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8097150301_48d39d4b9c_bMatthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post was originally published at craftfollowsconcept.com

Introduction: This little piece is a lightly structured meditation on aspects of the past and clarification of intentions concerning the future.  It appends my previous statement of intent from four years ago (posted below).  Although there is some continuity of concern, specifically around the nature of the demands that playing a role or roles in society places on the individual actor, and some continuity of theory through the continued influence of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, hopefully there is some new material and new thinking as well.  I should acknowledge a debt to several writers whom I have read intensively over the past four years: most especially this piece bears the fingerprints of Carl Jung, James Hollis, and Dane Rudhyar, and many of the ideas here would not exist, or at least not be as fully articulated, without their assistance.  I should also acknowledge that I have been experimenting with different means of writing, different approaches to producing a text, and to the extent that anything herein bears traces of the spirit I can claim no credit.

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“I wanna dedicate this to someone out there watching tonight, I know she knows who she is.”

Bob Dylan, spoken introduction to “Oh Sister.”  From the bootleg record “Songs for Patty Valentine.”

Today I feel as if I stand at the edge of a new world.  The journey through early adulthood has drawn itself to a close, in stages, over the past several years, and I am alive to the fact that a new journey must now be set out upon.  In order to face any new journey properly, with intelligence and intention, we are called upon first to recognize the altered nature of the landscape we will make our way across in the new phase.

The longer I live, the more I understand the words of Ecclesiastes, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens.”  Each era of our lives, each season, sometime even each week or set of weeks, seems to take on a certain coloring and certain characteristics that differentiate it from what came before, just as each zone of time seems to require different things of us.  The strength of our intention and will, as well as the quality and effectiveness of our reactions and decision making, are forever put to the test in small ways, and large ones, and we are forced to define, if only to ourselves, the nature of our relationship to our surroundings, our community, our dharma, our fate.

When we are young, time seems to stretch on almost indefinitely.  The summer of my eighth year, for example, was experienced as a vast expanse of almost undifferentiated time; two or three weeks would pass in a barely conscious haze of biking around my parent’s property, hiking and collecting stones from quarries in the area, or sitting on the roof in the sun, a child in the flow of nature, without “problems” of his own.  Looking back on such a period today, it indeed has a coloring of a kind, and this coloring is so loaded with low-grade nostalgia and barely remembered circumstances that my memories exist not so much in the form of events, rather in the form of a “feel.”  I have a sense of what it felt like to be eight, a sense of the patterns into which life energy fell or was collected, pooled, also a sense of my budding interests, which would in time round into what we are pleased to call “personality.”  There was nothing specific that I was “up to,” and I never had the need to think more than a day or so in advance.  The expression of my energy was essentially aligned with the desires of my heart as much as at that age we can know these at all–or perhaps that is just the point, in a state of primitive unknowingness we are naturally and effortlessly aligned with the desires of our heart, and only when we begin to have to analyze or ask after these do we begin to lose connection with them.

As we grow, the process of socialization begins to crowd in on us, and no person, no personality, is wholly free from the pressures of socialization, of collective expectation, of the reactive categorizations and projections of the always slightly behind-the-curve zeitgeist.  Depending on our own type and manner of apprehending the world as it appears to us, we react and position ourselves in some relation to, at some angle toward, the categories and projections that surround us.  Indeed, both the conformist and the rebel define themselves in relation to and reaction to “the system,” and in many ways their respective positioning is far more similar than otherwise.  Dane Rudyhar makes this point clearly, as do, in more elliptical and elaborated terms, Berger and Luckmann.  Even those (myself for example) who purport or imagine to be able to live outside of collective expectations, to create their own life and write their own script, yet define themselves primarily through the categories that the zeitgeist makes available–it takes work, huge, lasting work, to even begin to transcend one’s era and circumstance in even the smallest part.

