Grace Lee Boggs

“We have a long road ahead because the rising grassroots movements provide an opportunity to create a new system of democracy, work, education, and environmental stewardship, based on completely different values…We are at one of those turning points in history where we need a revolution, meaning a re-invention of culture.”

She fought for labor rights in the Great Depression. She marched with Martin Luther King in the summer of 1963. In later life, she worked with inner city school children in Detroit.

A Chinese activist for labor and the rights of African-Americans, Grace Lee Boggs was born this day in 1915.

Grace Lee Boggs.

 

The dawning of cosmic consciousness

From Cosmic Consciousness (1902) by Richard Maurice Bucke.

a) The person suddenly, without warning, has a sense of being immersed in a flame, or rose-colored cloud.

b) At the same instant, he is bathed in an emotion of joy, assurance, triumph, “salvation.” The last word is not strictly correct if taken in its ordinary sense, for the feeling, when fully developed, is not that a particular act of salvation is effected, but that no especial “salvation” is needed, the scheme upon which the world is built being itself sufficient. It is this ecstasy, far beyond any that belongs to the merely self-conscious life, with which the poets occupy themselves.

c) Simultaneously or instantly following the above sense and emotional experiences there comes to the person an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Like a flash there is presented to his consciousness a clear conception (a vision) in outline of the meaning and drift of the universe. He does not come to believe merely; but he sees and knows that the cosmos, which to the self conscious mind seems made up of dead matter, is in fact far otherwise—is in very truth a living presence. Instead of men as patches of life scattered through an infinite sea of non-living substance, they are in reality specks of relative death in an infinite ocean of life. He sees that the life which is in man is eternal, as all life is eternal; that the soul of man is immortal as God is; that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love, and that the happiness of every individual is int he long run absolutely certain. The person who passes through this experience will learn in the few minutes, or even moments, of its continuance more than in months or years of study.

d) A sense of immortality, not an intellectual conviction, but a perception that he is presently an immortal being.

e) With illunination, the fear of death which haunts so many falls off like an old cloak—it simply vanishes.

f) The same may be said of the sense of sin. It is not that the person escapes from sin; but he no longer sees that there is any sin in the world.

g) All this is instantaneous; a dazzling flash of ligthning that brings a hidden landscape into clear view.

h) The appearance and presence of the person is transfigured, and hereafter is infused with joy.

Maurice Bucke (1837-1902) grew up as a farm boy in London, Ontario. In the winter of 1857–58, he was nearly frozen to death in the mountains of California, where he was the sole survivor of a silver-mining party. He had to walk out over the mountains and suffered extreme frostbite. As a result, a foot and several of his toes were amputated. He then returned to Canada via the Isthmus of Panama, probably in 1858. The transformative experience of which he writes (in 3rd person) was in 1872, while riding home in a horse-drawn carriage after an evening with friends.

Bernardo Kastrup’s Ontology

[The following text is transcribed from Jeffrey Mishlove’s interview with Bernardo Kastrup, with some paraphrasing and editing by JJM]

The content of experience varies from day-to-day, but the dative* of experience—that to which the experience is disclosed—the subject of experience never varies.

There is always one and the same subject of experience. If you eliminate all the contents of your consciousness, all of your memories, everything you know, everything you think, all your opinions—eliminate all that, then check how you feel. And if I do the same, I will feel exactly as you feel, because we will both be the pure dative* of experience: contentless experiencer.

Before you experience anything, you experience “I am”. That is the pure dative* of experience, and it is the same in you as it is in me.

What Richard Maurice Buck realized is that some people have found a way to identify with the pure dative*, and their experience was one of being the whole universe.

People come back from these experiences and they say they have seen behind their heads, they have seen to the ends of the universe in every direction. But I think when they are in that state, they cognize something that is completely ineffable. They cannot attach symbols or referrents while they are in that state, but they carry vestiges of it back to the body. And it is only when they come back into the body that they code their experiece with words. What they have experienced is the pure dative*, the subject before everything that comes from a nervous system.

That’s who he is. That’s who we all are before we put on this “meat suit”.

We can know intellectually that we are pure consciousness, prior to sense experience, but it is only when we have a direct experience that we really believe it. I think this direct experience is accessible to all of us. In certain moments.

We conceptualize reality with a library of concepts that may be innate or may be learned. But the library is limited, and there are glaring holes in what we are able to conceive. I think that time is one of these holes. Our limited conceptualization of time leads to artifacts.

From personal experience and accounts of people close to me, I know it is empirically a fact that the “future” can be perceived, sometimes with an astonishing degree of accuracy. Similarly, it is an empirical fact that sometimes people acquire knowledge across space, with no physical intermediary to transmit the information.

