Feeling and Time
For more information, contact:
Gary Schouborg, PhD
Feeling and Time: Living Whole in the Information Age
Feeling and Time:
Living Whole in the Information Age
The Critical Role of Everyday Living
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?
Many of us long for a deeply satisfying life, but feel
conflicted when we engage in the complex and fast-paced activities of our
so-called Information Age. We may recall
The essence of a deeply satisfying life is living whole, in the Eden of a mindful present, where we find satisfaction in living whatever the present may offer. However, just as an inordinate desire for "knowing good and evil" seduced Adam and Eve out of Eden (Gn 3:6), so excessive absorption in the complex information of our age can seduce us out of a mindful present. To be overly concerned with anything is to focus excessively on it, to over-identify with it, to over-value it as a source of happiness. Buddhism calls this excessive attention clinging. It pulls us out of whole mind, a full awareness of what we are experiencing right now. Clinging creates partial mind, blinding us to a critical component of whole mind which I will call soma, after the Greek word for body. Soma is a non-specific awareness of our body, a unique positive feeling, an inner peace that is "the pearl of great price" because it renders all other human satisfactions secondary. That is, we experience — not just believe — other satisfactions as secondary to the deeper, unqualified happiness that we experience in soma. Soma therefore provides a sense of "being at home", because we feel no need to search further for some greater happiness. Of course in a deeply human sense we will still search — to satisfy our curiosity, to grow, to enjoy pleasure and achievement, and to reduce suffering. But we no longer feel the need to achieve these goals in order to be "really happy" or to find some ultimate meaning in life that has eluded us.
Except for the spiritual genius who enjoys soma from birth, if that is possible, or who later suddenly awakens to soma, the rest of us awaken gradually. We begin our quest for a satisfying life in a state of partial mind, seeking happiness through achieving our desires. We do not realize that we suffer unnecessarily if we identify our primary happiness with achieving otherwise legitimate desires. Our challenge, then, is to awaken to soma by letting go of our deluded expectation that achieving this or that desire will bring us the deep satisfaction in life that we seek. In other words, we cannot achieve whole mind as we achieve ordinary objects of desire; but by letting go of the mistaken expectation that we can, we allow whole mind and the deep happiness that it brings to emerge. If we lose our life (let go of the deluded expectations of partial mind) we will gain it (whole mind); if we would gain our life (insist on achieving the desires of partial mind) we will lose it (whole mind) (Mt 16:25). In the most primitive form of whole mind, in meditation, we allow soma to emerge by letting go of our ordinary focus on our thoughts or feelings and allowing them to come and go from our consciousness as they will. Soma then emerges as a unique positive feeling. Whole mind develops as we progressively integrate the inner peace of soma with increasingly complex everyday experience.
The development of whole mind, traditionally called spiritual growth, is a continuum along which we can usefully distinguish three levels. On the meditative level, we attempt to find our deepest awareness and happiness in a setting where we radically reduce the information to which we usually attend, so that there is little to pull us out of a satisfying present. On this level, our experience of deep fulfillment occurs apart from ordinary life. In contrast, in everyday life we learn to integrate information into a mindful present. We learn to deal with the information of practical, everyday living while not allowing it to pull us out of a deeply satisfying, mindful present. There are two everyday levels, pastoral and urban. On the pastoral level, we create a contained life of restricted information, as in Thoreau's Walden, where our everyday goals do not project deeply enough into the future, our memories deeply enough into the past, that they pull us out of our present awareness. On the urban level, we attempt to find our deepest happiness in fully participating in the contemporary technoeconomy. We try to be open to information in all its complexity without being pulled out of the satisfying present of living whole and mindfully.
Our radical human challenge is to attend to information while remaining somatically awake — that is, while being fully aware of our present experience. On the meditative level, we experience soma in its simplest setting, one in which we radically reduce the information to which we usually attend so that we can allow soma to emerge. On the pastoral level, we experience soma in a more complex but contained setting. We are able to remain somatically awake while conducting relatively simple everyday activity. We begin to live out our daily lives from within a deep sense of embodiment. On the urban level, we experience soma while remaining open to the information of everyday life in all its complexity. If we are in soma, we do not have to choose between a deeply satisfying life and practical everyday living. For our awake bodies are the very agents that pursue our daily tasks, even those that are abstract, complex, or fast-paced. The paradoxical emptiness that many of us experience amidst our contemporary technoeconomic bounty is not a necessary result of technological complexity, but derives from our being inordinately committed to our goals. When we overly insist on achieving our goals, we refuse to accept failure that is unavoidable or that is achievable at an unacceptable cost. In either case, we are pulled away from present awareness (whole mind, mindfulness) into our past or future. Refusing to accept past failure, we simultaneously deny our present condition and pull ourselves into the past. For our present condition is that we have indeed failed, but instead of accepting that fact and moving on to the present, we entrap ourselves in the past by fruitlessly reliving it in order to change it. Refusing to accept the possibility of future failure, we simultaneously deny our present vulnerable condition and pull ourselves into the future. For our present condition is always that we are vulnerable to future failure, but instead of accepting that fact and remaining in the present, we entrap ourselves in the future by imagining ourselves in one that is more certain that it is. Such insistence benumbs our bodies and renders us unable to feel those satisfactions that are naturally available to us while we pursue our aims, and that remain our deepest source of happiness even if we fail.
The great religious traditions teach us much about our
Those who would have us find our deepest happiness and fulfillment in everyday living have yet to make an adequate case. For convenience, I will pursue this issue solely in terms of enlightenment. Many different terms are in play: enlightenment, liberation, realization, salvation, mystic union, inner peace; as well as contemporary secular concepts such as self-fulfillment, being centered, and being truly at home in one's own skin. However, I am concerned with the core among them, the experience of what I will throughout this book refer to as enlightenment (and whose nature I will show to be soma: being somatically awake and thereby fully aware of our present experience). The other differences are secondary to my argument. Those, then, who teach that we will find our deepest happiness in enlightened everyday living provide us with accounts that are incomplete in at least six ways. First, they describe the enlightened individual in ways that seem to be incompatible with conducting everyday affairs; for example, as being in a state of pure or non-dual consciousness. Second, when they do describe enlightened everyday living, they tend to do so on the pastoral rather than on the urban level. Third, they do not sufficiently explain how enlightened individuals live their daily lives differently from others. Fourth, they fail to identify the cognitive mechanisms that bridge the experience of enlightenment with everyday living. Fourth, because they inadequately explain the link between enlightenment and everyday living, they fail to explain enlightenment itself. Fifth, failing to explain the nature of enlightened daily living, they inadequately instruct us how to prepare ourselves for its emergence. My aim in this book is to build on earlier contributions to these issues and move the discussion forward.