Lesson 8: My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.

Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball

The meaning of Lesson 8 is very literally that no one really sees anything. According to Wapnick, all we “see” is a projection of what we have been thinking. The point of these lessons is to help us realize that we are not really thinking at all because our thoughts are rooted in the past, or the fear of the future. (Remember the unholy trinity: sin (past); guilt (present); fear (future)? I’m still struggling with this concept.) As long as thoughtless ideas preoccupy our mind, the truth is blocked. Recognizing our minds have been blank is the first step to opening the way to vision.

The purpose of today’s exercise is to train the mind to recognize when it is not thinking at all.

The mind cannot grasp the present, which is the only time there is. It is preoccupied with the past and, in fact, does not understand time. The only wholly true fact about the past is that it is not here.

I seem to be thinking about my brother, my scared dog, my son’s cat, my daughter, rain, colds, crazy hair, having to clean the house, my husband, plants that need watering, big bellies, and dust. But my mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.

ACIM says the only wholly true thought one can hold about the past is that it isn’t here. The mind is blank when it pictures the past or anticipates the future. Therefore, the purpose of this exercise is to begin to train our minds to recognize when they are not really thinking at all. Thoughtless ideas preoccupy the mind which blocks the truth. Recognizing it isn’t filled with real ideas is the first step to opening the way to vision.

Wapnick says that it is not simply that we see only the past (Lesson 7), but we see only the past because we think only according to the past. What we see outside comes from what we think inside, a major theme of the text: “projection makes perception”.

Wapnick says the statement, “the wholly true fact about the past is that it is not here” means that our existence is literally made up. This should terrify us. If it doesn’t, it is because we aren’t paying close attention to what it says. We literally do not exist. And not only is our existence an illusion, all existence is an illusion.

A little further explanation from Wapnick:

The ego’s present is not this “present,” what A Course in Miracles refers to as the “holy instant”. As this experience is not rooted in time, it is also not rooted in sin, guilt, and fear. It is rooted in the right-minded presence of the Holy Spirit, in which vision – not based on the past, and certainly not on specialness – becomes the means for love to guide us from within.

He goes on to say, “If you are a creature of the past and there is no past, then it must mean there is no you.” He says this should horrify us. Maybe I’ve intellectualized it too much over the years, but it seems reasonable that there is no me. At least in a sense. Of course, I’m understanding it from my own definition of “you” and I’m not exactly sure what Wapnick is referring to by “you”. It reminds me of Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball – I am nothing, I see all. We’ve all had glimpses of that experience, right? We don’t necessarily have the language to express it and so we are left speechless.

Wapnick keeps going: “Not only is our existence an illusion; indeed, all existence is an illusion, for it contrasts with the reality of being.” That doesn’t make much sense to me. How do you define being and how do you define existence? This gets tricky. Heidegger worked out very intricate differentiations of types of being (Dasein and Sein) and these don’t necessarily contradict existence. For Heidegger, the primal nature of being is Sein, while Dasein is revealed by projection into, and engagement with, a personal world. It is a never-ending process of involvement (kind of like Nietzsche’s never-ending process of becoming), as mediated through the projections of the self. It makes sense to claim that there is a difference between entities and the being of entities, but does it make sense to contrast existence and being? I don’t know. I don’t have a good grasp on any of this, yet, but I’m sensing Original Sin is sliding into Wapnick’s definitions here, too. (Or maybe he is very intentionally including it?)

To conclude, Wapnick says that by ending our practice with: “But my mind is preoccupied with past thoughts”, we are asked to practice in the central aspect of the process of forgiveness: bringing the specifics of our illusions to the non-specific truth of the Holy Spirit.

Henry Louis Gates on Lincoln and Race

Just have to share another fascinating talk from Fora.tv.  This one is with Henry Louis Gates on Lincoln and Race.

The first half of the talk primarily covers the PBS Show, "Looking for Lincoln", which I discussed previously. The rest is an interesting discussion on race and some speculation on Lincoln.

Gates says that a comparison can definitely be made between Lincoln and Obama, but that the idea that we have entered a post-racial era is pure fantasy. We are as segregated as we have been in a long time and the economic situation is only going to make it worse. We have a definite structural/institutional discrimination in the U.S. Also, 33% of black children still live at or below the poverty line.

Barack Obama’s election, alone, will not get rid of the structural discrimination. It’s created more of a subliminal change.

Gates talks a bit about theories on what would have happened if Lincoln would have lived. There are two basic theories, one being that the world would have been much better for the blacks much sooner. But another takes into account two people who were very close to him who claim that Lincoln really wanted to ship blacks to Liberia once they were freed. So who knows? Gates thinks that if Lincoln didn’t “free the slaves” (he only freed them in the south), they would have freed themselves.

There was a speech that Emerson gave in 1944 on the Emancipation of the West Indies. He said that the blacks had to save themselves (and that the same was true for women). You have to show that you are equal to all of the other races of man. You can’t be given this, you have to willingly take it. Frederick Douglas heard this speech and was inspired by it.

