On Praxis

See also helpfulness and service.

This is an evolving document which aims to respond to the question: “hey Sean, your ideas are great in theory but what do I do?”

That is a question of praxis: we want practical instructions to guide our living. What shall those instructions be?

My own answer to the question of praxis has three interrelated parts:

First, note the way in which you define praxis as a thing that bodies do, rather than a creative state of mind to which bodies are ancillary. I am not denying that love assumes dynamic form; I am simply suggesting that you encounter it first – even primarily – in the abstract domain of thought.

Thus, while praxis arises in the world, the world itself arises as an expression of the psyche, or interior, or soul even, and so it can be helpful – deeply helpful – to give attention to psyche/interior/soul. What kinds of ideas are operating there? What kinds of beliefs? What stories? What wants to be seen and what resists being seen? What gods, ghosts and demons are asserting their various privileges? What battles are being fought, what truces honored? What negotiations are ongoing?

More – possibly critical – questions: What is the “light” in which all this activity of the psyche/interior/soul is made known? Is it responsive? To what is it responsive and to what degree is it responsive? Who cares? Does caring help?

At my most radical, I will argue that you are not a body but a mind, and not really “a” mind but Mind, and that problems of body and world are just proxies for mental/semantic/psychological struggles which are self-invented dramas designed to distract you from God, which is to say, Love. You don’t have to buy that, but I don’t want to lie to you about it. Solving problems in the world can actually be helped a lot by recognizing their origin in the mind, and the purpose of their origin.

Second, a basic guiding principle of behavior in the world is simply to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t like mean people? Don’t be a mean person. Admire folks who adopt sustainable practices of consumption? Adopt sustainable practices of consumption. Like having your boundaries respected? Respect boundaries. Easy!

Well, easy to say anyway. Actually practicing it . . . there’s a reason we have religions and psychotherapists and SSRIs and cable television. Still, living this way solves a lot of problems – so many that you might be tempted to think you don’t actually have problems, other than your weird insistence that you have problems. At least it can open the door to that inquiry.

Third, always act to increase possibility. Do what you can to broaden the scope of possible activities and ideas for yourself and others. Ask good questions. Listen better. Get good at noticing when you’re wrong or uncomfortable or defensive and investigate those feelings. Invite people in to your life. Say yes when you’re invited into theirs. Learn your comfort zone, and learn what it means to live well both within and without it.

For example, when I am confused about how to handle an angry daughter, or scared about financial instability, or worried my study has become masturbatory, it helps to let friends and family know I’m struggling, talk to folks with experience in relevant domains, schedule appointments with professionals, read this or that text, et cetera. All of this is a form of increasing possibility – namely, the possibility that I will find a solution and become happy, or happier. And, bonus, I might learn something I can share with you someday and increase your joy.

All of these praxical tenets might be summed up as: be a good symbiote. That is, be a generous member of the collective – when gifted, give back. Look for ways to be helpful; don’t take more than you need, et cetera. How does a tree live? A mushroom? A chickadee? A Cistercian nun?

How shall you and I live together?

These ideas are indebted to poets like Emily Dickinson, Lyn Hejinian, Robert Bly, Jack Gilbert and Mary Oliver, psychological writers like James Hillman and Terrence McKenna, and constructivist thinkers like Donald Hoffman and Chris Fields, all of whose intelligence and scholarship so wildly exceeds mine that I probably shouldn’t even mention them.

I am particularly indebted to cyberneticians Heinz von Foerster and Ernst von Glasersfeld, who function in my life as magi unto the divine mysteries, which mysteries are not only amenable to being solved but actually long to be solved.

Indeed, it turns out there is no space between our desire for love, healing and inner peace and the actual living structure and function of the cosmos. Try that on for praxis!

Other influences include: A Course in Miracles, Humberto Maturana, Eriugena and a handful of fellow travelers whose kindness and patience on this shared ascent merits so much more than grateful mention. I live for them – and in them – and am lifted accordingly.