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Kate MacDowell "Canary 3"

Breathing Metaphors

Take a breath

Breathe with me before we begin. Note how it feels. Pull the cool air in through your nostrils, moving the breath downward into your chest. Fill your lungs slowly and deliberately until they are completely full. Pause at this peak of fullness and ask, “What does it feel like to be full?”

With your full lungs, now breathe out. Allow the body-warmed air to move across your lips and tongue, noting the sound it makes. Breathe out slowly and deliberately until your lungs are completely empty. Pause at this nadir of emptiness and ask, “How does it feel to be empty?”

With empty lungs, now breathe in again. Allow this process to flow inwards and outwards as your respiratory instinct naturally takes over.

A story about breathing

I often get nervous speaking in front of crowds. This strange thing happens where I tend to only breathe in. I will say a sentence or two, then breathe in, continue talking, and then breathe in some more. My chest starts to puff up like a cartoon strongman. It is a very peculiar sight to see. Over the course of a minute or two, my lungs are so bursting with air that I can no longer speak. I start to feel like I am going to pass out – lungs full of breath, but no more oxygen. There is nowhere to go but a huge, awkward exhale. Then I feel dizzy and embarrassed, panting as if I just finished a race. My body does weird things under stress.

When my only brother, Morgan, got married a few years ago, he asked me to be his best man. I felt very honored. He and I are close, and over the years I have learned so much from him; this speech was my chance to pay tribute to our relationship. I spent months pouring over what I would say. For me, it was a very symbolic moment.

I felt great about the speech, and had it mostly memorized, but was nervous about speaking before the crowd. I was anxious, of course, about that “only breathing in” thing. I envisioned a disaster. There I would be, with a hundred and fifty faces patiently waiting as I fought over words and breath.

My father saw me standing in the corner, nursing a cocktail, practicing the speech to myself. He asked me how I felt. I told him about the breath thing, and he laughed. He smiled and said, “When you go up there, don’t think of it like a speech. Instead, imagine yourself standing at the line before a free throw.” My dad, after all, used to coach me in basketball.

He continued, “When you’re at the line, the crowd, the other players, they’re all watching expectantly. But if you’re going to make those two shots, you can’t be on their schedule. You have to create your own space. Make sure your feet are aligned. Feel the texture of the ball on your fingertips. Spin it around a few times, feel its weight. You remember,” he said. “What do you do? You square up. You dribble at the line. Only then do you take your shot.”

I nodded along, not yet seeing where he was going with this. I asked him how I was supposed to dribble before my speech.

“When you’re standing in front of the wedding party,” he answered, “take a few breaths. You’ll feel all those eyes on you, all that pressure to speak. But think of it like the free throw line. Take a few moments to collect yourself. Soak in the expectation of everyone. Bask in the glow of their silence. That moment is for you. You’re not just here to speak, but to be present. Your speech is about two things: words and silences. Honor both. If you think of yourself as only there to speak, then you’ll only be breathing in. So breathe out too. The audience is there to listen to your silences as much as your words.”

An hour later, it was my time. I stood before the wedding and took a deep breath in. Then, in silence, I breathed out. Slowly the anxiety of expectation melted into its opposite. I felt confident standing silently before the crowd. And when I finally spoke, the words came out measured and balanced.

Respiration as a model for balance

If you are reading this book, then you are probably alive, and most likely have a working knowledge of how to breathe. If you are new to the breath game, then please refer to the exercise described above. There you will see that breathing is a polarity composed of two opposites: full lungs and empty lungs. You breathe in. You breathe out. It is important to note that neither of these poles is either “good” or “bad”. Respiration is a process. Breathing is the flow from full to empty and back again. The only “harmful” form of respiration is the stoppage of the process. One-sidedness, like my lungs being so full they are bursting at the seams, is damaging to the organism. The healthy (and only) way for me to breathe is for my breath to be a balanced flow. Breathing, in this sense, can be viewed as a metaphor for duality. In this model, the two opposites of “full” and “empty” cannot be in opposition, but must rather compose a stable whole.

Thinking duality in this way is surprisingly not common in our culture. In the west, we want a “good” side and a “bad” side so we know who to root for and who to throw old vegetables at. We want our polarities to be at war (because war is good for the economy, right?). Even though we all have bodies and rely on the balance of respiration to live, it seems as if our conceptual models for polarity have us situated in a very “us vs. them” or “good vs. bad” mentality of one-sidedness. The Star Wars movies (which I grew up on) present us with two opposites eternally at war: the “light side” and the “dark side” of the force. The Jedi are the good guys and the Sith are the bad guys. This moral device makes incredible intuitive sense to our culture. We want “good” to triumph over “evil” at every turn. In fact, “good vs. evil” is our primary metaphor for duality, a war metaphor. It would seem like ours is the culture of bursting lungs.

In her book A Philosophy of Emptiness, author Gay Watson explores the metaphorical origins of western and eastern models for duality. She suggests how each culture began with a different paradigm for experience, which in turn structured their divergent worldviews. She writes, “The initial choice between ‘I breathe’ and ‘I perceive’ defines what constitutes reality.”1 The legacy of the Greeks to the west, she claims, takes “perception” as its primary metaphor. In this model, what I see exists and what I do not see does not exist. Such a binary cleaves the world into two camps: one present and one absent. This split is emblematic of our culture, which celebrates presence while shunning absence. “It’s better to have and not need, than need and not have,” as the saying goes.2

The legacy of the Chinese to the east, however, takes respiration as its model for reality. Watson writes, “The Chinese choice, based on an experiential knowledge of breathing in and breathing out, led to the principle of a regulating alternation of emptiness and fullness from which the process of the world flows.”3 Alan Watts, in his book on Taoism, expands this definition:4

At the very roots of Chinese thinking and feeling there lies the principle of polarity, which is not to be confused with the ideas of opposition or conflict. In the metaphors of other cultures, light is at war with darkness, life with death, good with evil, and the positive with the negative, and thus an idealism to cultivate the former and be rid of the latter flourishes throughout much of the world. To the traditional way of Chinese thinking, this is as incomprehensible as an electric current without both positive and negative poles, for polarity is the principle that + and –, north and south, are different aspects of one and the same system, and that the disappearance of either one of them would be the disappearance of the system.5

In this “respiration” model of reality, duality is held wholly and non-antagonistically. Emptiness and fullness, knowledge and non-knowledge, life and death, are both equal and essential aspects of the same process. Thinking such a thought – duality in balance – and the worldview that follows, is contingent upon having a central structuring metaphor, such as our breath metaphor. The way we understand the world is structured by the metaphorical framework we have in our brains.

Conceptual metaphors

Metaphor is much more than fancy rhetoric. Typically, when we think about metaphor, we think back to when we learned about “figures of speech” in school. We learned that when poets write “love is a rose” they are being metaphorical. Love is not actually a rose, you were taught, and so this use of language is “figurative”, not literal. The poet is painting a picture in your mind. It is art, not reality. As young students, such a definition of metaphor made us believe that there could be literal uses language that would give us direct access to reality. Ironically, such a thought itself is metaphorical.

Studying consciousness through language and the brain, cognitive scientists have discovered how metaphor and the structure of thought are actually quite inseparable. Metaphor, it seems, is not something that “gets in the way” of understanding reality “as it is”, but rather, metaphor is how we understand and reason about the world.

This inseparability of metaphor and reason comes from the fact that we are thinking bodies. We do not “have a body” and “have a mind”. Rather, we are one body-mind system. To comprehend this system, we have to understand the feedback loop that exists between the abstract thoughts we think, how we think them physically in our brains, and what our bodies are capable of doing with these thoughts.

The term “conceptual metaphor” is used to show how metaphor is not merely about words, but rather about thought itself. “Metaphorical language is a reflection of metaphorical thought,” write George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their book Philosophy in the Flesh.6 We can see metaphorical thought happening directly in a process called “conflation”, which is the neurological process of merging two types of experience occurring simultaneously in the brain. These conflated co-activations form the very building blocks of thought. Lakoff and Johnson call these building blocks “primary metaphors”. The two authors explain:

For young children, subjective (nonsensorimotor) experiences and judgments, on the one hand, and sensorimotor7 experiences, on the other, are so regularly conflated – undifferentiated in experience – that for a time children do not distinguish between the two when they occur together. For example, for an infant, the subjective experience of affection is typically correlated with the sensory experience of warmth, the warmth of being held. During the period of conflation, associations are automatically built up between the two domains. Later… [these] cross-domain associations persist. These persisting associations are the mappings of conceptual metaphor that will lead the same infant, later in life, to speak of “a warm smile,” “a big problem,” and “a close friend.”8

This means that for the typical infant, your first experiences of “love and affection” happen when your parent is physically holding you. Your parent is a human (most likely) and is running at a warm ninety-eight point six degrees. This means that your first experiences of love are happening simultaneously with experiences of warmth. During the period of conflation, these two domains of experience are permanently connected in the brain. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as the expression goes.9

There is nothing figurative about this process. “Love” and “warmth” are physically mapped together in the brain through actual neural connections. This is why, later in life, when I say, “She had a warm smile,” you know exactly what I mean. If you try to undo that primary metaphor, it actually does not make sense. How can a smile be warm? Did you touch her mouth with your hand? Did she stop smiling when you did that? Does she now think you are creepy?

