Ritual, Part II: Bewitching, Initiating and Ritualized Languages


This continues from where Ritual, Part I, left off:

“The illusion that the self and the world are broken into fragments originates in the kind of thought that goes beyond its proper measure and confuses its own product with the same independent reality. To end this illusion requires insight, not only into the world as a whole, but also into how the instrument of thought is working. Such insight implies an original and creative act of perception into all aspects of life, mental and physical, both through the senses and through the mind, and this is perhaps the true meaning of meditation.”
― David BohmWholeness and the Implicate Order

The Reductive Bewitchment of a Literal Language

The literal mood of language is necessary for carrying out almost any practical work. It’s dominant in following a blueprint (a legitimate authority), or in honing a craft. And it plays a subordinate role in art, teaching techniques for working in any medium.

In its “proper” context this language could be described as “positive”, “practical” or “technical.” In a utilitarian context the connection between the useful thing one describes (such as the word “hammer”) and the hammer itself is so close that almost all awareness of the meta-level functionality of words recedes (or never develops).

The witchery begins when a literal language spills over into conventional life; when it’s used to talk about ideas – about opinions, goals, and identities. Then opinion posits itself as a literal description of material reality. Fixed. Truth. Not mere opinion.

This change of context transforms literalism into a kind of poisoned meme. It contaminates the whole of consciousness through the mundane exchange of “memetic fluids” – carried by small talk, by incidental comments that quietly infer the nature of reality. The poison is very unobtrusive. It simply tells me that “information” is inactive, as if it merely provides a passive picture of reality.

It’s like the Wizard of Oz telling me not to pay attention to the fabrications performed behind the curtain.

Words are a peculiar art form. A painter doesn’t usually go around splashing everyone in fantastic scenery. But linguistically I’m almost always covering other people with impressionistic images. And mistaking this paint job (the content of my opinions) for who they “really” are. There’s relatively little awareness of making these images (the function of thinking).

These fixed pictures of “reality” lead to reductive thinking, dogmatic certainty.

That’s why differing words for God can lead to war. God is not seen as a linguistic image, an idolatrous painting.

And self-consciousness may be the ultimate expression of this positivism or literalism. I feel I AM the person imagined.

And in an ironic twist, this confusion between thought and thing results in an undercurrent of alienation. The thought of me is treated as a literal “thing” – as an external (or separate) reality.

So it seems necessary to find a way of speaking that is free of this poison. Otherwise everything I perceive will be confused.

This is where other moods of language might step in. Negational language, for instance, can potentially undermine the fixed certainties of positive or literal language. Then proprioceptive and open-ended — perhaps ritualistic – ways of using language may have a chance. This suggests modes or “moods” of thinking and speaking that don’t deal in dichotomies, but in paradox.

2) The Simplifying Potential of Negative Language

Summaries that simplify the discovery of blockages to wider vistas are common in what I was calling “negative” language. It is a way of speaking that can break the enchantment of language itself.

Negative language is not a fixed truth. It’s more like a charm for releasing thought from an entrancing block. It may be the initiation of a ritual language.

The negative observation that there’s an assumption of separation underlying self-consciousness, for instance, is similar to the statement the boy made about the emperor’s new clothes. If this is actually realized, the words have helped call attention to the delusion, “embarrassing” the artificial divide between observer and observed.  It then robs the predicament of its power to fool me. So it not only negates the blockage, but negates itself in the process.

That is, the words don’t stick around afterward to become a new dogma. Because as soon as the blockage is removed, the truth has changed. And the statement is no longer necessary or even valid.

In this way there’s no attachment to static content. Negative knowledge removes a reductive thought and disappears without asserting a new reductive thought as a replacement.

Krishnamurti spoke of this as “the first and last freedom.” Last because when this block is removed, there is nothing from which to “free” oneself. The dichotomy of “block” and “self” is gone.

This suggests that life is not merely kaleidoscopic in a lateral sense – moving from one structural paradigm to another – but in a more subtle vertical sense – changing as I proceed. (This is what I referred to as “the elephant is moving” in Four Elements of a Kaleidoscopic Perspective).

3) The “Next Step” of Neutral Language

I’m proposing that a tacit assumption of separation is the basis of selfishness.

However, selfishness might also be described as a memetic poison, a witchery, a confusion between thought and thing, schizophrenia, a lack of proprioception, an absence of love, an innocent error, a mean streak, a conscious choice, the devil, sin, reflex conditioning, human nature, and on and on.

Some of these posit a fixed truth, a permanent reality, such as “human nature.” Others refer to contingent conditions, blockages that might be removed.

