Goddess Saraswati, phenomenology, and the Greeks

Let’s start with the Greeks. A few years ago I had to read with my students a number of Ancient Greek texts, and I found one of the tragedies quite interesting, because it was rather different from the others. Here goes the story: Hippolytus was a boy, or a young man, who did not want to fall in love and get married. He liked hunting with his buddies, spending time in the forest, riding chariots, exercising, and doing all the stuff noble boys did in those times, and he was worshipping the goddess Artemis. Now, Artemis was quite special among the Olympian gods, being the daughter of Zeus, the twin sister of Apollo, the story has it, when she was young, she asked of her father, among other things, to never be married, to remain a virgin goddess (one of the few virgin goddesses in Greek mythology, Athena is another one). So she is the one, who is forever young, who hunts and spends time with animals and plants, she protects the virgins, she is also said to be the patron of midwives, aiding women in childbirth.

Hippolytus is such an ardent follower of the virgin goddess Artemis that he ends up offending the goddess of love Aphrodite, who becomes quite upset, and then the tragedy unfolds from her wrath. Now, some of the traditional and boring interpretations of that myth would say, that like in every other Greek tragedy, Hippolytus commits “hubris” – arrogance against gods (or a god), and is punished for that, yet, it is much more interesting to see, that unlike the other human characters in most Greek tragedies, Hippolytus maintains his moral standing, he remains true to the principles he is following, and so even though he dies young, in some versions of the myth he is rewarded in afterlife.

The reason I remembered this story, however, is that it brings attention, in a very dramatic way, to the reality, that some of the principles, ways or aspects of life might seem to contradict each other, or at least compete with each other, especially if they are taken up and followed through in a radical way. Lucky us, that we do not have the human-like in their imperfections and whimsical in their decisions Greek gods of questionable moral character breathing down our necks, still the moment of reflection to bring from this story is about the multi-faced-ness (is there such a word?) of being and of our being, and about balance between the different aspects of the whole.

Shri Saraswati is the Goddess of learning, both arts on one hand, and science and scholarship on the other, She is the one that gives us the sense of beauty as well as true knowledge. (See, the Greeks were right, when they felt that beauty and truth are the same, or that beauty is the shining of the truth of things). On a larger scale, Shri Saraswati is the Goddess of creativity, and perhaps even any sort of physical and mental activity.

Ranjan, our music teacher at Canajoharie Nirmal Arts Academy, said on several occasions: “when you sit to practice, ask Her that whatever you do pleases Her, and, you will see, you will learn very fast.” For a while I conveniently assumed, that by “Her” he meant the Primordial Mother, the Adi Shakti, this is ultimately Whom we worship when our meditation evolves from the level of “self-help” and “stress management” to the level of spiritual practice. And, of course, to some extent that was correct, for Adi Shakti contains within Herself all other aspects and Deities that come from Her. But no, Ranjan meant, Goddes Saraswati, the aspect of the Divine that inspires and nourishes all learning, and the art in particular, and makes things beautiful. When I realized that, I also had to admit that I have little if any sense of this aspect of the divine. Of course, I know some things about it mentally, but have very little experience of it, or, at least, am not well aware of it.

You see, I never cared much about the looks of things, about how to make things pretty (Easter eggs being the only exception 🙂 ), about design, clothes, make-up, I considered all of that superficial, so ultimately not important, and also boring :). Even when it came to the natural beauty, I always liked mountains and the sea, and loved feeling them, but somehow failed to see visually the beauty of nature as “extraordinary”. Instead, I always valued the “inner”, the deep, the “invisible” qualities. You know, Shiva, the Spirit, does not care about appearances, neither his own, nor of others, but only cares about the quality of the heart.

When I came to Canada to do my MA, I took Sam’s course, and ten minutes into the first class I knew that he was my teacher. He had this amazing capacity to get to the very heart of things so naturally and with so much grace, and yet also with such an insight. I guess, things liked him and were willing or maybe even eager to open up to him. So I wanted to learn that. It took a few years to convince him that I was his student. He later denied that at first he doubted whether I had what it takes, that was Sam :). So, this philosophical method he developed is very interesting, you really have to take your time to explore all these different bodily ways that the things show themselves to us and that we respond to them, and yes, for him “bodily” included cognition and emotion. Once you spend enough time circling around on the surface, with a little luck you might find, quite suddenly, that the surface has opened out, and the deeper truths of things have become visible to you. It’s like this: things might seem a certain way on the surface, but if you care to take your time and give your attention, and reach a little deeper, you might see, that actually things are different than what they seemed, and if you care to go even deeper, you might find them different again. So there is this play between the surface (or layers of surfaces) and the depth, and while they might offer us different “truths”, they are not the enemies of each other, rather they just trace out two different directions of truth showing or hiding itself.