You would never ask these questions, because “warm” co-activates “love and affection” in your brain. You know that I mean, “She had an affectionate smile,” because you intuitively know that “warmth” is the experience of affection. In fact, you only know affection because you know warmth.

Expanding on this idea, the most important aspect of primary metaphor comes from one distinction: love as a feeling is deeply complex, abstract, and hard to understand, while warmth as a sensation is physical, fairly literal, and easier to understand. Thus, the power of conceptual metaphor comes from the ability it gives you to reason about abstract feelings with the logic of physical experiences. This is called a “mapping”. Allow me to introduce you to some lingo: there is a “source domain” and a “target domain”. The source is the thing that makes physical sense, the thing you experience with your body. It is called the “source” since it is the source of reasoning. The target, on the other hand, is the thing that is hard to understand, the thing that mainly exists abstractly in your brain. It is called the “target” since it needs help.

Conceptual metaphor is thus fairly straightforward, since it is only made up of two parts. The abstract target is metaphorically (and neurologically) linked to the physical source. We understand warmth, but it is hard to understand love. So, we apply the logic of warmth to the experience of love in order to make inferences. (On your first date, was he being “cold” or “warm” to you?) This capacity for inferential reasoning is what thought is. Cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter writes, “All meaning is mapping-mediated, which is to say, all meaning comes from analogies.”10 Since metaphor and analogy is the very stuff of thought, the list of primary metaphors could go on forever. Beyond “affection is warmth” we have “important is big,” “happy is up,” “intimacy is closeness,” “bad is stinky,” “difficulties are burdens,” “knowing is seeing,” and so forth.11 Lakoff and Johnson show beautifully how even complex conceptual metaphors are slowly built up from these primary metaphor building blocks. In their book they spend an entire chapter on “a purposeful life is a journey”. For instance, there is a certain experience that we have all felt, but the only way for me to describe it is to say, “I’m feeing stuck” or “I feel like I’m spinning my wheels”.12 Such expressions come directly from the “life is a journey” complex metaphor, and give both you and me a way to understand, discuss, and reason about our experience (which is to say: it is how we think).

We can no longer think of metaphor as an artistic but unnecessary flourish to thinking; rather, we must understand that metaphor is what it means to think. Lakoff and Johnson write, “Metaphors provide subjective experience with extremely rich inferential structure, imagery, and qualitative “feel,” when the networks for subjective experience and the sensorimotor networks neurally connected to them are coactivated.”13 The key phrase here is “rich inferential structure”, which means that metaphor allows us to reason. This is one of the boldest discoveries of their work. Our human capacity to reason, the very stuff of thinking and consciousness, is an embodied process that emerges from conceptual metaphor. They write, “Perhaps the most important thing to understand about conceptual metaphors is that they are used to reason with.”14 The metaphors we use structure our very capacity to reason and think.

The beauty here, as I see it, is that by understanding the metaphorical way thought works, by being mindful of our own process, we can then become conscious agents in the sculpting of new metaphors for thought, allowing us to finally think and enact the type of world we actually want to inhabit. For me, this is an enormous insight into the potential plasticity of our habitual worldviews. Sure, we inherited an antagonistic metaphorical system of “good vs. evil” from our culture, but this is not where our story ends. We have the power to change this story by changing our metaphors, which structure our ability to reason and think, and which, in turn, change the way we live and act.

Our breath metaphor described in the above section is not just a figure of speech. This respiratory model is a new way of being in the world. It is a way of thinking and a way of acting. Thinking “duality in balance” is thus an ethical imperative structured by a mindful metaphorics. It is the responsibility of our conscious minds to choose the metaphor system that most ethically fits with the world we want to create. Ask yourself: Do I want to live in a “world of war” or a “world of balance”?


Footnotes:

1. [Gay Watson, A Philosophy of Emptiness, p. 52, Reaktion Books, 2014.]
2. [This expression seems to be attributed to many different people, which leads me to believe that it is just a cultural expression emblematic of the west, rather than the quote of a single author.]
3. [Watson, A Philosophy of Emptiness., p. 52-3.]
4. [I quote these sources, however inspirational as I find them, with some hesitation. I fear that describing “east vs. west” in this way is just one more antagonistic (and ethnocentric) model for reality, especially since these two authors, Watson and Watts, are both white. My goal here is not to situate one culture as superior to or more exotic than the other. Rather, my goal is to highlight multiple cultural perspectives and show how they structure our capacity to reason.
That being said, I am an American, so my own cultural heritage (and baggage) is unavoidably present. An important part of this project will then be its capacity to break out of old models so that we may use new metaphors for thought. As the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes, “True philosophy consists in relearning to look at the world.” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, p. xxiii, Routledge Classics, 2002.)
Achieving this new vision will require casting a wide net to find the best metaphors and analogies that will help us re-think our habitually engrained patterns of understanding. Doing this will often mean jumping from science to religion to literature to art, and it will often require us to think through the texts of different cultural heritages.
I will try to be careful and respectful in the process. My goal is not to culturally appropriate, but rather to be as inclusive as possible. With respiration as our model for balance, we will have to breathe both eastern and western viewpoints, both consciousness and the unconscious, both pain and pleasure, both feminine and masculine, and, most dramatically, both life and death, in order to find something truly balanced. In the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, p. 101, Vintage Books, 1984.)]
5. [Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way, p. 19-20, Pantheon Books, 1975.]
6. [George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, p. 123, Basic Books, 1999.]
7. [“Sensorimotor” is lingo for “sensory-motor”, which is a cognitive science expression meaning “both the sensory and motor domains of the human body.” “Sensory” are the body’s senses and “motor” is the ability for the body to move. These two domains are deeply linked, thus the hybrid expression.]
8. [Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, p. 46.]
9. [This expression is a popular paraphrase of neuropsychologist Donald Hebb’s “Hebbian theory,” or cell assembly theory, which he introduced in 1949. For more on this theory, see his book The Organization of Behavior.]
10. [Douglas Hofstadter, I Am A Strange Loop, p. 158, Basic Books, 2007.]
11. [Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, p. 50-54.]
12. [Ibid., p. 68.]
13. [Ibid., p. 59.]
14. [Ibid., p. 65.]

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Introducing the Void Mandala

We came together from across the country to reconnect in Joshua Tree. The sky was open and the moon was full. Our camp usually only meets once a year at Burning Man; this weekend was the first time we’d gotten together mid-year. We decided to call this new event “Burning Woman”. Away from the noise and chaos that usually characterizes the playa, we were free to relax and connect in a quieter, more intimate way.

On the last day of the weekend, Sunday, March 8th, I had the opportunity to present the work I’ve been doing here on Live The Questions as a lecture and discussion. Special thanks to Randy García for making incredible Cuban coffee (aka “rocket fuel”) and to Lou Baldanza for taking the photographs.

My goal with this class was to summarize the entire Being & Death project in just 45 minutes, using the Void Mandala as the central organizing principle. It was an eye-opening experience for me seeing how this content can be so efficiently communicated. In fact, the format of the intimate class setting, the brevity of the talk, and the effectiveness of the presentation have gotten me to re-think the structure and goals of this project as a whole. I’m thinking about pivoting this project from an internet book to more of a lecture/class series (based off of this Joshua Tree presentation), supplemented by a root system of mini-essays for those who want to go deeper. More on this idea later…

For those who weren’t able to attend, here are my lecture notes and the class handout:

The Evolution of the Void Mandala - crudely drawn by Paul Wallace.

The Evolution of the Void Mandala – crudely drawn by Paul Wallace.

Introducing the Void Mandala

Purpose: To gain a more balanced understanding of “life & death” by metaphorically mapping a series of analogies, such as “consciousness & the unconscious”, “self & non-self experiences”, and “duality & non-duality” onto it.

Intro:

  1. Conceptual Metaphor
    1. “She has a warm smile.” What does “warm” mean?
      1. Conflation, co-activation, and source/target domains.
    2. Primary metaphor reveals the metaphorical structure of thinking.
      1. “All meaning is mapping-mediated, which is to say, all meaning comes from analogies [and metaphor].”Doug Hofstadter.
    3. Metaphor, myth, and “As within, so without.”
      1. The computer example.