The first part of life is necessarily a struggle to find one’s footing in the swim of society, to demonstrate value, usefulness, and the ability to check whichever boxes one is asked to check.  Occasionally, we meet someone who in significant ways seems to have wrenched herself free of some of this static at an earlier age, but even such persons habitually define themselves in terms of existing categories and remain to some extent still a prisoner of them.  For most of us, the child turned young adult, buffeted by external events and demands, adjusts herself over a period of years by applying her core characteristics, tendencies, and abilities to the game as it seems to present itself, and in the process slowly relinquishes immediate touch with that inner voice that provided direction to the child of nature who knew instinctively what was and wasn’t good for her, what was and wasn’t desirable.

At the same time, the goals that one identifies for oneself in youth are not to be lightly dismissed.  They do often provide a symbol sufficient, to borrow Jung’s phrase, to drive libido up a gradient steeper than nature; one learns to accomplish “work,” and to appreciate both the material and ego-related satisfactions that comes from this accomplishment.  Jung says as much when he tells us that it is essentially heathy and necessary when a young person becomes “entangled with fate” which “(involves) him in life’s necessities and the consequent sacrifices and efforts through which his character is developed and his experience matured.”  This dance with fate leads us into a variety of positions and stances, some of which we may carry out with grace and ease, others of which require contortions which we preform without a clear sense of the relationship between the presented or required form and our ability to functionally engage with that form.

Under the pressure to make something of ourselves, to build a career, a business, an image, a body of work, to make more of time by trying to subdue it, we may come to feel that we have found the game, we are on the fast track, we are properly situated under the stage lights, playing the part as it is supposed to be played. Read the rest of this entry »

social-media-conversionMatthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post originally published at classicalsympathies.com

Statement on Intent and Concern #II: On “role drift”

This post is the second in my thirty-fifth birthday series, and takes up that sexiest of subjects, “role-drift.”  In this post I will connect Laud Humphreys’ investigation of “the Tearoom Trade,” that is, casual homosexual encounters in public toilets, the initiation process in the United States military, and the conversion of Paul the Apostle.  Those easily offended by sociological explanations of religion, of sexual preference, or of the comradeship among soldiers should cease reading immediately.

Recently, I finished reading a book–which, as my next post will detail, is a somewhat rare occurrence.  The book was Laud Humphreys’ “The Tearoom Trade,” published in 1970.  It concerns men hooking up with other men, usually strangers, in the public restroom facilities in St. Louis, and it is an eye-opening read.  The blurb on the book jacket pretty much tells the story: “Many American men seek impersonal sex in public restrooms.  Called ‘tearooms’ in the argot of the homosexual subculture, these restrooms are accessible to and easily recognized by those who wish to engage in anonymous sexual encounters {…} By passing as deviant, the author was able to engage in systematic observations of homosexual acts in public settings.  Methodologists will be interested {…} in this unusual application of participant-observation strategies.”  Indeed, methodologists everywhere, I can say without hesitation, were and are all ears.  But the odd thing is that Humphreys, married and purportedly straight when he conducted his research, later divorced his wife and came out as gay.

Now, it may not be considered particularly odd that someone, sociologist or no, who spends several months or years in public toilets observing “insertors” and “insertees” would himself come out eventually, and Humphreys’ persistent use of “us” and “we” to refer to the denizens of the restrooms of St. Louis appears, in retrospect, to be something of a “tell.”  Consider, for instance, sentences such as the following: “when a group of us were locked in a restroom and attacked by several youths, we spoke in defense and out of fear {…} This event ruptured the reserve among us and resulted in a series of conversations among those who shared this adventure for several days afterward” (12), and several other similar uses of plural pronouns.  (It may be of interest here that Humphreys and his study of tearooms enjoyed a brief week in the sun a few years ago when Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested in an airport bathroom stall for foot-tapping–Humphreys covered this topic as well, making clear that foot-tapping was, in 1970, a well-established method of making contact from stall to stall, and already in use by police decoys so many decades ago (20, 87).)