Perhaps I had to do this hard core philosophy stuff to better understand something about Goddess Saraswati. Namely, even if we accept an oversimplified view that Shri Saraswati is responsible for the “outward” aspect while Shri Shiva – for the very heart, they are sister and brother, and so they do not compete, but work together. In fact, in Sahaja yoga we learn that if you over-work and drive out of balance your right channel, the sphere of Shri Saraswati, and especially right Swadishthan chakra, then your heart will suffer, first in subtle ways, and eventually also on a physical level, because in the microcosm of our individual being Shri Shiva will not be getting enough support from His over-worked and exhausted sister.

Shiva, the spirit, is life itself, and when He abandons you, you die, but what that also means is that Shiva is the one who is the life in everything that is alive. It is the fullness of life, that capacity of things to shine, to show themselves, to be beautiful, from within and also outwardly. Here I do not mean “life” in the typical Western sense of “organic”, rather, I mean also the life of lakes and rivers, minerals, mountains – the way that they can shine forth, or, on the contrary, look dull and dead. Compare how the same fiber looks when it is dyed with natural vs. artificial pigment, and you will see what I mean. You will also see how that real and genuine essence in the very heart of everything, which is Shri Shiva, shines forth from “alive” natural things with the beauty of Shri Saraswati, especially when it has been tended to by careful hands, attentive eyes and ears, and pure intentions.

Since this is turning out to be a New Year post (it’s been slow-cooking for a couple months), let me wish that all of us in the next year are blessed abundantly by Shri Shiva, as well as Shri Saraswati, and all other Deities, but most of all, by their and our Primordial Mother.

Феноменологічна вправа

Шукала деякі терміни в старих нотатках з Семових занять, знайшла вправу, 2008 рік.
Це було домашнє завдання в котромусь із Семових курсів, куди я просто приходила послухати – брати їх на оцінку мені вже більше не треба було. Це 24 лютого, я щойно два місяці як повернулася з Вайтарни, мабуть все ще по-індійському загоріла серед блідої канадської зими, і чомусь навіть досі пам’ятаю, як виглядала аудиторія, в якій був цей курс.

Так от вправа була на феноменолонічне прописування ситуації за Семовим методом. Сем такі нотатки мало не щодня писав, а влітку, коли не працював – так взагалі мало не цілоденно цим ділом займався – в мене є його записник з липня – він їх перед смертю деяким друзям, учням і родичам пороздаровував. Якщо цим займатися регулярно і на одну приблизно тему, то вони помітно розвиваються, і часом серйозні такі інсайти трапляються. Якщо так, одноразово писати – то й інсайти теж одноразового значення, або їх може взагалі не бути. Це як на одноразове нічого так пішло, часом буває набагато гірше.

Структура вправи така:
1 – спочатку описується ситуація – ситуація має бути така, щоб вона тебе тримала – тобто не просто жива в той момент, а сильна сама по собі і важлива для тебе, щоб вона в процесі описування не розсмокталася. Можна “схитрувати” і вибрати self-generating ситуацію, тобто таку, яка тільки посилюватиметься самим процесом писання. Особливо якщо йдеться не про одноразову вправу, а про цільове феноменологічне дослідження якоїсь теми.
2 – потім записуються теоретичні питання – в першу чергу породжені ситуацією, або ті які потенційно її стосуються, але також можна занотувати інші важливі або постійні запитання
3 – бажано зробити невелику перерву, щоб абстрагуватися від питань і повернутися власне до ситуації. Наприклад, коли я ходила працювати в галерею, то ситуацію можна було пропускати, бо її твір мистецтва сам задає, питання в транспорті по дорозі писала чи в кав’ярні десь поки чекала відкриття галереї, а потім поки заходила, проходилася подивитися, що новенького, то питання вже якраз були забуті, що в принципі краще, нід коли вони над головою висять.
4 – усний діалог – це коли без записування пробуєш провідчувати і намацати, як ця ситуація відчувається – бажано пройти по різних “аспектах” тілесного сприйняття – сенсорика, рух-практика, почуття-емоції-настрої і соціальний аспект, когнітивний і мова. Спроба описати в цих аспектах, як ситуація настроює нас, як ми її відчуваємо. Описати, не проаналізувати.
5 – ті прориви, які намітилися в попередньому кроці розписуються письмово і детально.

В цій вправі і трохи схитрувала, бо ситуація була мені добре знайома, я подібну детально пропрацьовувала, і тому я трохи перескочила, щоб не застрягнути там, де можна було надовго зависнути і безрезультатно. Не пригадую вже як так сталося – чи Сем попросив мене її в класі презентувати, чи наперед мене заволонтерив – я її показувала іншим студентам. Того і паперова копія теж збереглася, ще й з коментами на полях – з поясненнями.