I might argue over these differences, as if they were fixed truths. But each of these descriptions might also be seen from a kaleidoscopic perspective, as paradoxes, not dichotomies; as different ways of editing perception. When I realize this, then I’m capable of speaking in a non-competitive or neutral language.

This is equivalent to what David Bohm referred to as “theory” or “dialogue.” It’s the presentation of provisional perspectives that are openly acknowledged as not being literal.

This includes the way I’ve broken up language into three moods, for instance. It’s not literal. It’s not the only way to look at it.

Here it’s the relationship between the mood of negation and the mood of neutrality I’d like to think about.

Negation is what initiates uncertainty. It restores movement to fixed positions. Picture it like a clutch. It frees the mind from the transmission of certain fixed intentions and beliefs. With the clutch of negation pressed there is a freedom to move into different gears. Probably an infinite number of gears. But at this point I’m only able to imagine three manifestations of this freedom of negation:

  • Freedom from dictatorial systems: Manifesting as the freedom to conceive more life-sustaining and practical traditions and crafts.
  • Freedom from incoherent beliefs and theories: Manifesting as the freedom to create new structures of perception (arts, ideas, stories).
  • Freedom from a reductive assumption of separation (or overbearing self-consciousness): manifesting as a proprioceptive or meditative immersion in the world.

Negation opens the door, and neutrality suggests the next step.

However, by this I mean a “next step” among the productions of time (in the field of craft, art and story). This includes the field that Hans-Peter Duerr calls Reality. Or in what Bohm calls the Explicate Order. In categories 1 and 2 above.

Category 3 is Actuality (Duerr); or the Implicate Order (Bohm); or the “the pathless land” (Krishnamurti); or what I’ve been calling a Negative Geography or a kaleidoscopic perspective. Perhaps what Blake meant by Eternity.

Time and eternity are not opposed. But there is a hierarchy here. Unless I am immersed in an open-ended, proprioceptive and kaleidoscopic perception of the world, theory and art will be empty gestures. The kaleidoscopic perspective is primary. It’s not a cause and effect relationship, but that perspective contains the other two, gives spirit to art and craft.

Craft and art are ritual manifestations of that perspective. But they are not the only ritual forms possible. Ritual expands to include any action that is not alienated from itself – without any sense of separation, without any ulterior purpose – and therefore whole, or sacred.

That’s why meditation or proprioception is not cerebral. It’s the absence of any cerebral glaucoma standing between me and the earth. Breathing, walking, sitting, and sleeping also become ritualized.

So here’s another paradox: Negation is the first and last step, and theory is the next step. Both happen simultaneously. Performing any art or craft requires new steps, theories and stories to reflect an undivided perception. But there is no next step in the field of identity. One step leaves self-consciousness behind.

Tabular Summary of the Three Languages

Realizing the kaleidoscopic quality of truth allows fluency in many different “languages” of perception. The difficulty of trying to fit everyone onto a small plot of common ground disappears. The more enjoyable difficulty of becoming fluent in one another’s language remains.

And I don’t mean to underplay this difficulty. Things can remain mutually unintelligible for long periods.

But the realization of the kaleidoscopic nature of reality is a kind of ritual initiation, a threshold, beyond which it’s possible to move in material forms without getting stuck on fixed positions.

Here is a table to simplify (or perhaps make overly complex – I can’t tell yet) the different moods of language. The emboldened terms suggest “shadow” or incoherent expressions of these languages common when living by conventional wisdom.

Linguistic Orientation Negative Language Neutral Language Positive Language
Domain of Meaning Directional (bee dance) Provisional Destinational (semantic); literal
Complexity Level Simplification of blockages to wider vistas Sometimes complex, sometimes simple Depictions Reductive conclusions/Communication of essential skills and traditions
Purpose Describe/activate Theorize/fantasize Proscribe/dictate
Effect Revolutionary (in the way Krishnamurti used the word in contrast to rebellious) Transitional Reformative, Rebellious and Traditional/violently destructive
Creative Domain Destructive (of incoherencies) Creative (in the “productions of time”) Accumulative (of necessary skills)
Catalyst Insight Vision Defensiveness/tradition
Parallels Parts curtains on new visions of craft, story, ritual; and in another direction opens the door to meditation, proprioception, Negative Geography, the “pathless land”. etc. Gives shape to story/art/creative insights of all kind Promotes technological dependence/Craft
Nature of Change Radical (suspends or destroys habit) Liberal (allows habit to be made more coherent) Conservative (maintains coherent and incoherent habit)
Order Type Shifting forms Provisional Structures Static Structures

2 thoughts on “Ritual, Part II: Bewitching, Initiating and Ritualized Languages

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