Indeed, the whole study is fascinating, and peppered with wonderfully matter-of-fact passages such as: “There is a great deal of difference in the volumes of homosexual activity that these accommodations shelter.  In some, one might wait for months before observing a deviant act.  In others, the volume approaches orgiastic dimensions.  One summer afternoon, for instance, I witnessed twenty acts of fellatio is the course of an hour while waiting out a thunderstorm in a tearoom.  For one who wishes to participate in (or study) such activity, the primary consideration is one of finding where the action is” (6) (alert readers will recognize the influence of Erving Goffman here; Goffman’s study of gambling establishments is titled “Where the Action Is”).  But the passage which really caught my attention deals with what Humphreys calls “role instability” or “role drift.”  He makes two major points; i) those who start out pitching tend to end up catching; “It appears that, during the career of any one participant, the role of insertor tends to be transposed into that of insertee” (55) (Humphreys attributes this tendency to “the aging crisis” common to tearoom participants); ii) “If {straights} remain exposed ‘too long’ to the action, they cease to operate as straights” (56).  Humphreys here is not referring to men who one day, by accident, may wander into an operational tearoom, but rather to members of the parks department or vice squad who, over time, may be exposed to a wider swath of tearoom activity.  Here is the key passage:

“When some communication continues to exist, parents tend to be ‘turned on’ by their pot-smoking offspring.  Spectators tend to be drawn into mob action, and kibitzers into card games.  Even police may adopt the roles they are assigned to eliminate:

‘It is a well-known phenomenon that when officers are left too long on the vice-squad–the maximum allowable at  any one time being four to five years–they begin to ‘go over’, adopting the behaviorisms and mores 0f the criminals with whom they are dealing, and shifting their primary allegiance'”(Here, Humphreys is quoting from Elliot Liebow’s Tally’s Corner from 1967.  My emphasis).

It is a well-known phenomenon that when officers are left too long on the vice-squad they begin to ‘go over’. The moment I read this, having known of Humphreys’ own history before I read his book, I immediately recognized either a brilliant justification for future defection or an alternative, sociologically-based, theory for how sexual preference is formed. Read the rest of this entry »

MForm Function Bangleatthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post originally published at classicalsympathies.com

Statement of Intent and Concern: Berger and Luckmann on Typification and Reification

Everything’s connected.  Reading the classics, which do not talk about sunsets, has made many sunsets, in all their colors, intelligible to me.
Fernando Pessoa

An apprehension of reification as a modality of consciousness is dependent upon at least relative derefication of consciousness, which is a comparatively late development in history and in any individual biography.
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman

This is the first in a projected series of posts which will represent an attempt on my part to synthesize a variety of theoretical and practical concerns that confront me as I approach thirty-five.  This post will begin with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality, a book we have looked at before here on Sympathies.  I have re-posted the original post so that readers can familiarize themselves with the work.

A good deal of the writing on this blog has taken as its theme the relationship between the individual and the institution, and we have seen various attempts to come to terms with the ideal stance of one who, as we all do, exists within the grasp of institutionalization.  In The Social Construction of Reality, Berger and Luckmann spend 45 pages on the topic of institutionalization, and what they have to say provides me with my jumping off point.  They make the point that while man (and yes, The Social Construction of Reality, published in 1966, uses the outdated gender-specific catch-all term for humanity), makes his world, he is given to losing sight of this and projecting (“reifying”) aspects of the social world so that they are perceived as entirely external and beyond his control.  “Man’s self-production is always, and of necessity, a social enterprise.  Men together produce a human environment, with the totality of its socio-cultural and psychological formations” (51), but, being prone to reification, they will sometimes “{apprehend} the products of human activity as if there were something else than human products–such as facts of nature, results of cosmic law, or manifestations of divine will.  Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world {and experiencing it} as a strange facticity, {…} over which he has no control” (89).

