RE: taoism, zen, and PCP

Robert Feldhaus (
Sun, 13 Sep 1998 15:09:57 -0700

Luis wrote:
>Speaking from my own
>experience, what helps me to meditate is the radical constructivist
>assertion (Maturana) that life is a purposeless drift. While it may be
>intellectually arguable, the image it evokes in my mind is one of
>profound peace and abandonement. After all, why should one draw
>distinctions if life is purposeless?

Very interesting! In all schools of mysticism including Zen, there is an
underlying atmosphere of "purposeless drift." I suppose one implication of
Maturana's view is that whatever meaning there is in our experience, is
only that meaning which WE create. This implies constructive alternativism
and the utility of having at least some permeability in one's construct
system: that there are many ways of making meaning out of any situation,
and that too much rigidity in one's construing is inadvisable. Whether
there is any "meaning" to the notion of an "unconstrued" base to our
experience is perhaps meaningless, moot, or tautological, since a
meaningless state of consciousness would obviously not have any meaning.
The empirical (introspective) question is whether such a state is
experienceable. I personally see a regular entry into such a state as a
refreshing bath, a prophylactic against rigidity, and just plain fun.

> I am also reminded of the zen notion that "enlightment"
>(whatever this may be) is equivalent to going to a beach to watch the
>sunset and becoming so absorved that you forget the beach, the sunset,
>and even your self. There probably is an implicit distinction even in
>this state of oneness (i.e. oneness vs. distinction), but I doubt that
>we can get rid of that one. Even the Bible, and I guess that many other
>religions, equate the genesis to the shift from oneness to distinction.

Have you read G Spencer Brown's "Laws of Form"? It is a
quasi-mathematical exploration of the primal zero-one distinction. Very
insightful, and it would be heuristically fruitful to juxtapose his thought
with PCP. See also Alan Watts, "Cloud-Hidden, Hwereabouts Unknown", the
chapter entitled "the Zero-One Amazement."
Your beach sunset reminds me of: A famous Zen figure from the past was
named Ryokan. He was childlike and simple. One day he was playing hide
and seek with some children. While he was hiding under a haystack, the
dinner bell rang and all the children ran home. But Ryokan, in his naive
expectation and participation in the game, stayed there hiding till next
morning when the farmer found him.

> The psychological relevance of all that, at least in my opinion,
>is high. After all, aren't so called "neurotics" incapable of seeing
>life as purposeless and enjoying the present moment? Sometimes in
>therapy I wish I could help people see how they are ignoring the many
>blessings of the here-and-now because of their rigid, unatainable, and
>limitating self-impossed long term goals. But of course, I am well aware
>that one needs to see things for oneself.

I really appreciate your insights here, Luis. Some views of neurosis
would emphasize the neurotic's lack of practicality, their immaturity in
wanting to stay dependent, their lack of long-term goals and productive
work towards them. You descry a different aspect of the phenomenon:
conceptual rigidity, perfectionism, lack of ability to let go and enjoy;
lack of ability to see the purposeless background of human activity.

Nature is our best teacher about purposelessness, as long as we avoid
projecting our own sense of human purpose onto the rhythms of nature. The
spring doesn't strive to outdo itself each year; the planets are falling
effortlessly in their orbits; water on this planet is involved in an
endless cycle, etc. A psychotherapist I read about years ago would simply
take his clients out into nature at night, equipped with a good telescope.
By viewing the heavenly bodies, and contemplating their distances and
movements and their relationship to the vast spaces between them, his
clients gained a different perspective on their all-too-personal problems.
They learned to construe their lives sub specie aeternitatis; a "reframe"
(or perhaps a de-framing) which allowed for some relaxation of anxiety.

Bob Feldhaus