The senses have been conditioned by attraction to the pleasant and aversion to the unpleasant. Do not be ruled by them; they are obstacles in your path.
Bhagavad Gita, 3.34 (trans. Eknath Easwaran)
Some questions recur in my thinking and practice:
- From whence do I think and act?
- Which of my actions are based on like, ease or habit? These actions may be useful, even necessary, at times - but when might it be more useful to act differently?
- Do I avoid that which I dislike, or which is more difficult? Could I, and those around me, benefit from my allowing more inconvenience into my life?
As a teacher, how can I avoid (in the words of Mary Boole) 'doing more of what I do too much of already'?
Like and dislike are central to these questions. JG Bennett suggests this polarity is a fundamental feature of our existence:
We, like everything else that exists, are subject to this action of polar forces. We have in us a certain mechanism that is, by its nature, polar... This mechanism is really provided for the purpose of generating force.
The freedom from like and dislike, what Bennett calls the 'first liberation', is 'not the abolition of desires, but the presence in oneself of something which can choose'. This is the aim of John Mason's Discipline of Noticing.
In Philosophical Essays, Hans Jonas talks of 'the polarity of being and not-being, of self and world, of freedom and necessity'. He continues to say that the individuality of an organism is 'the acting out of the very tension of the polarities that constitute its being'.
Jonas suggests that 'the accentuation of [these] tensions [are] nothing but the accentuation of life itself'. Polarity and tension are what give form. This brings to mind Heathcote's 'productive tension', and cognitive dissonance.
However, resonance is also a powerful means for generating energy and action. it is useful to embrace both resonance and dissonance, as noted by Heraclitus (Fragment 46 in this translation):
From the strain of binding opposites comes harmony.
In Let Go!, Hubert Benoit talks of 'will to experience'. Experience here means judgement, the will to make judgements about the world around us.
According to Benoit, the will to experience gives direction to our conscious attention. Our need to judge results in the singularity of attention, conferring an entity upon the multiplicity, about which we then make 'partial interpretations'.
Our conscious awareness is driven by (and drives) our approval or disapproval; we mainly seek that which provides affirmation, that which resonates. This results in convergence, the formation of habits, the inability to notice the full depth of reality.
We might balance the will to experience through conciliation of dualities, through a complementary 'non-will to experience' (similar to Heidegger's Gelassenheit). In order to achieve this, Benoit suggests we must 'let go again and again', in order to reveal the 'progressive calm of non-attachment'.
What lies in the space between poles is described beautifully by Jonas in the following passage from Philosophical Essays:
The spatial gap between subject and object, which is provisionally spanned by perception, is at the same time the temporary gap between need and satisfaction that is provisionally spanned by emotion (desire) and practically overcome by motion.
The brings to mind Magda Arnold's definition of emotion as 'felt tendency towards anything appraised as good or beneficial or away from anything appraised as bad or harmful'.
Awareness of like and dislike has been crucial in my attempts at not skimming over students this year, in regulating emotional responses to events, as well as giving me a clearer outlook on professional and personal dilemmas.
Often by conciliating dualisms, problems I was trying to resolve have disappeared; there is no longer any solution because there is no longer any problem. At other times, I have found it useful to hold opposites, to adopt a stance of both/and.
Living through non-attachment does not mean we cease to care, or act, but rather we may be more likely to act with balance, with more awareness of our and others' emotions.
Through the 'progressive calm of non-attachment' we may gain wisdom, grace, lightness, gentleness, patience - essential traits for a teacher.