Today there aren’t any barriers to blacks individually, but individuals tend to create their own barriers. For instance, many blacks have a disdain for education which Gates says is social suicide.

I didn’t realize there were 3.9 million slaves when Lincoln was President. That is a lot of people!! 400,000 of them were in the Northern states (primarily border states). Also, one of the main reasons Lincoln was in favor of getting rid of slavery was because his father was a farmer in Kentucky and failed miserably because he couldn’t compete with the slave owners. Lincoln saw this as economically unfair.

I attended a debate on Juneteenth several years ago which was fascinating. I grew up in the “south” (Texas) but had never really considered the southern perspective on the Civil War. My husband and I discussed this last night. I grew up thinking the Confederate flag was something horrible and evil while my husband, who was raised in San Antonio, had grown up viewing it as a positive thing representing southern pride.  (I grew up in a much more cosmopolitan area where there were a lot of Northerners which may have made the difference). During the debate, the side for the Confederacy was represented by the head of a well-known Confederate organization. He spoke very eloquently and intelligently on how the Civil War was entirely about economics, and not slavery at all.  This makes a lot more sense to me, now.  If you didn’t own slaves, how could you possibly compete economically? This had to be very threatening to the north. The other equally eloquent speaker claimed it was most definitely about slavery. Perhaps it started out being primarily about economics but over time, it became about slavery, too?

Anyway, Gates definitely provides and interesting perspective.

Will to Power (Nietzsche): Lectures 13-18

Continued notes from Will to Power (Higgins and Solomon)…

Love Pity and Resentment

  • There is a dichotomy that occurs between doing the right thing and doing what you want to do (self-interest). Nietzsche questions this dichotomy and says that very often that self-interest may be the right thing to do and the right thing to do may be self-interest. People do what it is they are motivated to do. When you practice benevolence you are often practicing a form of subtle revenge. Also, if someone is suffering and I feel pity for them, I’m not making them feel any better. By suffering with them, I’m not making them feel any better. I don’t reduce the suffering, I increase it. Pity for someone casts them into an inferior role. When you pity them, you no longer fear them. You are superior.
  • How much can we actually empathize with another person? When we pity someone with insight and empathy we can understand that we share the world and are subject to the same plight. This is Schopenhauer’s stance. We realize we are all inferior and subject to the same plight. We are victims. Nietzsche says this is pathetic. To think we are all victims together is not a noble notion. He says the idea of compassion is a hypocrisy.
  • Ressintement (Resentment) seems to be a justified and reasonable response to injustice but really it is nothing more than a sense of hopelessness.
  • Guilt goes along with resentment. The major thrust of Christianity is to cure the problem of guilt. But Christianity created the problem of guilt; Christianity makes people feel guilty and then offers them a way out of the guilt. That’s hypocritical.

Love & Friendship

  • Love is a longing for something far beyond oneself.
  • Christian love doesn’t emphasize friendship and it de-sexualizes love. Nietzsche rejects this. Love always has a sexual element.
  • Marriage is a long conversation.
  • A friendship based on mutual enjoyment is much different than a friendship based on mutual advantage. Enjoying someone is much better than using someone for advantage. But even more important is friendship based on mutual admiration – one that makes us want to be a better person because of the relationship. Aristotle said this was the key to friendship.
  • Friendship is also about mutual inspiration.

Women

  • Nietzsche is often thought of as sexist. Some of his comments do seem very sexist but when understood in context, they aren’t as sexist as they first appear.
  • Nietzsche says “Supposing truth is a woman, what then?” (Truth in German is a feminine noun.) People think this is a sexist comment but it isn’t. Nietzsche assumes women are psychologically complex and suggests by this aphorism that truth, like a woman, is reticent to be known. It has to be wooed. (Women are resistant to male demands.) Like a woman for a desiring man, truth cannot ultimately be had.
  • In Beyond Good & Evil (pp. 231-239), he prefaces his comments about women as the comments being “only my truths”. He recognizes that women may not agree with his ideas about them. (That the female perspective is very likely different than his perspective.) He says that women want to debunk fantasies men have had about themselves and that this is not a persuasive approach. It’s giving control to consciousness what is better left to instinct. They are buying into a game men have been harmed by. Nietzsche tries to understand an alternative consciousness – that of women. In doing so, he upholds perspectivism. He doesn’t think women should be more like men. They have will of their own. They have a different perspective than men and this perspective is beneficial.

Top 10

This lecture provided a list of Nietzsche’s top 10 favorite philosophers and top 10 least favorite philosophers. I didn’t write them all down, but here are a few…

  • Spinoza is on the list of favorites. Nietzsche recognized himself in Spinoza. They had much in common: Love of fate; the rejection of pity; naturalism; the attempt to understand the individual in the context of the whole
  • Emerson is also on the list of favorites. (He’s the only American on either list.) Some of Nietzsche’s ideas have names that come from Emerson. Emerson talked about the Oversoul, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch (Overman) is a very similar idea. Emerson talked about the joyous science. Nietzsche uses the term “gay science”. Emerson talked about the “death of God and, like Nietzsche, he rejected orthodox theology for religious reasons.
  • Kant is one of Nietzsche’s favorite and least favorite philosophers. He greatly admires Kant but he also criticizes him because he doesn’t propose something naturalistic. He proposes something dictated to us – even if it is reason doing the dictating.
  • Martin Luther is one of Nietzsche’s least favorite philosophers. Much of Nietzsche’s thought shows clear Lutheran underpinnings. Nietzsche sees depravity in Luther that he rejects.
  • St. Paul is one of Nietzsche’s least favorite philosophers. He is an opportunist. A propogandist. Paul had no use for the life of the redeemer. Paul’s philosophy required the crucifixion. Paul was resentful and had no use for life.
  • Absurd rationality leads to the idea that life is worthless.

