My photo
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Oct 3, 2014

Existentialism ?

This blog – for now at least - is dedicated to my attempt to weave 
3 Things:
·      Yoga philosophy and theory of practices
·      My own devotionally sweet Christian childhood
·      The current philosophy or theory of psychology I am encountering in my Masters program in Counseling Psychology at Gonzaga.

I am such a newbie to psychological theory. I am possibly over-educated in Yoga philosophy and theory of practice. But Western psychology is relatively new – both to me and historically.

So I will do my best here. Take a deep breath. “Go Zags?”

This past week was a dive into existentialism. I was immediately sure I was an existentialist. I am beginning to think this might happen with each philosophy.

My study of existentialist Philosophy (wow I am already tired of typing that whole phrase out!)  began by being reminded of the biographical details of Viktor Frankl’s life. At the age of 37 he and his children and his wife and his parents were all transported to Auschwitz where they all died except Viktor. Can you even imagine the suffering! ? He survived and became a main voice for the existentialist view that Love it’s the highest goal to which humans can aspire and our salvation is through love.
Here is one of many famous quotes from his book Man’s Search for Meaning
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

3 Things:
1.   From the Shiva Sutras:
Caitanyam Atma – Everything is Light.

2.   From my childhood catechism:
Everything is God. God is Love.

3.   From Viktor Frankl (major voice for Existentialism):
Love it’s the highest goal to which humans can aspire and our salvation is through love.

All three perspectives agree: coming to Love and a direct experience that everything is Love, is not going to be a casual ride. We will have to r-e-a-c-h and may even have to suffer to find Love and meaning.

The first sutra in the Siva Sutras is “Caitanyam Atma” – Everything is Light.
The Unbounded Light of Consciousness – Maha Shakti - has folded Herself in from her radically free, unbounded and wide open fabric of Light and Love to become Word & Skin & Muscle & Bone. She has inner spiraled and enfolded and deepened into a gravity laden embodied root.

Denser and denser the pattern becomes (Rilke).

Unbounded Light becomes a singular origami of self that is the nature of being human.

Inside that origami, pure awareness pulses and vibrates. But because it is dark inside enfoldment, anxiety arises. Anxiety is part of the deal of embodiment.  What if there is no un-foldment? What if I am truly just a singular self, floating in a meaningless universe?

We can deal with anxiety by going to sleep inside our origami (and there are lots of ways to do that: self-medication, overworking, fundamentalism, and on and on). But if the basic anxiety that comes with the packet of being a human is given permission to move us and inform us, it can act as a drive to find meaning, an impulse to R-E-A-C-H outside our origami to see what’s out there. And in that very reach we unfold a bit.

Rilke wrote, “I don’t want to be folded anywhere. Where I am folded there I am a lie”… I don’t think he meant “lie” in the moralistic sense – but as a limited truth, a limited knowledge of being an enfoldment of something far greater and brighter than my individual origami, and a limited knowledge – or a deep forgetting - that my origami is That.  Tat Tvam Asi.

The R-E-A-C-H to Unfold requires first a recovery of scattered attention, a coalescence and a drawing home like birds to a nest. Because we are embodied, our very bodies are our best allies in our reach for un-foldment; Attention recovery is best accomplished by anchoring attention into sensory awareness in the body. Feet. Breath.  Flesh. Bone. Body and senses act like a homing device for the scattered and lost birds of Attention. This is an integrating effort – a muscular energy.
Once Attention is gathered and recovered, it can be directed. Directing consolidated attention to a circumstance or a person or a relationship or an object, is a REACH – and is what Viktor Frankl and the existentialists called “(wo)man’s search for meaning”.

If I can recover and gather my fractured attention and turn it and sustain it, with love, towards any circumstance or person, that circumstance or person including my very own self, will unfold. And as it unfolds its origami of light – I will be astonished and find that He – She – It is made of Unbounded Light and Love. 
Anything will give up its secret if you love it enough”

Awareness – awakeness – and a measure of anxiety will fund what is known in in the particular Yoga tradition that I’m 20,000 leagues deep into, as bhavana -.  Or “search for meaning” in the existentialist psychology tradition. There are some differences – but there are also a lot of similarities.

Existentialism says:
·      The highest meaning is Love
·      Uncertainty is unavoidable
·      Uncertainty is attended by anxiety.
·      Suffering can serve to bring you to “just this”, here and now. This reminds me of Yoga and how working at a strong sensory edge in asana practice brings pure attention “on line”. (But too strong an edge – is “over the edge” – and can fracture attention).

Existentialist thought teaches that the Heart is more open when uncertainty and even suffering are leaned in to. (Related to this idea – it is so interesting that pain killers (one way to numb suffering) – even over the counter NSAIDs – block the formation of oxytocin, which is the Love hormone / neurotransmitter).

The existentialist’s view of the Human Condition is:
·      We have the capacity for self-awareness
·      We feel a tension between freedom & responsibility
·      We are “condemned” to freedom
·      We search for meaning
·      It is best if we accept anxiety as a condition of living. Existential anxiety is normal – life cannot be lived, nor can death be faced, without anxiety.
o   Anxiety can be a stimulus for growth as we become aware of and accept our freedom
o   We can blunt our anxiety by creating the illusion that there is security in life
o   If we have the courage to face ourselves and life we may be frightened, but we will be able to change
·      It is important to hold a steady awareness of death. To prepare for death will make you more alive and awake and will fund your reach for meaning.

One thing I didn’t think I agreed with – due to being 42 years deep into Yoga and 58 years deep into a life that started with my devotionally sweet catholic childhood - is the existentialist perspective that Life is not meaningful in itself; the individual must create and discover meaning. I am still down with everything is Light and Love. God is Love.  (Now I just add, Goddess is Love).

But Chris – my wonderful husband – weighed in on this with the following:

If one assumes we are separate discrete “things” – selves, souls or whatever - then an interpretation of existentialism that “meaning” is solely created by the individual makes some sense… but many, many existentialist writings do not hold to this. Instead they hold to a relational ontology – there is already a self/other dance that precedes our individuality – we are born of the self/other dance. Our search for meaning is carried out by our ego selves but it is a search in a field that is itself always already meaningful. Responsibility is recognizing that we affect and change this dance with our searching for meaning.

Ahhhh….That’s it. We are born of the dance between Siva and Shakti.  Thank you Chris.   Maybe I am an existentialist. We’ll see what next week brings.

1 comment: