In a reflexive domain, the actors can and do act on both themselves and on the domain. In a reflexive domain, the domain is responsive. So living in a reflexive domain means that living is fundamentally relational.
Our selves are a reflexive domain; our relationships are a reflexive domain; our communities are a reflexive domain; our world is a reflexive domain; the universe is a reflexive domain.
But it’s important to notice that interacting with or on oneself is of a different nature than acting with or on others or on the universe. In order to look at yourself, you have to separate yourself into observer and observed. But of course this is an imaginary construct; you cannot actually be separate from yourself.
This construction – this separation into observer and observed – is already the case. It is how we live; it is how the human structure organizes itself. In that sense, the observer/observed divide is not inherently a problem. It’s natural.
No, the problem, to to speak, is when we conflate this construction with life and world itself – i.e., we deny that the observer/observed divide is a structure-contingent construction and believe it is instead a truthful 1:1 reflection of reality itself.
That denial is an investment in incoherence, and the subsequent belief doubles down on the investment. Not only does it appear that you are a discrete entity in the world, but you start to act that way; in fact, you try to enforce that way.
A lot of our psychological distress arises because of this conflation/confusion. In turn, our psychological distress causes us to act in ways that harm others in our shared reflexive domain.
If you want inner peace and world peace, then you have to address this issue. You have to give attention to it in your experience, where and as it arises. Nobody can do it for you.
So we want to look closely at this belief that the observer/observed divide is real. We want to be sure our beliefs are consistent with what is actually going on, to the best of our ability. We want to be coherent.
I think that dialogue in this sense is helpful. It has been for me. Looking at the situation in many ways and from many angle is helpful. The observer/observed divide is not only a spiritual situation, or a psychological one, or a sociological one, or a linguistic one. But all of those perspectives can help us to flesh out and better comprehend the situation.
Again, we are simply understanding that the self and the world are constructions that arise from our structure, and that any experience of separation is imaginary. There may be grounds for the imagining, but there are not grounds for the opposite – i.e., calling the experience “real” or “true.”
Clarity in this sense enhances our ability to inhabit the world we construct with others in sustainable and loving ways. This is a natural state of being but we are – individually and collectively – estranged from it.
So we experience the self as divided but we also experience it as whole (because it is always both). The two aspects co-exist and mutually specify one another. It is a decision to say one is right (wholeness) and one wrong (divided or partial).
What we want to question is the decision.
Wholeness and separation happen; both are viable. The emptiness of the sky specifies the moon within it; but the moon specifies that which is not the moon but rather the emptiness of sky. In fact, we experience them at the same time. They bring one another forth.
Certainly one can prefer the moon to no-moon, or an empty sky to a sky with objects in it, but that doesn’t change the underlying fact that the moon and the sky are one-appearing-as-two.
This treatment invokes an interesting trinity. The moon, the sky and that which observes the two. That is, there is the duality of observer and observed and the observer that observes the two-as-one. There is X. There is Y. And there is that which perceives [X and Y]. Call it Z.
Of course, this move is not finite! We can also say: there is X. There is Y. There is Z (which observes both X and Y). And there is also A which observes Z (which observes X and Y).
Naturally, this evokes B which observes A (which observes Z (which observes X and Y)).
And on and on it goes.
This is a way of saying that we can always expand the domain in which one observes both the self and the other. It is infinite, or appears to be. Certainly we cannot stipulate to the end of it.
But can we stipulate to the beginning of it?
It is not easy to explain how the self comes about. What precedes the awareness that calls itself “I?” We can introduce concepts like conception and birth and infant consciousness and conditioning and so forth but these are concepts that arise within – or subsequent to – “I.”
We can say “there is only awareness” or “there is only consciousness.” One might prefer one narrative to another but . . . the narratives propose possible beginnings. They do not denote the one true beginning.
So the awareness that is the self is a bit of a mystery, and one has to go slowly with it in order to be clear what it is and how it functions. This “going slow” is in the nature of dialogue, of exploration, in which the very act of exploring brings forth both map and territory.
Of course it is the case that some folks claim to have gone beyond the “I.” The self as such drops out. This experience of “beyond I” is more or less isomorphic across human culture and history. Clearly it happens, or something happens that makes a lot of people tell a similar story about the happening.