Life Metaphors:

  1. Negative Difference (duality) & The Mirror Stage
    1. Language is the realm of duality
      1. Meat –> Raw/Cooked
      2. “Concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with other terms in the system.”Ferdinand de Saussure
    2. The foundational split of subjectivity: “I/You” [figure 1, 2]
      1. The “Mirror Stage” = becoming a “self” by creating a boundary, and separating off everything else as “other”.
  2. The Hole: Lack / Desire / Consumerism
    1. Lack = the hole left over after cutting off a part of yourself in order to create the “I/You” binary.
      1. This is not just a theory – the lack is emotionally felt by all humans as “aloneness” or “separateness”.
    2. Desire = a projection screen over the lack [figure 3]
      1. “If I can just get this new (car, house, wife) I’ll finally be happy and complete!”
    3. Consumerism = a culture that exploits “the lack” to create a society of scarcity and feelings of “I’m not enough”.
  3. The Donut: Consciousness / The “Self” Symbol
    1. Human brains are pattern recognition systems that create a robust repertoire of categories (symbols) to stand in for these patterns. These categories nest like Russian dolls.
      1. Our “self” is merely the most complex looping symbol we have, a “proper name” for a pattern (with fantastic evolutionary survival value).
      2. “The basic idea is that the dance of symbols in a brain is itself perceived by symbols, and that step extends the dance, and so round and round it goes. That, in a nutshell, is what consciousness is. But if you recall, symbols are simply large phenomena made out of non-symbolic neural activity, so you can shift viewpoint and get rid of the language of symbols entirely, in which case the “I” disintegrates. It just poofs out of existence.”Doug Hofstadter
    2. Consciousness = the high-level dance of these symbols (a system which is “blind” to the low-level processing of information patterns). We are modeling systems that naïvely think the models we interact with are the world, rather than rough territories given to the landscape of undifferentiated data.
      1. The earth vs. countries
    3. Conclusion: Life is the virtual realm of categories and symbols operating under the rules of language (duality). Your “self” is just one of these symbols, a complex proper name for a pattern, which as been “cut off” from the world via duality. [figure 4]
      1. Virtual/Actual –> both are Real

Death Metaphors:

  1. Re-thinking Emptiness as “The Void”
    1. Were we wrong to think about the “lack” as being “empty”?
    2. QM: The quantum “nothingness” is seething with activity. The laws of QM allows a “0” to peel apart into a “1 and -1”.
    3. ST: The “void” in set theory math is the “Nothing from which everything proceeds.”Alain Badiou
      1. Think of the “Void” like a bag of string-theory strings. It looks “empty” since it has no “real world” content, but it actually has the raw material to make everything.
  2. Spiritual Introspection / Exploring the Unconscious / Meditation
    1. What does it feel like to explore your own dark unknowns? What does spiritual introspection feel like? Where do you go in the deepest depths of your meditation? [figure 5]
    2. “I frequently imagined a steep descent. I even made several attempts to get to the very bottom. The first time I reached, as it were, a depth of about a thousand feet; the next time I found myself at the edge of a cosmic abyss. It was like a voyage to the moon, or a descent into empty space. First came the image of a crater, and I had the feeling that I was in the land of the dead.”Carl Jung
  3. Inspiration / Grace / The Collective Unconscious
    1. Where does inspiration come from? [figure 6]
      1. Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your Elusive Creative Genius” TED talk for some great musings here.
    2. Grace and the CU = “If you want to know the closest place to look for grace, it is within yourself. If you desire wisdom greater than your own, you can find it inside you. What this suggests is that the interface between God and man is at least in part the interface between our unconscious and our conscious. To put it plainly, our unconscious is God. God within us.”Scott Peck
  4. Sex, Drugs, and Ego Death (non-self and non-duality)
    1. Orgasm = “la petit mort” (the little death). What feels so intuitional about this?
    2. Sex = “Eroticism is assenting to life up to the point of death.”Georges Bataille
      1. The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, a sculpture about orgasm, death, and access to God all at once.
    3. Drugs = a taste of non-self
      1. “I spent several minutes – or was it several centuries? – not merely gazing at those bamboo legs, but actually being them – or rather being myself in them; or, to be still more accurate (for “I” was not involved in the case, nor in a certain sense were “they”) being my Not-self in the Not-self which was the chair.”Aldous Huxley (Doors of Perception)
    4. Ego-Death = Why is Christianity’s main symbol the crucifixion?
    5. Conclusion: Death is the actual realm of the Void, which is outside of language and difference; it is the realm of non-duality and non-self. The proper name for this space is “God”, and we gain access to this space through our own unconscious.

Both, and yet Neither:

  1. Who Am I, Really? Self or Non-Self? Or Maybe The “-“ In-Between?
    1. Self = virtual, non-self = actual, both = real
      1. Are we trying to lose ourselves or find ourselves? When do we feel the most “us”? Both?
    2. The “-“ = the neither [figure 7]
      1. The gap of self told through mixed-race identity
  2. Both, and yet Neither / Respiration / You Are Breathing
    1. Chiasm and Superposition
      1. The “Tao” is the “Both, and yet Neither” of “Yin/Yang”
      2. “All beings support yin and embrace yang / and the interplay of these two forces / fills the universe / Yet only at the still-point [the Tao] / between the breathing in and the breathing out, / can one capture these two in perfect harmony”Lao Tzu (verse 42)
    2. Respiration as a balanced model for duality: “Good vs. Evil” (one-sided) or “Empty lungs and Full lungs” (balanced)?
    3. What does the “breathing model” do for you? For life/death? For self/non-self? For consciousness/the unconscious?

The Void Mandala:

  1. What Is A Mandala?
    1. “[A mandala] expresses the union of opposites – the union of the personal, temporal world of the ego with the non-personal, timeless world of the non-ego… It is the union of the soul with God… the wholeness of the psyche or Self, of which consciousness is just as much a part as the unconscious.” Aniela Jaffé (a psychoanalyst and contemporary of Carl Jung)
  2. The Void Mandala through Many Analogies
    1. Consciousness & The Unconscious
    2. Self & Non-Self
    3. Life & Death
    4. Individual & God
    5. Inward & Outward Respiratory Process
  3. The Hero’s Journey
    1. Life is not a straight path, but rather a spiral moving in the spiritual dimension.
    2. The Hero’s Journey described.
  4. Conclusion: The Void Mandala is a symbol for the respiration of life & death, consciousness & the unconscious, self & non-self, and the individual & God. Breathing with this mandala lets our life become a constant practice of maintaining balance through exploration – with each journey (there and back again) we rise further and further into the spiritual dimension. [figure 8]

8: The Caretaker

The final chapter outline is ready!

I’m excited to present you with the outline for chapter 8 of Being & Death. Please read it over and let me know your thoughts! If you missed the opening post, you can read the outline comment guidelines and my overall purpose statement here.

FULL LUNGS

I: The Respiratory Process

Chapter 1’s outline can be found here.

II: Queer Vision

Chapter 2’s outline can be found here.

EXHALE

III: Being

Chapter 3’s outline can be found here.

IV: Death

Chapter 4’s outline can be found here.

EMPTY LUNGS

V: Both, and yet Neither

Chapter 5’s outline can be found here.

VI: The Hero’s Journey

Chapter 6’s outline can be found here.

INHALE

VII: Practicing Love

Chapter 7’s outline can be found here.

VIII: The Caretaker

Chapter purpose: To conclude this book by summarizing everything explored thus far, and re-presenting the power of story. This journey has been circular, returning us back to where we began, but with a new perspective. This new perspective is the return of the ego as the ‘caretaker of balance’ within the individual. The same way in which this journey brought us back full circle to the ego as ‘the caretaker of the individual’, so too does the individual come back full circle as ‘the caretaker of the world’. It is the wager of this book that these two processes form a tight circuit: that we are at war with the world to the extent that we are at war with ourselves, and similarly, that world balance can only be found via finding personal balance. The proper name for this ‘agent of balance’ is ‘The Caretaker’, one with incredible responsibility, but also with deep privilege. That ‘one’ is quite literally the destiny of each of us.

Main take-away: “The individual who has come to understand life and death in respiration is able to be the caretaker of balance in the world.”

Outline:

1) “WHAT WE CAN BECOME” – Section purpose: to explore how the ego functions best as a caretaker, and how it can return in our individual lives as the agent of balance.

  • Egos gone awry
    • A look at the role of the ego in the body-system via two stories, one about grapes and one about sunscreen. The ego so quickly goes from a caretaker (it’s purpose) to a hyper-active conqueror. Great caretaker, but horrible leader.
  • Born again selves
    • The ego of Being must die the same way in which the old gods must die. “The king is dead; long live the king!” It must go through ego-death to then be “born again” as a new type of ego, a new type of self. This second-round ego-self is the Caretaker.
    • The same way in which this second round ego takes care of the body, so does the second round individual (hero) take care of the world.
  • Enacting change
    • “We are our deep, driving desire.” So, make that desire the desire to be the Caretaker. The importance of first changing our story, then enacting that change.
    • Intro/summary of the chapter to come, re: the power of story, Leavers, Takers, and Caretakers, the entire hero’s journey from Being to Death through BayN back again to see the ego/self re-born as the Caretaker of life’s respiration. This can only be done through the practices of love, individuation, etc. The Caretaker is most simply defined as the individual who has found balance, and can thus return balance to the world process. The Caretaker takes care of balance.