When mis-apprehending (social) reality as something other than the product of his own action and consciousness, he forgets that “the social world was made by men–and, therefore, can be remade by them,” but, ironically, “reification is a modality of consciousness {…} Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it” (89).

Even when apprehending the world in reified terms, man continues to produce it.  I would like to extrapolate this to mean that the perception of sedimented, externally controlled or created, facticity continually creates the very facticity in question.  Put slightly differently, the denial of agency diminishes, uncreates, free-will, while the exercise of free-will depends in large part, perhaps entirely, on the strength of one’s belief in it.

Now, this is not to argue that reification is simply false-consciousness, or that groupings within society do not go to considerable trouble to perpetuate and legitimate reification of their activities.  Berger and Luckmann make this quite clear in their analysis of what they call “socially segregated subuniverses of meaning” such as “Hindu castes, the Chinese literary bureaucracy, or the priestly coteries of ancient Egypt” (85), not to mention lawyers, doctors, television pundits, university English departments.  They write that subuniverses  “become esoteric enclaves {…} to all but those who have been properly initiated into their mysteries {…} The outsiders have to be kept out {but} If the subuniverse requires various special privileges and recognitions from the larger society, there is the problem of keeping out the outsiders and at the same time having them acknowledge the legitimacy of this procedure.  This is done through various techniques of intimidation {…} mystification and, generally, the manipulation of prestige symbols” (87).
And generally the manipulation of prestige symbols.  Indeed.  Those who engage, consciously or unconsciously, in the manipulation of prestige symbols are, in Berger and Luckmann’s language, involved in creating a “typification.”  The acceptance of typifications, in turn, sediments social facticity and brings into being a taken-for-grantedness in the performance of social actors.  “The typification of forms of action requires that these have an objective sense {…} In the course of the action there is an identification of the self with the objective sense of the action {…} Although there continues to be a marginal awareness of the body and other aspects of the self not directly involved in the action, the actor, for that moment, apprehends himself essentially in identification with the socially objectified action {…} In other words, a segment of the self is objectified in terms of the socially available typifications” (72-3).  The authors point out that after the actions of the typified actor have been carried out, in, say, the privacy of the home, the meditation chamber, the confessional, the actor may re-establish a certain “role distance,” but this distance is apt to shrink again when the times comes once again for the actor to take up the role by re-activating the segment of the self objectified in terms of the currently applicable socially available typification.

This discussion inevitably brings us back to Mr. Inch’s post about sartorial conformism/ non-conformism.  Longtime readers will recall that Mr. Inch wrote, “Reflection on MT’s devotion to this apparently innocuous task, knotting a piece of cloth around his neck each morning, leads us towards what has become a key element of many recent theories of ideology. Derived from Pascal’s advice to non-believers, ‘kneel and pray, and then you will believe’, the French philosopher Louis Althusser sought to assert the materiality of ideas, and how ideology works through our actions as well as our words to define us as certain sorts of subjects.  For Michel Foucault, one of Althusser’s students who sought to break with Marxism and the concept of ideology, the knotting of that neck-tie might have been considered a ‘practice of the self’, a way of disciplining oneself in line with a particular matrix of power and knowledge. The question that I think both of these thinkers struggle to address, however, is the extent to which we are able to shape our own selves, rather than simply being shaped by power.  What scope do we have to resist the power embedded in these apparently mundane everyday motions? {…} By kneeling to pray, or standing in front of the mirror adjusting the knot, we perform belief and so take on socially available identities.  And as for the rest of us in that office – what was the effect of not knotting the tie each morning? At times there were no doubt some who reveled in the non-conformity of that not knotting.  In truth, however, did our alternative practices of the self not simply reproduce a slightly different, perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting?  Was not wearing a necktie not just another kind of necktie after all?”

In truth, however, did our alternative practices of the self not simply reproduce a slightly different, perhaps less respect-able but nonetheless conformist, relationship to the rules and rituals that regulated life in that particular setting? Read the rest of this entry »

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