But the language that we use to code these phenomena is contaminated by our limited concepts of space and time. You want to know if there is a self that survives death. Well, certainly the dative* self, the experiencer survives. It was never dependent on a body in the first place. But what about the memories, the knowledge, the attitudes and experiences that are part of your human life? Perhaps this question comes from an improper framing. Time exists while we are incarnated, and in our conceptual system we can talk about reincarnation and past lives and precognition and clairvoyance. But the deeper reality is what is there when you are not dressed in a meat suit. From a perspective outside the human framework, we would not talk about a soul that dwells for a time in the body and returns in a different body. Maybe another way to say this is that the Akasha exists outside of space and time.

I am a story in that Akashic record, and so are you. I’m speaking of the conventional you and I, the human bodies and minds. The real you and the real me are an experiencer—one and the same experiencer that exists outside physical space-time.

————————

* Dative case is a grammatical construct that exists in Latin and Germanic languages, but not in English. It is like the object of a preposition. In the phrase, “I can show you the world,” “I” is the subject, “world” is the direct object and “you” is in the dative case.

Kan, the Deluge

Arising torrent sweeps away the past.
The cleansing of some ways is overdue,
But must inspired beauty perish, too?
You’ve known that nothing physical can last
Forever, yet you mourn the senseless loss,
The indiscrim’nate dissolution of
Your culture, nature, people that you love
Along with the corruption, lies, the dross
Of institutions that outlived their use.

There’s no resisting any tide so strong.
But is your substance pure enough to be
The water that diffuses and renews?
If not, then you, too, must be swept along
Recycled into new reality…
It may not be your place to choose.

— JJM = #29 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

29. K'an – Abysmal (Water) | I-Ching Ponderings from a Modern ManSonnet + One

Hex29_Denise-Weaver-Ross

Art by Denise Weaver Ross
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/hexagram-29-kan-denise-weaver-ross.html

Summer Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Obstruction

Obstruction seems as real as it can be.
Your forward path is blocked, and no retreat
Is left to you; you sense certain defeat
Awaits, in all directions you can see.
The obstacles are physical and real
Enough, beyond your power to surmount.
Yet externalities cannot account
For desperate emotions that you feel.

You turn within—you have no other choice
Since outward acts have no remaining scope.
You contemplate the feelings in your gut
Without belief or expectation, but,
From whence you cannot tell, a voice
Arises, past all reason, offering hope.

— JJM = #39 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

Two really nerdy guys talking

“A government is an agent that imposes an offset on the payoff matrix to make the Nash equilibrium compatible with the common good.” — Joscha Bach

In this interview, this aphorism is too dense even for Lex Fridman, who is thoroughly conversant in the game-theoretic language that Joscha is deploying.

Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma Game Based on the Second ...

Deconstruction: This idea comes from what we might call the Adam Smith view of human nature, or, to be more historically accurate, the Ayn Rand view. Every individual is utterly selfish, indifferent to the welfare of everyone besides himself. In every interaction, he will take as much as he can get, without regard to the price that anyone else has to pay. For example, he’ll gladly take a penny’s profit for himself, even the result is to cost another person a dollar’s loss.

Imagine you have a choice of a range of behaviors, and other members of the community have a similar choice. Array all your possibilities down the left side of the page, and all of the responses you might receive across the top. Then make a grid, and each box represents a possible event (your action x another’s reaction). In this box, write a number corresponding to how good the result is for you.  This grid is called a payoff matrix.

The classic problem is that it is in everyone’s interest to behave selfishly, but that results in a disaster for the community. Everyone is stabbing everyone else in the back. That’s because my not stabbing you in the back benefits you, but I’m the one who has to decide, and there’s no benefit for me in not stabbing you in the back.

A “Nash equilibrium” is where the game goes if everyone does what is best for himself. For the game just described, we have the paradox that everyone is seeking his own best interest, but the result for the community (Nash equilibrium) is terrible.

It is the role of government to align the Nash equilibrium with the common good by “adjusting the payoff matrix”. In other words, the government adds rewards and punishments to the expectations associated with each individual’s behavior that motivate the individual to cooperate. The new Nash equilibrium is then a more cooperative state, in which everyone benefits.

Suffering is the result of caring about things that you cannot change. If you grow to care about only things that you can change, then you will not suffer. Then you can be happy.

But happiness itself is not important. Happiness is like a cookie. When you are a child,you think that cookies are very important. You look forward to being an adult because you think that then you can have as many cookies as you want. But when you are an adult you realize that a cookie is a tool for making you eat your vegetables. And once you get used to eating vegetables, you don’t feel so much need for cookies. Otherwise you will get diabetes, and you will not be around for your kids.

