Anchor for this item posted by Bernard Tremblay at Thursday, May 30, 2002; Thursday, May 30, 2002

Mindful Engagement*

The book I've read more often than any other is probably William Irwin Thompson's Darkness and Scattered Light which begins,

To take a step into the future we need to shift our weight to the opposite foot; to think about the future we also need to shift the emphasis to the opposite hemisphere of the brain. The way for a technological society to take a step into the future is to shift the weight of its emphasis from machines to myth.
(This leaves me wanting to suggest that, following the teachings of TaiChi, we balance ourselves well on both fact and meaning.) I've been reading the book since I picked it up, probably sometime in 1980 or so, and the notion that it contains concerning the upwelling of the potential into actuality (enantiodromia) has always stayed with me (even though I couldn't spell it as he did without consulting the text).

Reading a section of it today, I recalled John Robinson's thinking about the paradoxes in the way we conventionally treat the many aspects of "sustainable development" or "sustainability and human development"; John talks about the perennial puzzle of "squaring the circle", and how such subtle complexity requries new conceptual tools. Here's the bit of Thompson's book that brought that to mind:

Once we see the relationship of myth to science, we can see that an Einstein, as much as a Yeats or a Wagner, is a mythopoeic thinker. CP Snow has spoken of the two cultures of the humanities and the sciences, but if there are two cultures, they are not the ones he indicates. ... If there are two cultures, they are not science and the humanities, but Pythagorean and Archimedean forms of knowledge. [WIT notes that most engineering students take electives in economics and poli sci; science students, in arts and humanities.] ...
So whether it is the mystic versus the "God is dead!" theologian, or the cosmologist versus the technician, or the propehtic artist versus the fashionable critic, it is a case of exhalation versus inhalation: both are needed.
Thinking about the shared and common space that "namaste" intimates to me, I've often imagined something like a basic ground who's resonances could be used as a medium of communicative gesture. Thompson's take on this is, "At the level of the equator, science, religion, and art may seem to be hemispheres apart, but as you move up from the equator into higher levels of generalization, the longitudinal lines converge at [an] imaginary north pole [...] the region of mythopoeic thought, so that when the artist sits down to talk with the physicist, each can understand the other." (I wonder, just now, if WIT was aware that both these agents were from the Pythagorean side of the divide.) I'd suggest that when we indulge in the hubris of projection, in the prideful imposition of view that is at the heart of our adversarial system, we lose touch with that common ground. Flip side of this: the space of human understanding is the space of ingisht, of kensho, of profound relaxation and realization.

On the homepage of the Sustainable Development Research Institute (where Robinson is faculty), there is an interesting description of some of these converging longitudes:

To us, sustainable development requires an integration of the ecological imperative to stay within the carrying capacity of the planet, the economic imperative to provide an adequate standard of living for all, and the social imperative to develop forms of governance that promote the values people want to live by.

  (Last night I went to sleep tumbling concepts around, trying to come up with a parsimonious phrase; "mindfully engaged" was running through my mind as I awoke ... given this, I'd like to think of some way to be associated with these.)