Сама вправа під катом (англійською, звичайно):

Continue reading

Sam used to say something of sorts, “if you are avoiding with special persistence (dedication? desperation?), that means you are close”, boy he was right! But “going for it” even if you think you can’t, might not always be the best way (and I’m not sure that’s what he would advise, though it’s likely he would, he was hawk-like, wasn’t he…). Me, on the other hand, I don’t fight the avoidance, I just lay in, wait and see, sooner or later the insight will get careless and will surface back out, that’s when I’ll get it, from the ground. Hedgehog way… Was avoiding for days, finally tonight I got the missing link. Better write it down before I forget.

Sam’s intro to body hermeneutics as a method

This is the beginning of the introduction to Chapter 4 of Sam Mallin’s “Body on My Mind”. He talks quite a bit about Husserl, which might not be too helpful if one doesn’t have a clue about Husserl, or not? Anyway, here it is:

<Ice Age I said: A general quality of human existence, like a concept in the mind…. Kind of an indigenous way, like a spirituous spirit, breath and wind-like. I thought that it was like my commitment to philosophy, L.’s to her children, Levin’s commitment to the life of the intellectual, operatic and broad. I do body philosophy. Thought chased…and now body hermeneutics. >

I call my method a trick because any method should be just a way to get started. Not even scientific methods, engineering methods, carry through the process from start to end, not even close. Yes, yes we know that it takes ‘creativity’ all along the way, that black box of so many theories of discovery, from hypothesis, to creating simple experiments, to analyzing the outcome… Although there is that faith in absolute cognition, “brain-power”, we all know somehow it can’t do it all even in science or mathematics.

Body hermeneutics is a trick for helping us think about existence, about existing-thought and the existing world, including past and future ones. It gets us started by getting us in touch with philosophically interesting phenomena. [36] It then helps us keep them alive in their phenomenally, that is, their capacity to be an experience that grips us but that we also have to try to gather in.

The first step of any phenomena-logical treatment is to “bracket”, “put out of action”, “suspend”, or “reduce away” the so-called “natural attitude”. These are all Husserl’s terms, fine terms once one gets what they are attempting to name. Thinking along with the procedures of body hermeneutics, if they accomplish anything, manage to get us well underway to reducing away the natural attitude. What’s that? It’s an attitude we take up as soon as we start thinking about things, a kind of bad habit that contains most of the theoretical perspectives of our time. Yes, the natural attitude is overfull with intellectual habits, and these are mostly those of our science and the modernist (and post-modernist) metaphysics that sustain it. Our natural attitude for example, is Cartesian, seeing us as subjects that rule everything else as objects; is Platonic in believing that ideas construct this objective reality; Hobbesian, for it assumes an egoist psychology that has all these self-seeking and isolated subjects potentially at war; Humean in assuming that all we encounter are our own experiences and our representations rather than what they are ‘of’. Most of all, the natural attitude is hyper-rationalist and intellectualist or just neuro-psychological. It believes habitually that all structure, order, institution, control, insight and creation come from cognition, or as we are starting to say in our new abyssal language, the brain. Yes, it is also religious in the bad Statist sense of a social order that domesticates the sacred as well, and such religion is a mere aid and accomplice to this cognitive culture, the place too where the modernist soul is also said to dwell. God afterall is the rational (cognized) super-mind that thinks the universe into existence, observes it from on high, lays down rational natural laws that only reason can find, and is the source of an ultimately discoverable rational ethics – even if that ethics becomes a capitalist-economic one, as rational as economic science.

How does one get out of such culturally dominant perspectives? Husserl thought we could do it quite thoroughly. The level we would then attain would be that of the lived world rather than the world we thought we were living (Descartes’ thought of… life or of world), the “life world”. This “life world” is the world we live in rather than just think our way through; the world that involves all sides of our existence, yes, like the four regions and their endless webs of interchange and separation. The life world is full of “irrationalities” as well as “rationalities”, falsehoods and truths, hypocrisies and sincerities, hates and loves, children and the elderly, dogs and cats, birds and trees… Yet, strangely enough Husserl wanted to do still another kind of reduction on life’s world so that he could get beneath it to its underlying structures. What was odd was that he thought, thought that these structures were cognitive and were best discovered through cognition, thought, the mind… And, of course, these structures were as clear and distinct as ideas or representations, “mental objects”, kind of like mathematics for a mathematician, which Husserl was.

Most of all, he wanted to find the source of these structures, what upheld them, constituted them, oversaw them. He wanted to describe most of all a fourth level, where we could understand the structure of these structures, that is, by studying a kind of hypothetical thing called “the transcendental ego”. He sought for an ego that would lay out the rules, ways and means for us to transcend ourselves… in order to have a knowledge of things and others themselves.