History

  • Hegel said that spirit is this worldly. It’s a sort of cosmic consciousness. It’s isn’t otherworldly. Nietzsche agrees with this understanding of spirit.
  • Hegel invented history. The question of whether truth changes through time were not questions actively raised until Hegel. He makes this question a central focus and this thesis is very close to Nietzsche’s. The truth of history is the truth of change. There are many truths and these truths can contradict each other. It isn’t a matter of which ones are right and which ones are wrong. It’s a matter of which are more developed, which are more naive, which are one sided, which take account of others.
  • Hegel said Bacchanalian revel was the truth of philosophy in general. this is very similar to Nietzsche’s Dionysian metaphor. Philosophy is not a neat linear progression. It is not a matter of rational thinking. It is a passionate mess. It is complicated and unresolved.
  • Philosophers conflict and they build on one another in a patterned way. (Not that there is a purpose behind it all – a teleology). Something emerging in a patterned way is what Nietzsche’s genealogy is all about.
  • Darwin said that man is not the ultimate stage but a stepping stone to something else. Nietzsche was against the idea of “the survival of the fittest” because he said it had not been fully established. He says it is about a struggle for power. Nietzsche interprets Darwin as an English theologian – that we are at the end of evolution and man is the result. Social Darwinism says only the fittest societies survive. It is a moral philosophy. Those that perish were meant to perish. those that survive were meant to survive. It’s a harsh doctrine and Nietzsche rejects it. Nietzsche’s had a far more artistic sense. For Nietzsche, it’s not just a matter of simple survival, it is a matter of creativity and imagination. Those who survive are the most creative. What comes out of natural selection in terms of society isn’t the best, it is the weakest; the most common; the most repulsive. The cockroach is most likely the most fit. But is this the best?
  • Nietzsche’s Last Man is most likely the fittest in terms of natural selection. But if it is up to us to choose through our ability to create, is this what we want to choose? Do we want to be the ultimate couch potato living safely and comfortably. Or do we want to live a more risky, creative existence?
  • What we call truth are those things that best lead to human survival. Evolution tells us why we believe what it is we believe not by justifying belief but by showing the place beliefs play in a flourishing life.
  • History can be a form of the “other-worldly” because it is based on the past. But you can’t just go back to the past. You have to live in the here and now.
  • History is essential for many things, but it is not an ends in itself.
  • How do we find a perspective where history affirms life? Antiquarian History is a way of appreciating our past that doesn’t involve white washing. Greece was a culture steeped in cruelty. It’s not enough to just look at the nice parts but as it really was. Our history, ugly or beautiful, is part of what makes us what we are.
  • The underlying value must always be life itself.

Nihilism

  • Nihilism was originally understood as something akin to teenage rebellion. It was a rejection of tradition. Nietzsche rejected German Society so in this sense he could be called a nihilist. But he didn’t reject society altogether.
  • Nietzsche defined nihilism as the highest values devaluing themselves. He’s talking about two values in particular: moral values and the values of the Judeo/Christian tradition. Religion and morality are his focus.
  • Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism is an unhealthy denial of life. Trial and error is skepticism. Cynicism is being tired and weary – being so skeptical that you aren’t open to anything. It doesn’t allow for possibilities. It is closed rather than open.
  • Nietzsche is against Nihilism. But he refuses to take “the truth” as something fixed, absolute and easily accessible. We create the truth through our experience and our living. He is a nihilist in terms of knowledge.
  • If Christians are honest, it doesn’t take much to realize that God is not central to their conception of the real world. Realistically, the Christian God no longer played a major role. Our culture is no longer centered on this God – whether we uphold the idea or not.
  • Are the values we once held valuable? Values change. Perhaps they were reasonable moves at one time but they are no longer valuable.
  • Schopenhauer said asceticism was a way to make life good – renounce the will and maintain peace. Nietzsche rejects this. To fast for the sake of fasting or to sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice makes no sense to him. Is there a deeper motive for asceticism? Someone able to control impulses often feels superior and self-righteous.
  • Nietzsche sees science as having been pursued as a sort of Goethean selling the soul to the devil. The desire for truth is a desire to align finite powers with the infinite. With this thinking, one becomes a representative of humanity rather than an individual. Nietzsche says the scientific world view is a shadow of God that still lingers with us. It’s important not to transpose habits of the past to a scientific world view. We need to resuscitate our powers and not transfer them to the Christian God or some dream of nature we know nothing about.