Picture with me for a moment a series of interlocking and interconnected baskets (this is essentially the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber), each held within the other from the smallest to the largest. The largest holds all of existence, it encapsulates all that is known and unknown about the universe and provides the structure by which all the others are to be held within. As the baskets get smaller, each one has it’s own set of validity claims and means of discussing the information contained within. The constraint of the previously larger basket is only felt at the margins of understanding, when what is known ceases to fully describe the issue under analysis and requires a new paradigm and language. Going further the baskets get smaller and smaller although at no point should it be thought that there is anything but a near infinite potential of knowledge awaiting discovery as each basket interconnects with smaller and larger ones holding or being held within. Eventually we get to personal experience, held within the basket of genetics and biology, held within familial and societal/cultural background, held within geo-politics and so on. Conscious experience then is held within the constraints of all these previous interlocking baskets, setting up the parameters for analysis, thought formation and potential behavioral responses.
Note that at no point is there a simplistic linear relationship of causality between any of these baskets. This is to forestall charges of strict deterministic or mechanical way of looking at reality, despite still acknowledging that everything is natural and materialistic throughout. What shifts is not metaphysics, but paradigms and language pertaining to what is being discussed. For instance, in discussing various rocks found on a hiking path we would use different language than if we were discussing plate tectonics, but it’s still all under the field of geology which has it’s own way of discussing things than say physics or biology, though again all those are still within the frame of scientific inquiry. As it pertains to personal decision-making then we can have various discussions from the social and cultural influences on behavior potentials, the role genetics and familial upbringing including attachment relationships have on cognitive framing and the like, or have a chat concerning just what it is like to live the life each person feels through in their experience.
This integral way of looking at human existence is a means of calibrating oneself to an ever-increasing understanding of their existential placement but also in determining to a greater degree the contextual lattice in which decisions are made. To do so requires us to do two things: one, a dedication to introspection with a continuing increase in educating oneself to the better understanding of one’s perspective/frame of the experiential world and two, accompany this inquiry with a constant humility borne out of an appreciation that our minds are so much wilder and opaque than we in our egoistic hubris often believe.
The first is two parts (yes I cheated and made 3 points out of 2, hey it’s my blog), the initial issue of introspection being often associated with spiritual disciplines such as prayer/meditation, retreats, involvement with a local community, therapy, etc. The religious/spiritual disciplines involved here are not such connected with anti-rational or anti-scientific ideologies. This is not to, as dogmatic and fundamentalist ideological groups would encourage, continue with uncritical acceptance of leader-declared truths. Rather, with the combination of the second part concerning education and growing understanding, delve into what is tentatively known by various disciplines, academic and spiritual, test their limits and begin to see the spaces of uncertainty that exist. There can be as much truth found in reading the latest journal or book as that found in a meditation retreat, though the truth may be articulated in different ways and have import at different levels, the retreat likely being far more of a personal experiential knowledge.
Doing so allows us to see that while facts and reasons are often what we promote as causal agents for our shifting mental paradigms, they actually only provide the context for the shift. We can do the internal check and parade our facts and reasoning out to be critically analyzed (albeit to varying degrees), but the very same litany can be presented to someone else of similar background and ideological position and while one will shift the other will not. However strong facts and argumentation are, they do not provide the impetus for change. The shift occurs in a similar space of, to again use the match analogy, we know that moving across the rough edge will result in it being lit, but we are at pains to note the precise bump that causes the ignition and we certainly do not see the molecular shift occurring that is the flame itself igniting. Reasons are not worthless, knowledge is not a waste of resources to gain, no more than foregoing the particular surface provided in the match case would be particularly helpful in getting one lit. Context matters, it guides or provides the parameters, much like the baskets described earlier, for particular thought processes and therefore behavioral choices.
Thus we are struck by the second injunction, that of residing in a humility concerning the opaqueness of our own minds and existence, and not just our own but others as well. Because while certainty is a feeling we all appreciate, dogmatism being the one exception, a genuine search always provides more questions than answers, however many answers end up being found. In any and all relationships we wrestle with the crazy-making confusion as to why our point isn’t being heard or why someone did what they did. Stepping back into a space of humility and attempting to understand the baskets that make up their own lives will give us an appreciation for where their behavior emerges from and provide the impetus for appreciating our own spaces. There the grace in which we all reside can bring calm and a joining with our fellow person rather than division, love rather than hurt.
© David Teachout