2) “THE STORY OF OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD” – Section purpose: to look at the power of story and our place in the world via an overview of Ishmael, then positing a new term not used in that book: Caretaker.

  • Tending the garden
    • Imagine if our founding Biblical story had told a different story? What if the Bible said, “This is God. I made trees in my image. Trees are thus gods. You, humans, have the sacred role of being the gardener and caretaker to these trees, my avatars on earth.” Would history be different?
  • Leavers and Takers
    • An overview of Ishmael, re: the story of Leavers and Takers. Summarize the book and its main ideas, re: being captive to a story, enacting the story we tell ourselves, Leavers and Takers explained, the story of man as end of creation, the conquering mentality, the desire to kill God, and the Garden of Eden myth re-visited.
  • Caretakers
    • Discuss the ideas from our Ishmael The Open event, mainly the evolution from Leaver to Taker to a 3rd state, which I call “Caretaker.” The goal isn’t backwards movement, but hero’s journey full circle to greater awareness. Define what I mean by “Caretaker”, namely: the BayN of Leaver/Taker.

3) “OUR JOURNEY TOGETHER” – Section purpose: to summarize in classic ‘conclusion’ terms the entire book you just read.

  • Looking back on Being & Death
    • A chapter-by-chapter summary / re-cap of the main points of this book, and the purpose of each.

4) “YOU ARE THE HERO” – Section purpose: to draw together the journey of this book as the hero’s journey, not just for some abstract hero, but specifically for you. This is your journey, and your return to the world after this journey is the very evolution of consciousness.

  • Be the hero of your self
    • Re-cap of individuation and harmony (respiration) of the individual. Doing this makes your ego into the Caretaker of you, thus turning your self into the Self.
    • Map this onto Dance of Spirit
  • Communicate the message of the Void
    • The Caretaker is the embodiment of the respiratory process as it is understood from the standpoint of BayN. Inward is the God experience, outward is the Caretaking. Stand in the void and speak in the light.
  • Be the hero of the world
    • Individuation as the Hero’s Journey – when you return you are the hero of the world. Your return as the Caretaker.
    • Campbell re: hero as world redeemer, destroyer of the unsustainable status quo.
  • The evolution of awareness
    • From the ego to the Self, mapped to the life of a human. The BayN of C/U, life/death, individual/God, to create one vastly evolved Caretaker awareness. The respiration of individuation and interdependence.

5) “MAPPING A NEW WAY TO LIVE” – Section purpose: to summarize and enunciate the main purpose of this book: by bringing balance to yourself, you can bring balance to the world.

  • Learning to see
    • A re-cap of conceptual metaphor and mappings.
    • The whole point of philosophy is to re-learn how to look at the world, and how to live better. Revisit the intertwining of emotion and vision.
    • The analogical chain is the void mandala. The void mandala is the C/U interface as it is mapped onto being/death.
  • You are at war with the world to the extent that you are at war with yourself
    • Re-visit now with deeper understanding the purpose of this book: returning balance to life by finding a new story on death. This new story on death is found by mapping the C/U interface onto the being/death process. Doing this teaches us what life is, what death means, and the interplay between the two (BayN). Understanding “yourself” as the BayN of these two spheres. The BayN gap ‘that is in you more than yourself’ is God. This knowledge is the boon you bring back from your journey. You have evolved from ego to Caretaker, allowing you to evolve the world from battleground to God.
    • Jung re: growing up past the point of being bewitched by the C. Once we grow up, conquest will cease to be the dream.

6) “THE CARETAKER’S RESPONSIBILITY” – Section purpose: to leave the reader with an open door and a call to action.

  • From privilege to responsibility
    • Intro re: Spider-Man. A look at privilege through the light of social responsibility. Just as the privileged in our society have a social responsibility to the all, so do all humans (as beings privileged with consciousness) have a responsibility to the world.
  • You are called to action
    • This book in one sentence: Caretaking is the goal, value/action harmony is the path, BayN/God is the vision, and love is the battery.
    • Final departure re: call to action via personal (Jung/Campbell), political (Badiou), ecological (Lakoff), and spiritual (Peck). “The spiritually evolved are called to serve the world, and in their love they answer the call.”

7: Practicing Love

I’m excited to present you with the outline for chapter 7 of Being & Death. Please read it over and let me know your thoughts! If you missed the opening post, you can read the outline comment guidelines and my overall purpose statement here.

FULL LUNGS

I: The Respiratory Process

Chapter 1’s outline can be found here.

II: Queer Vision

Chapter 2’s outline can be found here.

EXHALE

III: Being

Chapter 3’s outline can be found here.

IV: Death

Chapter 4’s outline can be found here.

EMPTY LUNGS

V: Both, and yet Neither

Chapter 5’s outline can be found here.

VI: The Hero’s Journey

Chapter 6’s outline can be found here.

INHALE

VII: Practicing Love

Chapter purpose: To articulate some ways in which the theory of this book can and must be practiced. Stepping back from theory, this chapter pragmatically introduces various ways in which we can enact wholeness in our daily life. This is done personally through an executional look at individuation, and interpersonally through a survey of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and intimacy. Love is then examined as the battery that fuels this work. However, this chapter cannot be proscriptive since the work is only yours to do. Thus, the idea of action/value harmony is set down as the path towards finding your own work, and two of my valued actions are explored in detail as examples.

Main take-away: “The conceptual work of this book was merely preparation for the task; the real work of finding balance requires constant practice.”

Outline:

1) “LIVE THE QUESTIONS” – Section purpose: to introduce the importance of practice, what it means and how we do it.

  • Practicing the not-known
    • Practicing the not-known.
    • Havel’s definition of “hope.” Intention w/o expectation.
    • Rilke, and what it means to “live the questions.”
  • All theory all practice
    • The relationship between theory and practice explored, re: all theories engender practice, even if implicitly. Here, we will articulate explicitly the practice of this theory: this is what it means to LTQs. Understanding “life” as “life yoga.”
    • The Void Mandala unfolded: the self/non-self schematic. This layout provides a map for the realms of practice needed, from individuation, to vulnerability and intimacy, to body work, and to spiritual work.
  • Why we practice
    • A quick intro to the term “practice.”
    • Discuss our incredible ability to forget and slip back to old habitual patterns. This work is the work of remembering and re-wiring the brain (training the elephant). Thus the need for “beginners mind.”
    • Discuss the impossibility to speak the unspeakable, but there is the ability to directly experience it. Understanding is just the prep work. Right practice is the key.
    • Intro/summary of the chapter to come, re: one cannot just “realize” the theory of this book (even I am just a beginner). We must work through ego and self via personal work (individuation, self-love) and intimate interpersonal work (shame work, vulnerability). We must work on our minds and spirits via our chiasmic bodies (art, meditation). Only via this journey can we return to life as Caretakers of its respiration.

2) “YOUR SELF IN RESPIRATION” – Section purpose: to look at individuation in a deeply personal and executional way, so that each of us might bring wholeness to ourselves.

  • The process of individuation
    • A re-cap of Jung’s process of individuation, focusing especially on persona/shadow harmony and the how-to’s.
    • No harmony can be brought to the world if the individual is at war with itself. The very first step in this entire process is the work of individuation. First, this means understanding your persona as a performance, second, it means integrating your shadow content, third, it means realizing (loving) a whole. “Becoming who you are” = persona/shadow (C/U) harmony.
  • Understanding your persona’s performance
    • Performing a “perfect” self keeps us from intimacy.
    • An exploration of “perfectionism as armor” as the performance of a persona par excellence. A look into the “productivity as self-worth” that follows from this.
    • How do you combat this performance? By actively loving your repressed shadow content.
  • Loving your shadow
    • An exploration of the process of: a) dreams, neurosis, and art as ruptures of shadow unconsciousness into consciousness as a hope to restore balance, b) introspection and discovering your shadow content (often with help of a therapist), and c) taking these messages from the U seriously and then integrating shadow content into your life.
    • The story of the blindfolded child, and self-love being the view of the Atman.
  • The freedom to be
    • A story of freedom: not becoming some freer version of yourself, but the freedom of letting yourself be exactly who you already are.
    • What it means to find worthiness and to feel like you are “enough.” Story from Brene about the beauty industry capitalizing on insecurity. There is an economic and political power in feeling like “enough.”
    • The importance of patience in this process: you finish with your desires at the rate at which you finish with your desires.
    • A look at the “Serenity Prayer” as an excellent map for the complicated line between self-improvement and self-love.
    • This entire process highlighted in the difference between “fitting in” vs. “belonging.” What it means to belong.

3) “FROM VULNERABILITY TO INTIMACY” – Section purpose: to survey the work of Brene Brown, and its importance on interpersonal practice.