But we do we posit this as an ideal, don’t we? Who doesn’t want to be enlightened? Yet certain elite folks can run 4-minute miles, but nobody is getting rich persuading ordinary folks that they, too, can run a 4-minute mile. Or should run one.
Why should the so-called spiritual domain be any different? I don’t hate on myself because I can’t run a 4-minute mile. I don’t stop running.
We are all welcome to our living, and this welcome is equal unto all of us, regardless of the special skills or abilities our particular structure includes.
It’s helpful to remember that the domain of the one who runs a 4-minute mile includes the one who builds and operates stopwatches, and the one who builds and operates means of record-keeping.
That is, 4-minute miles are only possible because of folks who figured out how to build things, and how to build them consistently and uniformly. Don’t even get me started on the technology of running shoes . . .
The key observation is that always the one specifies, or makes possible, the other. This is always the case. If we understand this, then our need to be “one” or the “other” subsides. What is the significance of X or Y when there is Z? Or Z when there is A?
Where you are – geographically, psychologically, spiritually, athletically – is where you are. What could be simpler?
Thus, the spiritual prerogative to wake up or become enlightened is simply a concept brought forth by what is already both awake and full of light. It comes forth in a domain of its own making, and is naturally transcended by new domains.
In a sense, “awakening” and “enlightenment” and “Christ-mind” and “Heaven” and all those related terms apply to a domain that is already being eclipsed by new domains. This is how our living progresses; this is how being functions. The lights are already on; there is no need to turn them on more. You can’t.
Wanting or desiring the state we designate as enlightened/awakened is what brings those states into existence, and brings into existence as well those who profess to have accomplished those states, and those who profess to have the secret to accomplishing those states, and those who seek those states. The unenlightened specify the enlightened, and vice-versa; absent the one, the other doesn’t exist. On this front anyway, there is nothing left to do.
I am suggesting one enlarge the domain of experience. See the observer/observed split. See the seer. It’s nothing special. Rather, one simply sees that the self as such is a recurring feature of an ever-expanding domain of which one is a part and to which one is subject.
As Louis Kauffman says, “the world is everything that is the case, and the world evolves according to the theories and actions of the participants in that world.”
Of course, all this is explanatory and academic. It’s like sitting in a classroom and listening to some guy lecture you about the importance of bridges. After a while, you want to build a bridge.
How shall we build a bridge?
At a practical here-is-a-thing-you-can-do level, if you want to be happier, even truly deeply happy, then one thing to try is to look closely at your descriptions of self, world and other. How do you describe the world? Your self? Other people? Objects in experience? Experience?
“Description” in this case refers not only to a verbal portrayal of this or that sensual experience (seeing a rose, hearing a melody, smelling a cake et cetera) but also reaches the levels of category (flower/valentine/partner/love), explanations of origins (seed, water, sunlight, soil), and so forth.
For example, who do you love? How do you love them? How do you classify that love? Why is it love and not lust or mere affection? And so forth.
On that view, “description” is vast and tangled. Examining it is more like visiting a jungle than looking up the word “Jungle” in a dictionary.
I think this is one of the interesting aspects of psychotherapy, that it allows us – when we are committed to the process which includes a devoted therapist – to really dig down into our descriptions and see them clearly: how we feel, the language we use, the mythologies, how our narratives evolve, the featured characters, recurring themes.
When psychotherapy is effective, the whole culture – the whole history of being human moves in it and in us as well.
Of course, psychotherapy is not the only way to go about examining our descriptions. One can read deeply, one can have a writing or other artistic practice. You can study A Course in Miracles which redefines and reorganizes your thinking and its contents . . .
It is a question of fit and effectiveness. What works? What helps you go deeply into your descriptions?
The reasons we go into our descriptions in this way is because when we see them clearly, in all their dimensionality, to the fullest extent possible at a given time, then we can begin to revise them. Or at least not be so in the dark about them. Before we can make a change, we have to want to make the change, and this means seeing clearly what we are doing and what the effects of our doing are.
So as we go into our descriptions, we can say something like, well, this is not actually an accurate (or effective or resonant or what-have-you) description so I am going to update (or delete or edit) it.
This is about becoming more coherent, which is another way of saying become more consistently and sustainably aligned with the loving being we naturally are.
And really it is about becoming more aware and sensitive to the reflexive domain that is our living: it is about living harmoniously with our living, and loving it as we live it.