I know that giving merely a page to Husserl’s four reductions is a simplification and he had many different versions of it beside. The most important point for us is to try to understand how the existential phenomenologists, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, modified this methodological procedure. First of all, they denied that one could even ‘half-way’ accomplish the first reduction, or completely do away with our natural theoretical attitudes. Nonetheless, one had to indeed constantly work at criticizing and loosening the grip of these theory-laden habitual ways of thinking out reality or ourselves… One can never hope to escape one’s culture or metaphysics even halfway Heidegger kept telling us. The first reduction is perpetual, “perpetual revolution” the Maoist-inclined phenomenologists, like Sartre, loved to point out.

They were more interested in describing the life world, which appeared almost in inverse proportion to the presence of the natural attitude and its correlative ‘common sense’ world. Some phenomenologists like Scheler and definitely the great phenomenologist of the social sciences, Schutz, were happy just describing this life world. So much good criticism of philosophy, the sciences and social institutions can be accomplished just by describing the ways we live in the ‘everyday’ world. Hermeneutics especially is aware of the feedback loop between describing the life world and bracketing the common sense one.

Yet, Schutz and Scheler, and certainly Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, were also interested in the structures of the life world, as was Husserl but, unlike Husserl, found that they were not primarily cognitive structures. The structures of the lived world and its “attitude” (liv-ing life or exist-ing) are living structures, structures that are more like living things, organic, growing, dying, mating or struggling. They are the kinds of indeterminate, open-textured, porous structures we have been trying to describe as characteristic of bodily knowledge. Is the structure of these structures, the life of living, “existence” or “the body”, a different kind of “transcendental ego”? I that what being (Sein) was for the early Heidegger?

Still, I think it’s fair to say, the main point of all existential methods is to move through these four levels of reduction first named by Husserl if only in a rough and ready way, sometimes wrestling just at the surface, sometimes luckily sliding into a deeper level but, most often, juggling all four levels of reduction and undulating with them all. Each feeds back on the other. Hermeneutics loves this deepening cycling movement, which goes as deep as one is able at the moment into the dark and ultimately concealed depths, then always having to bob by back to the top and absorb what one has learnt in the terms of the surface, the natural attitude and life world. Afterall, isn’t it the case that we have to live out and experience any new structure we managed to sense at those deeper levels? Don’t we have to think them, make them relevant to the theories that control and too often smother us in the natural attitude?

Although we can’t really sharply distinguish the reduction’s levels or count them, body hermeneutics does hermeneutics of all four levels by describing how the body is the locale of the natural attitude, lived world and any structure. It uses the body to do hermeneutics of… anything; but, in another sense, it constantly works at describing the correlative of everything, the body. We know that the phrase is purposely ambiguous, doubled or equivocal, between being a hermeneutics of the body and a bodily way of doing hermeneutics.

[36]  Philosophical in broadest sense, as we shall explain in the next section.

Про сезонність

Сем, в продовження попередніх двох постів під тегом notebook, продовжує після методологічної перерви:
“July’s attitude: Here everything is best attuned and also best inter-oriented. Here, then, I too find my best in-re-de-volvements, am best able to summon my half dependence to intercede on my behalf. Nature becomes so strong and complimentary to the living, including human life that it is easy to depend less on socicity & all its shelters in shelters in shelters, guarantees of security and supposed contentment but always at a price, necessity of “making a contribution”. In the winter, the machine must be kept go-ing for heat & light & nourishment in the city while in the countryside on the farms, its a time for peace & meditation while the summery days also gather towards this 6 months of inside life (earth indeed). My life is different than either but only in shading & degree nonetheless, for I think & feel out what we humans are in these seasons.”

Sam’s notes (one day of work)

July 4, 2012, 6:00, Wed LSL

“Contraction” is the antynom of “expansion” indeed!

My rhythms now overall and long term are slanted downward as the technicals would say. My athleticism is such as to prevent me from slipping too fast whereas that kind of health before accentuated my ascent. “This weakness”, he would say hazily, that insists on coming back and making me feel feeble is surely the phen of aging. How can y be so slowly disintegrating? It is even lineate and time-taking/making? A heart attack out of the blue that kills in a minute or two is death writ large but not usually as a part of aging. Aging is only dying in the last few months perhaps, and thus is a mode of living and thence fecundity + geneses even if so degenerate + decadent in so many ways (How about that N? + what would y have said about it? and what afterall did you tell us about your sickness?) David Byrne grey haired singing “Once in a lifetime” … “into the blue again/ water flowing underground”. with all his magic like an evangelist. Frogs loudly [незрозуміле слово] on the opposite sides of the lake. A haze this morning that sits well up into the yet cloudless sky. The mystique of it suddenly begins perhaps as the height of the sun has energized this thick, and the air indeed stirs as it will.

Notebooks full of lasts gasp?

Continue reading