  • Shame is a social disease
    • An intro into the work of Brene Brown via her definition of shame, how it works, and how we build shame-resilience.
  • Vulnerability = intimacy
    • A focused look at Brene’s work with vulnerability and its relationship to intimacy.
  • Becoming whole-hearted
    • A deeper dive into the work of Brene, re: what it means (and what it takes) to live “whole-heartedly”.
    • Individuation, shame resilience, and vulnerability are exhausting, and would be impossible if not for the infinite reservoir of energy that is love.

4) “LOVE IS THE BATTERY” – Section purpose: to attempt to define what ‘love’ is, and what doing the work of love means.

  • What is love?
    • An exploration of “love” and how we practice it.
    • A look at the question “does love conquer all?” to explore the way love is “outside” the conquering model. Love as non-dualism; love as the ocean; love as hope. Love is the battery that powers our work.
    • The difference b/w the “feeling of love” and the “work of love”. Love is the opposite of laziness and entropy.
  • The work of love
    • A dive into the work of Scott Peck, re: “love is the work of attending to your own or another’s spiritual growth.”
    • Specifically looking at: attention and communication, the respiration of togetherness and separateness, the expansion of our self-model through “cathexis,” and what he means (and how I interpret) “the work of spiritual growth.”
    • Peck+Brene = holding space for the other. You cannot do another’s work for them. Holding space is key.
  • Our ever-changing maps of reality
    • What it means to be “dedicated to the truth.”
    • “Religion” and “science” must be also constantly revised.
    • Our “map of reality” and the need to constantly update it. A look at “transference” to highlight this importance.
    • Our “map of reality” = our values.

5) “HARMONIZING VALUES WITH ACTIONS” – Section purpose: to explore the attempt to harmonize values with actions in a personal way, and map out what such harmony can mean for the individual.

  • Writing this book
    • A contextual look at my life and how I came to write this book you’re reading. This is my attempt to align my actions “what I do” with my values “what I believe is true.”
    • Love is the battery, but action/value harmony is the motor.
  • Action / value harmony
    • A deep dive into the process of “action/value harmony” taken mainly from this previous post.
  • My personal values, and how I enact them
    • I cannot proscribe any actions for you to take; you must find your own. Your journey is your own and your practices must also be your own (forged in the fire of your own personal experience). I will, however, lead by example and tell you my values and some ways I’m enacting them.
    • A list of my 14 core values, what I mean by each, and how I attempt to practice them in the world.

6) “A CLOSER LOOK AT TWO ACTIONS” – Section purpose: to provide two illustrative examples of value/action harmony through exploring two of my practices, and how I feel they resonate with my values.

  • Two of my practices
    • I would like to dive deeper into two practices (closely related) that have become central to my process of action/value harmony: making art and meditation.
    • I want to share these because they are important to me. This is not meant to be proscriptive. This is just me sharing what I’ve found.
  • Art practice
    • Art as inward/outward respiratory process: spiritual introspection + creative communication (teaching). Art is my practice of the Void Mandala. Art is a way of seeing and practicing the world, not just ‘fine art’. The way I see it, everything can be art with the right mindset.
    • Art as access to the unconscious/CU/Self
    • Art as the threshold of awareness, and what it means to see the world w/ new eyes (seeing as a child / beginners mind). Art as a model for mindfulness.
  • Meditation practice
    • Meditation as the act of being: sitting and breathing. The act of being present in the flow of life.
    • Meditation as the act of compassionately returning to the present. The meta-awareness that comes from observing your own mental process, and the non-attachment to passing states that follows suit. Brene and feeling w/o over identifying. The practice of “noting.”
    • Meditation and other “neuroplastic practices for a happier life.” “Attentional training” in a culture designed to attack this capacity. Ideology awareness and the merry-go-round culture.
    • Meditation as the Void Mandala in action. The anatomy of AUM. Emptiness and interdependence.

7) “THE DANCE OF SPIRIT” – Section purpose: to conclude and summarize this chapter by combining a map of our practices with the map of our previous theories. Doing this opens a door to the final chapter.

  • Learning to dance
    • Further unfolding our schematic to get the “dance of spirit” schematic, which gives us a layout of all the ideas in this book, plus spaces left open for your additions.
    • Explore and describe this schematic.
  • Doing the work
    • A look at the crashing return of the ego when ego is escaped without doing the work. The point is to get to the Self through the self.
    • That being said, just as sex is an important step in the process of falling in love, so too are the non-self moments of death important “tastes” of what’s to come with authentic awareness via return as the Caretaker.
  • The upward spiral
    • Conclusion: The hero’s journey is difficult, but we have love as our battery and action/value harmony as our motor. Completing this journey is not theoretical, but rather a real path that must be walked. What you do, your practice, are the steps you take on this walk. Individuation brings your self into harmony. This process is impossible without vulnerability and intimacy. These steps are powered by love, which is a focus on spiritual growth. Growing requires the constant update of your values, and the work of aligning your practices with said values. Art and meditation are two important ones of mine. What are yours?
    • Scott Peck, re: “interdependence + individuation = Caretaker.”
    • Returning full circle brings you back but not the same; you are changed, elevated. You return as the hero, which I will be calling the “Caretaker.” A self in harmony brings the Self in harmony. The healed individual is to the world what the healed ego is to the individual = a caretaker.

6: The Hero’s Journey

I’m excited to present you with the outline for chapter 6 of Being & Death. Please read it over and let me know your thoughts! If you missed the opening post, you can read the outline comment guidelines and my overall purpose statement here.

FULL LUNGS

I: The Respiratory Process

Chapter 1’s outline can be found here.

II: Queer Vision

Chapter 2’s outline can be found here.

EXHALE

III: Being

Chapter 3’s outline can be found here.

IV: Death

Chapter 4’s outline can be found here.

EMPTY LUNGS

V: Both, and yet Neither

Chapter 5’s outline can be found here.

VI: The Hero’s Journey

Chapter purpose: To weave the past three chapters of this book into a mythological narrative – the hero’s journey. Understanding our journey in symbolic terms helps us understand the complexity of our lived experience, and gives us strength, meaning, and motivation. This chapter proposes that the same way in which the “hero’s journey” is just a metaphor for finding individual wholeness and balance, so too is individual wholeness a microcosm for creating wholeness and balance in the world. Notions of “God” and the “collective unconscious” are explored as reservoirs for this sense of balance and wholeness.

Main take-away: “The ideas in this book form a hero’s journey, where finding balance between consciousness and the unconscious brings a return of balance to the very cycle of being and death.”

Outline:

1) “MYTH IS A MAP” – Section purpose: to introduce this chapter by looking at the way myth is a metaphorical mapping that allows us to better understand our internal world by interacting with external symbols.

  • The power of myth
    • My dream of tunnels. From the X-Files (occult) to art (unconscious) – my engagements with the unknown. Dreams of abysses and space travel, and why we explore. Jung’s “active imagination” as myth at work.
    • An intro to myth and its cultural significance. The meaning and power of myth and rite (reconcile the C with the U, return respiration to the system).
  • The power to reason
    • Combining Campbell with Lakoff: myth as a metaphorical mapping to the Real of life, which then gives us inferential reasoning power via story.
    • The model of computers used for brain inference.
    • Why I make art – making my internal world external.
  • As within, so without
    • A look at the feedback loop of “as within, so without” and its relation to myth and “the story we tell ourselves.”
    • Intro/summary of the chapter to come, re: the hero’s journey and the journey of this book as the process of individuation, the model of God/CU and the capacity to surrender, the Void Mandala explored and the dance of spirit.

2) “THERE AND BACK AGAIN” – Section purpose: to introduce the work of Joseph Campbell and the ‘hero’s journey’ as a map of personal individuation, which is the process of finding personal wholeness.

  • Monomyth
    • Campbell’s condensation of mythical structure into the “monomyth”; describe the plot of the monomyth.
  • The hero’s journey
    • The monomyth applied to the human psyche (as an inferential reasoning device) per the journey of the individual to find wholeness and balance (C/U respiration).

3) “THE PATH” – Section purpose: to show how this very book is also a mapping of the ‘hero’s journey’, and thus it’s own guide to wholeness.

  • From Being, to Death, to our return as the Caretaker
    • B&D mapped onto the hero’s journey.
    • You must find your self to lose it, then to have it reborn.
    • Re-cap the history of the Void Mandala diagram here.
    • When we return from our journey with the BayN-vision, we become the hero, which I’m naming “the Caretaker”.
  • The evolution of an ethical vision
    • A look at Merleau-Ponty’s “phenomenological project,” which is a mythological narrative that takes us from pre-Mirror stage (Unconscious, Death, Leaver, animal) to Symbolic (Conscious, Being, Taker, man) to finally Chiasm (God, BayN, Caretaker). The ethical vision our journey gives us.

4) “BECOMING WHO YOU ARE” – Section purpose: a deeper dive into the Jungian process of individuation, and what it means for the individual to find balance and wholeness through the union of opposites.

