Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reading heavy stuff

I have been reading heavy stuff; mainly, Emotional Awareness, a discussion between the Dalai Lama ans Paul Ekman who has written extensively on emotions, especially how they are revealed on the face, sometimes very fleetingly, yet nearly always recognized if only subconsciously by others. Again and again as I read I feel they are not talking about the same thing. Often they discuss the Tibetan words compared to English, sometimes one or the other lanauage lacks the concept and, as Ekman remarks, if you don't have a word for it you can't talk about it. They wonder if it can be felt if there is no word. The books raises such questions over and over and often doesn't answer or even try to answer them.

Meanwhile I've been reading a lot of old New Yorker magazines. Since the issues through the summer and fall were full of political articles, most of which are outdated and uninteresting at this point, I've mainly read articles on medical studies -- these have mostly been brain studies. I know that science has fads and fashions like every other field and that presently brain structure and chemistry is a hot topic because. for the first time ever, MRIs and other methods can actually show the brain reacting in very fine detail. Although much has been written lately about studies of Tibetan monk meditators with MRI, that work doesn't get to anything like the fine points of the articles I've been reading about psychopathic disorder, or the work with restructuring brain reactions to phantom limb sensations.

On the one hand I am reading two thoughtful and very intelligent men trying to talk about emotions but they are not taking into consideration any of the newer understanding. For instance, in Tibetan philosophy a common comment is that compassion comes from thinking of each sensate being having possibly once been one's mother. But apparently motherhood in the period when these ideas was formed was a simpler and more loving thing than it is in today's world or has been in many civilizations. So the whole idea goes out the window -- sociological differences are not addressed, let alone what happens in the brain of a severely neglected or abused child -- what pathways simply are not formed, that "mother" is barely a concept or an extremelty negative one. And that compassion may be a physical impossibility. The Dalai Lama has said that if it is discovered that modern science disproved some Buddhist concept then the concept just be discounted, it is wrong. The openness to reinterpretation, to rational and scientific thought is unique to Buddhism and makes it vastly more appealing than other religions [to me and, I think, to many other people].

I'm in a morass of questions and have absolutely nowhere to turn for discussion of these matters. I don't know a soul who reads the literature I read or cares about these subjects. So I display my confusion here simply because these thoughts gnaw at my understanding. I've been accustomed to "thinking in the dark" like this most of my life so I'm not feeling sorry for myself. Just feeling a familiar kind of frustration.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I care! If only we didn't live a continent away I bet we would have some long, deep and meaningful discussions over a few cups of coffee!

Will reply to your letter soon.

Sam xoxo