Mental Recession • 17 September 2008

Are the boxes of deskstuff carted yesterday out of Lehman just so much mindstuff, Mr. McCain? The houses bought on nothing and the cars with the no-interest loan—these are also whisps of consciousness and not part of some self-sufficient reality?

Everyone in fiscal conservative land wants to say this is a problem of trust and coordination.

When did the fiscal conservatives turn in to new-age mentalists? Is it just that this line is an easy means of denial? Are they solipsists? (I'm not joking.)

To call this only a coordination problem and collective loss of trust, and to pursue solutions through propaganda and only that is to deny that the entire American economy is rotting at its core.

The people who have been telling us for ten years to “trust” and buy are the ones get the fees from our transactions. To them, our trust actually is commodity. But for the rest of us, the commodities look more like macbooks and condos. It’s all the same.

The whole reduction of the institutional failure to only a coordination problem feels like more bad avaita in my life.

I don’t even understand advaita, but do see some keen people who have bothered to take it deep practicing a metaphysics that understands that both the mind and the body—both ideas and the physical world—are equal contents of some consciousness. The substrate of reality is nondual big-mind or somesuch; and the apparent differences in its contents (that is, mind versus body) are trivial. Ok, sounds like a sort of tedious philosophical argument. It makes sense to me insofar as I can practice spacious awareness when I sit vipassana, but whatever.

What amuses is the clearly bad avaita practiced by westerners interested in eastern stuff: the attempts at nondualism that actually are extremely dualist because they reduce all of experience to the content of individual consciousness. For example:  

If you let go of all your fear, you’ll be able to take your calves in a backbend: no concrete limitations there, just emotional ones. The body isn’t real—it’s a collection of mental tics. The physical is an illusion.

Good avaita is slamming the wall and declaring “This is god!” (the physical is a manifestation of oneness, just as much as the mental). Bad avaita is slamming someone to the calves in chakra-b because the resistance there is only fear (the body is not real but only a container for mental problems).

Good avaita: the economy is fucked backwards and forwards!

Bad avaita: there’s a mental recession but the “more real” economic fundamentals are in no doubt. (Again, this is a reduction of the physical to the mental that actually just serves to deepen a dualism between the two.)

How much pain do we have to experience before we admit that there is a structural barrier to taking the calves in a backbend? And to how many suckers can get mortgages? Practice plays with just that physical structure—affirms that the physical is not less real than the mental. And ultimately makes space to see the edge where the physical and mental interpenetrate and don’t have to be isolated in “opposite” realms.

For someone who came to this practice wanting to pretend it wasn’t really about the body, the affirmation of physical reality that I do every day on the mat is the best way to realize that the physical is not reducible to the mental. Sometimes a charlie-horse is just a charlie-horse… a fluctuation of consciousness, yes—but embodied consciousness.

For me, pretending that the body is a shadow of the mind is a kind of retreat from the physical immediacy of reality. I recognize it as a lie I sometimes tell myself. For the mental-recessionistas, pretending that the crisis isn’t physical is a way of avoiding the more difficult physical realm of hunger and disease and homelessness and unemployment and pretending this is all about the numbers.

This uncanny marriage of mentalist New Age metaphysics to conservative if not regressive politics, led by the "we make our own reality" Rovians, continues to give me the shivers! But… maybe it makes sense.