Happiness is a cookie that your brain bakes for itself. It is not made by the environment. The environment cannot make you happy. It is your appraisal of the environment that makes you happy. You can learn to change your appraisal, so you can attain arbitrary states of happiness. Some meditators fall into this trap. They discover the basement room in the brain where the cookies are baked, and they stuff themselves. And after a few months it gets really old, and a big crisis of meaning happens. They thought before that unhappiness was the problem, so they fixed this. Now they have trained so that they can release the neurotransmitters at will. Then the crisis of meaning pops up from a deeper layer. They ask, “Why am I alive? How can I create a sustainable civilization so I can feel good about my participation?” And this was the problem that they could not solve in the first place, that drove them into themselves, to meditation.   

— Joscha Bach

The Other Kingdoms

Consider the other kingdoms. The
trees, or example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

~ Mary Oliver (via Joe Riley’s Panhala)

Fentol Lake, Superior Provincial Park

What we teach our children, and what we learn from them

Start with my need to feel better than other people. I recognize that I am manufacturing meanings of “better” ad hoc to justify my predetermined conclusion. In fact “better” is certainly culture-bound, and probably problematic to define even within a culture.

I’m attracted to philosophies that try to go beyond “good and evil”. Nietzsche wrote about this in a way that glorifies raw power, even sadism. I can’t go there. But Lao Tzu comes close to my heart:

The Tao doesn’t take sides;  it gives birth to both good and evil….
When the great Tao is forgotten, goodness and piety appear….

When people see some things as good, other things become bad. Being and non-being create each other.  …

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

[These quotes are taken out-of-order from various verses of the Tao Te Ching, Mitchell translation.]

I’ve always recoiled at telling children they are “bad”. But many years ago, even before I had children of my own, I was aware of an extension of this idea: Don’t tell children that they are “good” either. As a parent or teacher, I want to empower a child to make his own decisions, to become his own person. Part of this is understanding how people will respond to him. If he hits a pet or another child, the pet/person may whimper and cry. Or he may become angry. Or he may lash back. It’s good for a child to know these things, so he can develop the wisdom to gauge his actions to produce a response that he wants. But the child doesn’t need the additional judgment that “it’s bad to hit Johnny”.
This is my hypothesis. Kids aren’t born knowing “good” and “bad”. They know pleasure and pain. They know desire and satisfaction of desire. I think they also know empathy and resonance with the feelings of fellow humans and animals. But maybe they don’t have any idea of “good” and “bad”.
Can you remember a time when you didn’t know what “good” and “bad” meant?
Here’s an idea I picked up from Charles Eisenstein: Remember the experiments of Harry Harlow with baby monkeys. Before he became unconscionably cruel and sadistic,  Harlow’s original discovery was that baby monkeys die without mother love. Even if their environments are germ-free and they have food and stimulation and all their physical needs are met, they languish and die within days pf birth without the love of a mother (or a surrogate mother).
We are all damaged in early childhood because our parents withdraw affection or threaten to withdraw affection, and this is terrifying to our infant selves. We are trained with conditional love, and we learn intricate rules about what it is to be good so we can earn our parents’ love. Later in life, long after we have left our parents’ home, we have installed within us voices that tell us when we are good and when we are bad. We have internalized the parents’ voice, and our struggle to be good is a struggle for self-acceptance.
It can be a lifelong project to learn unconditional love, unconditional self-acceptance.
Last weekend, I was thinking these thoughts, when the two-year-old in my care read my mind. I believe that mind-reading is hard for us because we are so distracted by cognitive and sensory stimulus, which we’ve learned to prioritize. It is probably much easier and more natural for two-year-olds to read minds.
She began eating dirt from the flower pot on the window sill. I was determined not to tell her “no”, but to play with her desire to do something she knew was bad. I pulled her away and dropped her onto the couch with a flair. She was jolted, but not hurt. I hugged her and said dirt is yucky and I made a disgusted noise. She got up and ran back to climb on the table next to the sill, again and again. Each time, I picked her up and dropped her on the couch and hugged her. She liked this game, and I think she went for the flower pot to keep it going, not because she wanted to eat dirt. She tried to eat dirt and I dramatized how disgusting I felt it was.

 

Later in the afternoon, there were other challenges. When she was angry at me, she bit me, but she seemed to be calibrating her bite so it didn’t really hurt. I know from experience that she can bite much harder. I just said “Ow!” each time, and whimpered in pain, but didn’t tell her not to bite me. A little later, we were outside and she wanted me to open my mouth. I opened it and closed it again, but she was insistent. I could see what was coming. After she repeated the command a few times, I opened my mouth long enough for her to put a handful of dirt into it. I made disgusted noises and spit it out, but didn’t tell her she was bad.
She makes me very aware of my need to show myself a good parent, and so we come full circle.
— JJM