  • The persona and the shadow
    • A look at the sociable content we push forward to form our “persona” and the shameful content we repress to form our “shadow” and the split-self that develops.
  • Individuation
    • An exploration of the Jungian process of individuation, the Transcendent Function, and the union of opposites in respiration to form a complete shape.
    • The hero’s journey = the process of individuation.
  • From the self to the Self
    • The power of love and the path from ego to Self.
    • Individuation creates a full self, which then (and only then) can merge with the Self that is the CU/God.

5) “LEARNING TO SURRENDER” – Section purpose: to explore the role of the ‘collective unconscious’ or ‘God’ in the process of individuation, and discover how self-wholeness leads to God-wholeness.

  • The collective unconscious
    • First introduce the CU as the “proper name for a pattern.” It’s not a mystical “Thing” but rather a symbol given for a process or a pattern in the world of experience.
    • Dive into the definition of the CU via Jung and archetype. The CU is the “fullness of the Void” par excellence.
    • The threshold of consciousness, the unconscious, and the CU as rhizome, where awareness is surrender.
  • The Self is the collective unconscious
    • A deeper look at the end of individuation as a merge with the Self. Link the Upanishad’s “Self” with the CU via Jung.
  • God is the collective unconscious
    • Begin with “God is dead; long live God!” The death of the old one-sided God gives way for the BayN of God. Revisit “proper name for a pattern.” Discuss “two sides of a circle touching.” God is the ‘self’ of the universe.
    • Talk Scott Peck and God as the CU.
    • Also explore Universal Mind, Big Mind, Buddha Mind, Absolute Idea, etc. as naming this same space.
  • Surrender to grace
    • An exploration of the idea of “grace.” Grace is the aid of the CU (Self, God) in conscious life.
    • Awareness as a way to surrender to grace.
  • Surrender to inspiration
    • An exploration of inspiration via “daemons and geniuses” in the “Your elusive creative genius” TED talk.
    • Inspiration are moments of the CU’s contact with the C.
    • The whole point of inspiration and grace are to aid in the process of becoming whole, merging C with U.

6) “THE VOID MANDALA” – Section purpose: to return to the central symbol of this book, the ‘Void Mandala’, and explore it as the microcosm of everything talked about in this book.

  • The function of a mandala
    • Define the function of a “mandala” via spiritual practice and as a Jungian individuation aid.
    • The Void Mandala is the symbol containing all the patterns of ideas in this book.
  • The many uses of the Void Mandala
    • C/U Interface
    • Inward/outward respiratory process
    • Self/Non-self
    • Being/Death
    • YinYang/Tao
    • Individual/God
  • The Void Mandala = ontology
    • Metaphorical mapping and inference quickly recapped.
    • Badiou and “math = ontology” explained.
    • Mapping unconscious mappings, re: Evental theory and Individuation. Math just describes the way the C/U Interface operates. Thus, the C/U Interface = ontology.
    • Form is content: the analogical chain (method) is the C/U Interface (content).

7) “HEALING THE WORLD” – Section purpose: to conclude this chapter by recapping the central thesis that personal wholeness leads to world wholeness. Then opening the door to the next chapter.

  • Mental health is world health
    • Re-cap of the main purpose of this book, now that we fully understand all the terms. Our old story viewed death as the enemy of life, and pitted one side against the other. By understanding life as consciousness and death as the unconscious, we can come to a better understanding of each of these terms. More importantly, we can apply the logic of individuation and the hero’s journey, which posits that mental health = harmony between the C/U, to the world’s health, which I claim will come from harmony between life/death.
  • The work of love
    • Conclusion: every idea in this book has been a step in our human journey. All the ideas in this book form the Void Mandala, which is both our ontological relation, and the very myth of our becoming. The point of all this is to become who you are, heal yourself, and thus heal the world (God).
    • End with an opening to the “practice” (individuation and embodied materiality) and then the return of the Caretaker.

5: Both, and yet Neither

I’m excited to present you with the outline for chapter 5 of Being & Death. Please read it over and let me know your thoughts! If you missed the opening post, you can read the outline comment guidelines and my overall purpose statement here.

FULL LUNGS

I: The Respiratory Process

Chapter 1’s outline can be found here.

II: Queer Vision

Chapter 2’s outline can be found here.

EXHALE

III: Being

Chapter 3’s outline can be found here.

IV: Death

Chapter 4’s outline can be found here.

EMPTY LUNGS

V: Both, and yet Neither

Chapter purpose: To rigorously introduce the concept of ‘Both, and yet Neither’, which can be understood in three steps: 1) you have two dualistic terms held in balance, this is the ‘both’ (for example: ‘yin/yang’), 2) you have the gap that sits between the two terms, this is the ‘neither’ (for example: ‘/’), and then 3) you have the paradoxical logic of that very gap, the ‘neither’, containing the entire system ‘inside itself’ so to speak, since we are now in a land where inside/outside duality doesn’t even apply (for example: the ‘Tao’ is both the yin/yang and also not the yin/yang). Confusing, I know. This complicated idea is slowly introduced through mixed-category identity, hybridity, and a series of paradoxical examples from science and philosophy. Finally, the concept of ‘Both, and yet Neither’ is even applied to itself, creating a system that loops back on itself, returning you back from where you came, but with a new perspective.

Main take-away: “The concept ‘Both, and yet Neither’ means a thing and its opposite are not contradictions, but rather superpositions.”

Outline:

1) “WHERE THERE IS DANGER…” – Section purpose: to introduce this chapter and the concept of ‘Both, and yet Neither’ through a friend’s personal story of finding identity in the gap between racial categories.

  • The gap of identity
    • A look at mixed-race identity, via a story of being Korean-American. The problem with picking a category. Even the problem with picking both categories. The solution of identifying with the “-“ between the two.
  • …also grows the saving power
    • Re-visiting the notion from the last chapter that the Real is unspeakable and un-symbolizable. Thus, the problem with any model (or symbol, or label) is that it’ll be incomplete. Touch briefly on the incompleteness theorem. Revisit the “not quite” of language. The problem, however, holds the seeds for its own solution.
    • Where does the Thing reside? Are we the PSM? Are we the Real? Or are we the cut between the two? Thus, the solution of the “-“, which we can say is “the thing that is more in me than myself”.
  • The space between spaces
    • Presenting BayN as a paradoxical “solution” to the problem of models. We are both the PSM and the Real, but also neither, also the “-“ between. First there is the balance of the both (respiration), then there’s the neither of the hyphen. A whole system at work is BayN. It is there in the gesture of BayN that we can say, “That’s my heart.”
    • Intro/summary of the chapter to come, re: the space between things, paradoxical hybrid things, superposition of things (non-duality as death), BayN defined and the map of its concept, the BayN of BayN (duality and non-duality in meta-superposition), and coming full circle.

2) “BETWEEN THE SUBJECT/OBJECT SPLIT” – Section purpose: to apply the logic of ‘the gap between’ to the iconic split of subject/object, allowing us to ‘exit duality’ from the inside, rather than the outside.

  • Exiting duality
    • Reinvestigating duality, language, and being (esp. the power dynamics inherent in neg. diff.). Looking at the classic subject/object split as iconic duality.
    • How any “transcendence” of said duality would just create another term via neg. diff, thus making no “exit” seem possible. Is “non-duality” possible?
  • Transcend to the inside
    • A look at transcendence vs. immanence, and problematizing this duality. (See de Beauvoir for the power at play in these terms). Re-read to show immanence as staying in the cave, transcendence as leaving the cave, but, as we asked in the last chapter, what would it mean to enter the cave?
    • The example of House of Leaves re: the “inside” being bigger than the “outside”, the vastness of the “interior” space of the void / unconscious.
  • The project of the “/”
    • The story of the fish re: “seeing one thing from two different perspectives.” Duality is a mark of difference violently inscribed onto a single body. To get back to the body, enter the wound.
    • Exploring the grammatical mark of the “/” and the intertwining of bodies. Diving into dualism to find non-dualism.

3) “WEREWOLVES AND MINOTAURS, OH MY!” – Section purpose: to explore some hybrid creatures from our cultural imagination, creatures who embody ‘Both, and yet Neither’, the threat they pose to power, and the window they open to the sacred.

  • Paradox threatens power
    • Looking quickly again at Foucault and power operating through taxonomy, we look at the threat paradox plays to power, first in math via PM, then in law via Homo Sacer.
    • The logic of the inclusive exclusion revisited in more detail.
  • The threat of hybrid creatures
    • A look at the history of werewolves and the “danger” in-between taxonomies plays for society.
    • The line of paradoxical indistinction.
    • A look at the myth of the Minotaur as a creature both animal and man, both human and God.
  • Sacred, indeed
    • Despite the “threat” power sees in these hybrid “sacer” creatures, there is something God-like about them.
    • A look at the androgyny of God.
  • Dreaming in interstitial spaces
    • A look at the potentiality hybrid spaces play, interstitial spaces (spaces between spaces), and the capacity to dream

4) “SUPERPOSITION” – Section purpose: to provide a detailed conceptual understanding of ‘Both, and yet Neither as non-duality’ through a series of science examples and analogies from philosophy. This makes our understanding of ‘death’ from the last chapter much more rich.

