather, I’m trying to explain spiritually how something feels. Where were we before birth? This is the place I’m talking about.]
4. [“Both, and yet Neither” may sound like a clunky expression, but I feel it is a descriptive one that explicitly highlights the paradoxical fact of holding two poles in balance while also being greater than their sum. Unlike the traditional dialectical process, where the duality is absorbed into the new synthesis, “Both, and yet Neither” holds both original terms equally within the new combination, which is both but beyond. A good example would be the relationship between yin/yang and Tao. As the core term of this book, it will be fully explored from many angles.]
5. [And everything has led up to this. As will be detailed in the book, this diagram is the evolution of a core symbol mythology I’ve been developing for the past 10 years.]

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8 Comments

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