Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mindfulness and Rationalities

I find mindfulness to be a fascinating concept. I also find it to be a difficult concept to implement.

Practicing mindfulness, as I vaguely understand it, is about cultivating a mind that can accurately observe reality. The goal is to abandon preformed ideas about people and the world in favor of observing things as they are.

Which all sounds well and good. Because of course I want to see reality as it is. Of course I want my observations to be accurate and not distorted.

But what do we mean when we say we want to see things as they are.

What the fuck are things anyways? What is the reality in this messy world that I live in?

Because when I look at the world I see so many different things. I can approach an object, a situation, or a person on so many different levels. Often I don't perceive things in a black and white way. I see a variety of different perspectives through which I could understand my reality. (At least at my best I think I perceive in this multiplicitous way. At my worst I am locked in to my own perspective and I only see things one way).

I think that mindfulness has something to do with that ability to see things from a variety of perspectives. To assume a different perspective on your own original perceptions. I've already had this idea corroborated by Claxton, Humphrey, Schwartz, and others. But it is still difficult to understand precisely how mindfulness comes about through this ability to assume different perspectives.

Because the problem I have is that there are so many different perspectives that I can assume on a situation that I don't understand which one is best. When interacting with a person, for example, I can think of many different ways through which I can apprehend or analyze a person. I can focus on their personality alone. I can focus on their physical appearance. I can focus on the context on which I have met the person and the reasons for their being in that context.

And further, within those perspectives, there are sub-perspectives. I could focus on someone's sense of humor. I could focus on their teeth or their sense of style. I could focus on their background from the last year or think about their entire life. In other words, my perception of people is analytically rich. I can see a variety of different ways in which to think about people.

One philosophical idea that is useful here is Foucault's insistence on referring to 'rationalities' as opposed to the blanket 'rationality'. Rationality, as Foucault conceives it, is not a static or simple concept: there is no singular rationality that exists in the world. Rather, rationality is a mode of thought that lends itself to a variety of perspectives and ideas. Guy Claxton and Chris Hedges corroborate this idea. Claxton claims that reason is something that can be bent to many different perspectives, and that does not inherently lend itself to a specific line of thought. Hedges believes that rationality is morally neutral, that it does not naturally lead to a valuable or righteous perspective. But that it can be applied in many different ways to arrive at many different conclusions.

Thus we are best referring to 'rationalities' or 'logics' as opposed to 'rationality' or 'logic'. We should recognize that those forms of thought are very plural, they can create many different perspectives, and are not absolute or inherently moral.

This conception of rationality has implication for these issues of perception and mindfulness. Because all of those different ways that I am capable of perceiving people that I described above are merely rationalities. To focus on someone's appearance, their personality, their context, or whatever else I can focus on, is just one rationality out of another in which I could think of someone. All of those are just different rationalities. So I must ask, which one of those rationalities is most valuable? Through which one of those rationalities can I apprehend reality most accurately? Through what rationalities can I be most mindful?

There may very well be a rationality that would enable the highest degree of mindfulness. Because it seems obvious that certain ideas (rationalities) would encourage or discourage an accurate view of reality. And so I think that identifying the rationalities most conducive to mindfulness is important. And I suspect that the rationalities associated with physics, chemistry, and evolutionary biology are important and can potentially lend themselves to a mindful point of view. But they can also lend themselves to distorted or judgmental points of view. So they can't be indiscriminately applied or adhered to.

But there is a deeper issue in all of this: this analysis of the relationship between mindfulness and rationalities assumes that perception is necessarily accompanied by articulable thought. It assumes that all perception is implicitly analytical.

But what if there is a form of perception that does not rely on ideas? Because that is what Shunryu Suzuki describes in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. He encouraged me to forget all of my preformed ideas. To see the world like a child. To cultivate a form of perception that doesn't harbor implicit ideas or assumption.

I find it to be a fascinating idea. And I think that it is possible. Or that there is something to all this stuff about mindfulness and abandoning ideas.

But frankly I don't understand it.

That is why I'm doing this writing.

Recently I've been a bit stressed out. For a while I feel like I was being very unmindful. I've been very careless with my words and actions. I feel like I've lost my mindful perspective (if I ever had it).

This writing is my attempt to reintroduce a little bit of mindfulness into my life.

And I find myself so drawn to analytical thought. I find that all of my habitual perception and actions contain all kinds of implicit thought. I find my perception to be intimately intertwined with the rationalities that I have internalized.

I feel that this is something the Foucaultian project is all about. I suspect that Collingwood is also deeply involved with this question of assumptions, of the forms of thought embedded in our actions. And I know that Zizek is also somewhat involved in this issue of thought, action, and habit.

I'm still not sure where all of this is leading me.

But this is definitely very personal.

And it also seems very philosophically and politically relevant.

Foucault was trying to explain how this notion of 'rationalities' was conncected to government.

The major issues for me these days: Habit, assumptions, history, thought, action, expression, art in capitalist culture, Sheldon Wolin, so on so on so on so on.

I just have all these ideas to sort. All so big and silly. But there is something going on. I need to be reading more. I'm thinking about beginning work on the AZI project again.


I feel my thoughts clarifying these days.

This writing came easier to me than any writing has in more than a month.


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