  • Death via non-duality
    • An intro to this section, re: one of the key aspects of death is the quality of non-duality and non-self. In the last chapter, we hoped to trace the contour of this space through multiple experiential analogies. Here, we will be diving right into the paradox of non-self and non-duality through a new set of analogies. This conceptual framework will help us understand non-duality in all of its paradox.
  • When difference dissolves
    • Ganglion cell fatigue perceptual experiments are experiences of non-duality via indistinct multiplicity.
    • James Turrell’s art and the “Ganzfeld effect.”
    • Split brains explored and Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight” discussed.
  • The force of potentiality
    • Wave-particle duality in both light and electrons explored.
    • The two-slit experiment and the force of potentiality.
  • Superposition
    • The structure of atoms reconsidered.
    • Superposition defined. The tree in the forest solved.
    • Coherence, entanglement, and decoherence defined.
  • Hyphenated reality
    • Mind-body, space-time, and wave-particle hyphens.
    • Low-level and high-level consciousness explored.
  • Light’s perspective
    • A look at relativity and what reality “looks like” from light’s perspective, when time dilation and distance contraction converge on a singularity.
  • The Chiasm of flesh
    • An intro to the rhetorical device of the “chiasm.”
    • MP’s use of “chiasm” and then “flesh”.
  • Sexual chiasm
    • A look at sexual differentiation in fetuses, and the prior, chiasmic state of undifferentiated potentiality.
    • Maybe discuss the “Body w/o Organs”
    • A dive into the art of Matthew Barney.
    • Enunciate the way this book takes MB’s ideas a few steps further, re: the simultaneity of BayN.

5) “PRESENCE AND ABSENCE” – Section purpose: to explore how an experience of ‘Both, and yet Neither’ might feel, through investigating two seemingly opposed examples from religion.

  • Non-duality through oneness
    • Overview of the main tenets of The Upanishads, mainly focusing on the non-duality of The Self.
    • Affirmations: you = Atman = Self = Brahmin = presence
  • Non-duality through nothingness
    • Overview of Buddha’s reaction to “Brahminism” and his turn from presence to absence. Positing nirvana. The story of the flame – where did it go?
    • Negations: no, no, no = Nirvana
    • The Heart Sutra
  • The milk of all cows
    • Both of these strategies are two seemingly opposite ways to get at the exact same thing. Thus, we must BayN them. All-Self and Non-Self become a paradoxical synthesis.

6) “FROM RESPIRATION TO SYNTHESIS” – Section purpose: to introduce the idea of ‘dialectical synthesis’ from philosophy, to then examine how ‘Both, and yet Neither’ is similar but different.

  • Dialectical synthesis
    • An overview of Hegel’s dialectical method and core philosophical ideas, ending with the “absolute idea.”
  • Science, mysticism, and the Real
    • A look again at affirmation and negation models. Seeing the thing Hegel misses in his all affirmation model is the negativity of mysticism. Thus, we need to BayN Hegel himself. Perhaps the endpoint isn’t some positivity nor negativity, but a strange loop?
    • Superposition is different from synthesis insofar as the tensions are not resolved, but rather held in balance.
  • The circular teleology of BayN
    • Carefully explain the move from duality, to non-duality, to the BayN of duality and non-duality. No more “BayNs” can occur, since the system then “strange loops” back in on itself, where biggest touches smallest.

7) “SIPPING REALITY FROM A KLEIN BOTTLE” – Section purpose: to put the question ‘what came first?’ to bed by examining the looping structure of ‘Both, and yet Neither’.

  • What is appearance and what is reality?
    • Via Zizek, a look at the “fuzzy math” of trying to figure out which came from what. Did appearance emerge from reality, or is reality just an effect of appearance?
  • A thing and its inverse
    • A look at how our very own Void Mandala must also be its own inverse. If death is at the center of life, then life too is at the center of death. It forms its own strange loop.
  • The Klein bottle
    • A look at Mobius strips and Klein bottles, and how the Void Mandala, through the power of BayN, becomes a strange loop circuit.

8) “PERFECT IMPERFECTION” – Section purpose: to explore the final paradoxical stage of ‘Both, and yet Neither’ where the term gets applied to itself as the non-duality of ‘duality and non-duality’, epitomized by Taoism.

  • The BayN of duality and non-duality
    • Intro to this idea via my story from Sunday school, re: God needing to be both perfect and imperfect.
    • Explore this second movement of the BayN concept: it took us from Being (duality) to Death (non-duality), and now back full circle to the reality of both, yet the neither of their gap.
    • Being the sugar (death) and tasting the sugar (life). Is there a sugar that tastes itself?
  • Where is the Tao?
    • An overview of Taoism, mapping it to all the movements of this book, from duality to the void to BayN.
    • The BayN of BayN of the Tao: there’s yin/yang (both), there’s the Tao (BayN) and there’s also the BayN of the fact that the Tao contains the yin/yang.
    • Returning to the flame story, using time and the Big Bang as a model for “how do we prepositionally situate the Tao”?
  • Seriously, how can I get to utopia?
    • An etymology of “utopia” as both the “perfect place” and the “no place.”
    • Discuss Badiou and the infinitely receding “utopia” of the Real, always deferred by formalization.
    • Link this to the Derrida and cosmology idea of the center being everywhere and therefore nowhere. There is no utopia because everywhere is utopia. Nothing and everything meet as two sides of a circle touching.
    • Re-visit the difference between BayN and Matthew Barney’s model: utopia isn’t some perfect place we’re trying to get to ‘out there’, but rather its always already at our very core.

9) “RETURNING FULL CIRCLE” – Section purpose: to conclude and summarize the chapter you just read, map out the dualities that have been ‘Both, and yet Neither-ed’, and then open the door to the next chapter.

  • What is “Both, and yet Neither”?
    • Conclusion: since the Real is unspeakable, all models are incomplete and contradictory. BayN is the holding of both models (duality) in superposition. BayN is also the superposition of duality and non-duality. It is the self-looping gesture of synthesis that embodies the paradox of the Void.
    • A thing and its opposite are not contradictions, but superpositions.
  • The apotheosis of metapattern
    • Map out all the concepts from Death and BayN chapters in a grand analogy chain of metapattern, just like Sebastian did in TS & Campbell’s apotheosis (merging of opposites).
  • Seeing with new eyes
    • Link the conceptual apparatus of BayN to the notion of “queer vision” from ch. 2. Why did we just do all this hard thought work? So that we may see better. Our journey from Being to Death to BayN (which brings us back in a loop) wasn’t meant to take us away from life, but rather take us on a journey that leads us back to life with new eyes.

4: Death

I’m excited to present you with the outline for chapter 4 of Being & Death. Please read it over and let me know your thoughts! If you missed the opening post, you can read the outline comment guidelines and my overall purpose statement here.

FULL LUNGS

I: The Respiratory Process

Chapter 1’s outline can be found here.

II: Queer Vision

Chapter 2’s outline can be found here.

EXHALE

III: Being

Chapter 3’s outline can be found here.

IV: Death

Chapter purpose: To present death in a new light by taking seriously the understanding that ‘death’ is the opposite of ‘life’. In the last chapter, ‘life’ or ‘Being’ was defined as the realm of language, duality, selves, and consciousness. Thus, ‘death’, as the opposite, is the realm of non-duality, non-selves, and the unconscious. This understanding is then deepened through an exploration of what empty space looks like in science, what the void does in philosophy, and the role of the unconscious in psychology. Such abstract claims are made salient by exploring common human experiences of ‘non-self’.

Main take-away: “Death is the creative ocean of the unconscious, which is not ‘outside’ of life, but rather at its very heart.”

Outline:

1) “DYING OF THE LIGHT” – Section purpose: to present the commonly held, unbalanced view of death, which holds death as something that is to be feared and raged against.

  • Rage against the night
    • Via Dylan Thomas’s poem, a look at how the West rages against death in its one-sided war of light vs. dark.
  • The war on death
    • Using a section from Ishmael as a jumping-off point, a further discussion on the implications of the war on death.
    • Revisit God vs. Devil split (both God).
  • Doing what death does
    • Intro/summary of the whole chapter to come, re: Death’s old story, re-looking at what dies, stripping away the construct of the self to see what’s left, the void, new stories on truth, a robust model of what death means, and the return of respiration to our system.

2) “WHAT DIES?” – Section purpose: to pay homage to the lived experience of emotional loss and tragedy that the death of loved ones brings, as told through other people’s personal stories. Using the conceptual journaling of a predominate consciousness researcher (explored in the last chapter) who lost his wife, as a transition point from emotional tragedy to wellspring of conceptual mystery.

