The danger of solipsism and New Age occultism

During morning meditation, I said silently, ‘I am seeking that place of quiet calm. A voice replied,  ‘You must have other reasons for seeking the place of quiet calm apart from that of ‘simply feeling good.” The self, ostensibly fleeing itself, finds itself again.

Solipsism is indeed a grave danger for anyone engaged in the practice of meditation. Attempting to come to a broader, more encompassing, more considered standpoint than that of the narrow, self-preocuppied self, one has to be vigilant, for the pleasures of subjective experience (my meditation, my insights, etc.) may win out. Through meditation and also through philosophical inquiry, the inquirer is looking to become ‘the one who…’ (specifically: the one who philosophizes), not the narrow I who experiences and emotes.

In an apparent paradox, it turns out that solipsism–occasionally turning an unconsidered, unjustified belief in the Supernatural to its own purposes–is entirely compatible with occultism. This lesson was brought home to me on Sunday evening while re-reading Adorno’s ‘Theses Against Occultism.’ ‘Occultism,’ Adorno writes, ‘is the reflex-action to the subjectification of all meaning, the complement of reification.’ Failing to recognize that the actual conditions of social life are estranging one from leading a meaningful existence, some modern consumers instinctively ‘recoil’ from the this-worldly and literal-mindedly believe in the Supernatural. Yet belief in astrology–in talismans and amulets and all the rest–rests upon the unquestioned assumption that these items actually protect one from harm or raise one’s vital spirits. While lived reality loses its meaning, the Beyond is reintroduced in order to protect the little-me.

Breaking with solipsism requires also breaking with occultism, and vice versa. Serious meditation, like earnest thinking, must let go of materialism (that the body is all there is and can be) as well as literal-minded occultism (that some benevolent Spirit is watching over us and intervening, through physical objects, in our lives). There is no other course but to inquire, and the aids to meditation we use mustn’t be symbols of nonsense–so many idols–but cues for thinking, for considering, freeing, and breathing…

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