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Lenten Writing: Living Praxically

Praxis is the way we live the life that is indicated by our study. Study directs our praxis by suggesting certain practices, approaches, methods, strategies. This reflects the clarification and contemplation aspects of our living.

Our study directs our praxis but, in turn, praxis informs our study, suggesting new directions, methods and so forth. For example, we might read a study advocating meditation as a means of enlarging our range of compassion so we adopt a meditation practice.

This is the service aspect of our living.

In this sense, praxis and study are one movement. Each makes the other not only possible but necessary. They are unified, sort of the way you cannot separate a river from its banks.

In my own living, theory and idea – created, contained and expressed in language – are predominant. Thus, clarity and contemplation are the preferred – most comfortable, most familiar – aspects of my practice.

In my own living, praxis has been mostly relegated to effect – passive, casual, and sometimes even scorned.

For a long time I was unaware of this; then, when I became aware, I found myself struggling to right the imbalance. Often I failed; often, it was clear that I wanted to fail.

This is unhealthy. Favoring one aspect of a dynamic circularity over the other minimizes the circularity’s flow and creativity. We become less effective, which means less loving, which means less happy and peaceful.

And yet.

Praxis frightens me, which is silly in one sense, since praxis is always happening anyway. It is not coherent to fear what you are already presently experiencing.

But still. Praxis cries for attention, which is to say – in this context – for intention. It wants to be executed, embodied. It wants to be brought forth and lived. What we study yearns to manifest in an embodied way that is not merely semantic and mental.

For me, my decades-long obsession with the Catholic Worker – with nonviolence, radical egalitarianism, dialogue and so forth – are the concepts that my praxis longs to breathe into being.

I have explored those topics deeply and sincerely – I have studied them closely – but my living has mostly been a poor reflection of what I have learned in that study. For the most part, I have declined to allow the two domains – study and praxis – to mingle. Rather, I have tried to keep them apart.

Again, in an important sense, that is actually not possible. We are always in praxis, however unintentionally. Thus, praxis – however feeble and unconscious – has at last reached my study and, in turn, my study – however rigidly self-contained – has finally seeped into my praxis.

A fuller and more creative unity is possible and I am at a juncture where keeping the two at a sterile distance is hard enough that I am willing to experience the utter fear of whatever it means to be intentionally praxical.

This was written on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, 2019.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mike March 18, 2019, 5:19 pm

    Bringing DOWN the walls (to what is happening anyway) seems to be an important theme. I wanted to reply yesterday, but then went with the praxicality of giving my bicycle some love-repair (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, after all these years. I don’t even remember more than the title anymore). Aware of exactly that other theme, of the will toward mental, and most signifcantly the self-criticism that probably manifests it in the first place (it certainly is there to judge – in kind – “being mental”), I praxically “knew” to go on to my bicycle. It’s a real big deal to “know” that I Am free – the noticing of of all these patterns no matter how involuted they can present as. And that that freedom can manifest as simply as fixing (AND riding) my bike. There is a more “tangible” grounding of the idea of freedom in the “down to earth”. The mental ghost whispers of not doing enough (I didn’t stick with a voluteering exploration of helping detained immigrants; I’m not growing any food yet; …) are retrospectaviley noticed to maybe had a little fun themselves in the wind from the bike ride! Letting go that any study, any “mental”, ever *caused* this more graceful experience of life – though a little bit like trying to ride a bike backwards – is grace itself. That I kept thinking about how I would write here about my bike-loving, instead of being “fully present” to it, oh well! Since there’s no walls between what I’m noticing, I guess I can let the mental and the praxical play together. Life even gets to play at being a “me” … letting! And now I’ll enjoy what it lets go to me in the form of your next Lenten writing!

    • Sean March 19, 2019, 5:38 pm

      Thanks, Mike. Biking is a joy; in winter I tend to do less outside – hurry through chores, no gardening, run less frequently etc . . . the play of the praxical and the mental, or theoretical, is important I think. In a nontrivial sense there is no distinction between them yet perceiving a distinction, one has to tend to it. I have not written much but have been thinking a lot lately – again, for me – of Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form and the idea that “we take the form of the distinction for the form.” Oh and Gendlin’s litany from his little book Focusing, which is a lovely meditation on praxis – especially for folks like me whose awareness of the whole leans on the abstract:

      What is true is already so.
      Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
      Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
      And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
      Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
      People can stand what is true,
      for they are already enduring it.

      I am actually teaching it this year – in a couple of weeks – after hopefully bringing my students to an existential crisis, those who are attentive anyway.

      Glad you enjoyed your bike ride & thanks as always for sharing 🙂

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