  • Mourning loved ones lost
    • Explore the raw grief of loss-based emotions via C.S. Lewis and Joan Didion. Death is a tragedy for the living.
    • Work through the story of Doug and Carol via ch. 16 of Strange Loop. Make sure to change their names in my example thought-experiment.
    • Discuss the survivor’s role of remembering the dead.
  • Living on in us
    • A series of thought experiments fueled by Doug and Carol’s story re: comparing and contrasting the strange-loop of the other that lives on in us with the one that lived in them.
  • Beyond dead images
    • An exploration of the “deadness” of ossified symbols, and the question of “What gave those symbols life?” Looking for an answer in Lacan’s statement, “That which is in me more than myself.”

3) “DECONSTRUCTING SELVES” – Section purpose: to attempt to arrive at ‘non-self’ by undoing the work of ‘selves’ we did in the last chapter. Doing this presents us with a strange, empty space.

  • Un-doing the work of identity
    • Death is certainly a tragedy for the living. But what is death from the perspective of the dead? Relate the story of the Sadhu. How might we even ask this question? And what might the experience of “being dead” do to our living relationship to death?
    • Re-cap and then question the work of selves done in our “Being” chapter, re: negative difference, separateness via language, lack and desire and consumerism, categories, cultural constructs of power and ideology, loopy self-models and tunnels, consciousness, and the question of the self.
    • If the work of “self” is Being, then is “non-self” Death?
  • Plus or minus 1, that is the question
    • If “self” is a virtual construct of language and consciousness, then is it possible to “un-do” that work and become something we might call a “non-self”?
    • Pick Lacan’s notion of identity from the last chapter “n+1” as our jumping-off point. If we un-do all those “1’s” of identity construction we get at the “n”. But what is that “n”? It seems like it’s just death, but maybe there’s another way to think about it?
  • Thinking with rhizomes
    • Explore Deleuze’s idea of “rhizomatic thought” via “n-1”. This seems easier said than done. What does it mean to “think the null?”
    • If the “+1’s” were the digital samplings of our PSM’s, then is the “n” the infinite richness of the Real? What would that even mean?
    • Introduce the Kantian split between “things as they are to us” and “things as they are in themselves.” Is access to “things in themselves” a fantasy?

4) “RECONCEPTUALIZING EMPTY SPACE” – Section purpose: to gain a new understanding of what ‘empty space’ is by how it is handled in physics, quantum mechanics, and set theory math. These other ways of thinking ‘the void’ gives us mental imagery of this hard to understand concept via well-established science and math metaphors.

  • Staring into the abyss
    • Re-visiting the empty space that we named “lack” in the last chapter. Re-looking at that void diagram.
    • Question all the presuppositions we made that led to desire and consumption.
    • One must have wings, if one loves the abyss.
  • Is emptiness empty?
    • Questioning the emptiness of “empty space” via advances in physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics.
    • A look at the etymology of the numeral “0” as both the empty hole in the center (nothing) and the loop of the circle (infinity, everything).
  • Enter the Void
    • Exploring the concept of the Void via set-theory math and Badiou. Re-thinking the void diagram as not a “lack” but as a “void” and asking what this new conception can do for us.
    • Positing the thing that was “in us more than ourselves” as the Void.
    • Re-visit “things in themselves” as not something to know, but rather something to unspeakably encounter. We know it indirectly through its effects on us.

5) “EVENTAL SPACE” – Section purpose: now that we know how to think about ‘the void’, this section explores what ‘the void’ actually does (it produces truths), via the philosophy of Alain Badiou.

  • Being & rupture
    • An intro into Badiou’s thought via situations (Being) and their rupture by the Void (Event).
    • Dive into some non-philosophical examples to flesh out this model and these ideas.
  • A new vision of truth
    • A philosophical exploration of the history of “Truth” and Badiou’s re-definition of it as radical newness.
  • Fidelity to the Void
    • Present and discuss Badiou’s ethics of the event, truth process, fidelity to the Void, and his new definition of subjectivity.
    • Then present Badiou’s ethics in light of the Void Mandala. What would it mean to dive into the Void?

6) “EXPLORING THE CAVE” – Section purpose: to dive head first into the ‘void space’ by linking death to the unconscious, which is not ‘outside’ of us, but deep at our very core.

  • Spelunking, anyone?
    • Recap of Plato’s cave and the “dreams of death” section in the last chapter. Since Badiou re-defined Truth, then where can we now find it in Plato’s cave?
    • Present Sebastian Heim’s new reading re: dive into the belly of the cave. Describe the cave diagram and its relation to the Void Mandala.
  • The depths of the unconscious
    • Present via psychoanalysis (among other sources) a picture of what the unconscious is and the work it does.
    • Discuss the process of spiritual introspection as the process of diving into the unconscious waters. Show the Void Mandala. Touch upon creativity and inspiration. Maybe even talk about deep, dreamless sleep.
  • Inclusively excluded
    • An exploration of the complicated idea of “the inclusive exclusion” via Agamben. Use the example of the labyrinth.
    • This helps us better understand the weird notion of “the outside is on the inside.” Maybe talk about The Shade?
    • When the outside is on the inside, is this then what it means for something to be “in us more than ourselves”?
  • Nearness to death
    • Discuss the “death drive” as an “excess of life” drive. What does it mean to “do what death does”?
    • Talk about non-self being perceived as a threat to self, and the unconscious being perceived as a threat to consciousness (just as death is seen as a threat to life). Our goal here is to show how these terms are not antagonistic, but rather mutually supportive. From there: respiration.

7) “MODELING DEATH” – Section purpose: to give emotional, conceptual, and experiential salience to the concept of ‘death is non-self’ by exploring a series of titillating metaphors.

  • Pointing at the Thing
    • Via Watt’s metaphor of the finger pointing at the thing, re-present an analogical chain of metapattern re: death and non-self experiences. The divine beauty of ephemerality.
    • The void of truth / death / non-self is hard to talk about, so let’s circulate around it to sketch its contours with metaphor. My goal is to present, via analogy, a more robust and fruitful model for death.
    • Present an overview of this section to-come, since it’s big.
  • Swimming in the Real
    • Re-visiting Lacan’s Triangle and diving further into the idea of “The Real”. Linking the idea of the real as “that which is outside of symbolization” – the unspeakable goop.
    • Linking the Real to the Void, and thus to Badiou’s truth via his talk on “in search of the lost Real”.
    • Death is our plunge in the Real.
  • Physical death as access to God
    • Via Plato’s cave, we have an analogy of sun to Truth to God. Since we saw above that exiting the cave was death, we suddenly add the term “death” to our analogy. What does it mean to posit death as God?
    • Explore the film “Martyrs” as an example.
  • Sex as the little death
    • Explore the idea of orgasm as “the little death”.
    • Explore Bataille’s Erotism and the links between sex, death, and what he terms “continuity.”
    • The “Too Much Fun” from Infinite Jest
  • Limit-experience
    • Discuss what a “limit-experience” is via Foucault, especially in light of Badiou and the Event.
    • Limit-experience and the Void; arriving at the “open the Void” diagram.
    • Discuss the film “Black Swan” as an example.
  • Unbounded love
    • Exploring the writings and relationship of Salome and Rilke, and her notion of “reciprocity.” This is the space of non-dualism that we’ll explore more in the next chapter.
    • Also de Beauvoir and “reciprocity.”
  • Ego-death as access to God
    • A look at mysticism and meditation as practices of non-self and ego-death as a way to get to God. What Nirvana means.
    • Looking at the crucifix as a perfect example of ego-death.
    • Cosmic-self read through the PSM
  • Tasting ego-death with drugs
    • An exploration of drugs, ego-death experiences on drugs, and what we can learn from alternate forms of consciousness re: Huxley, Metzinger, and Haidt.
  • Non-self as landscape
    • Ego-death explored via thought experiments, specifically E-Prime and then “self as landscape.”
    • Discuss “thinness” and “Nearness to Things.”
    • Re-visit the rhizome, and look at rhizomatic sexuality.
    • Discuss emptiness and interdependence.

8) “RESPIRATION RETURNED” – Section purpose: to conclude and summarize all you just read in this chapter, and present our ‘new story of death’ as one of balance. Then transition us to the next chapter.

  • What is death?
    • Conclusion: death is ego-death, death is an exit from being, which entails the dissolving of identity and self-models, exiting consciousness, language, and negative difference, and being plunged in the ocean of the Real, the Void, the place of God and truth. This space is not outside, but inside. The unconscious is our very core.
    • If self was virtual, then is non-self actual? What do you “identify” with? (Talk about making art and identifying with the space between C and U). This question can be tasted via non-self experiences, giving us a nearness to death. Death is not just outside but inside.
  • Death’s creativity
    • Coming back to the Ishmael story from the beginning, we can see the vast creative potential death holds for life.
  • Telling a new story about death
    • Changing our cultural story about death leads us away from antagonism and towards balance and respiration, giving us a full breath of the one process that is life/death.
    • Just as signs (de Sausseur) were cuts through the two-sided paper of signifier/signified, so too is a human being a cut through the two-sided paper of life/death.
  • The space between
    • Re-visiting the Doug and Carol story to ask “where does the Thing reside?” In being? In death? Or in the very space between the two?