Crossroads: A Sanctuary For Spirituality

Upcoming Exhibition

My wife Alexandra Dawn Taggart will be exhibiting at freSH Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from June 8th-June 25th, 2017. “Crossroads: A Sanctuary for Spirituality” is a group exhibition that seeks to embrace religious and spiritual diversity by presenting visual artwork that’s born from an artist’s spiritual practice. The exhibition is hosted by Miri Piri Academy, a private boarding school that was founded by Yogi Bhajan in 1997. Located in Amritsar, Punjab, India, the school is geared toward instructing children and young adults on the importance of Sikh and Khalsa values, kundalini yoga, and academic excellence.

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Painting Descriptions

Title: One Divided Without A Second # 3 (Left, Below)
Size: 24″ x 8″
Medium: Mixed media on wood board
Year: 2016

Zen Buddhist teacher Katsuki Sekida has been a source of great inspiration for me, most poignantly when he writes about “see[ing] things as they truly are.” According to Sekida, what we see is shaped by our mood, the latter serving as the “keynote” or central theme of our existence. Human beings, he asserts, live in their mood for as long as they live. Mood, a result of embodiment, moves beyond the workings of our physical body and the mental activity of the brain as we “mind” or relate to our environment. Sekida thinks that the life of a child is defined rather simply by “two different worlds of mood, one warm, the other cold; one soft, the other hard.” These worlds multiply, become vaster as we move with an increasingly deluded consciousness into adulthood. If I understand Sekida rightly, our deluded consciousness, which develops as we mature, springs from an intellectual awareness of oppositions and discriminations. This kind of intellectual awareness separates our existence from that of other existing things. Desert hills and stars and planets, all of which pass beyond and above, are mere recipients of our conceptual understanding. We are now, as Sekida puts it in an allusion to Heidegger, “being-in-the-world”, which detrimentally alters the mood of existence. What happens to an adult upon their “being-in-the-world?” Sekida’s answer: “vividness of sense and mood has died out, replaced by a conceptual way of thinking. [They are] an intellectual being and [have] killed the precious sense and mood of childhood.” We needn’t despair about his disquieting statement because Sekida reminds us that the mood of a child has never been lost since it’s “preserved” within us. In this mixed media piece, I seek to portray such a preservation of mood. The wandering figure–curious, awe-struck, and open– finds the purified wisdom of his flexible mind, thereby seeings things as they truly are.
FRESH

Title: One Divided Without A Second # 5 (Right, Above)
Size: 24″ x 6″
Medium: Mixed media on wood board
Year: 2016

“We are saved in the end by the things that ignore us.” In his book The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, Belden C. Lane is quoting Andrew Harvey. What inspires Lane is the sense that what ignores him most is the fierce desert landscape where he’s been hiking, climbing, camping, and musing. The desert, he observes, is indifferent to our beliefs, to our needs, ideas, and desires. I experienced something like this, something like the desert’s stoical nature, while living in Joshua Tree, California. It’s difficult to maintain that you’re an important person when there isn’t a soul with whom you can compare yourself or who can think well of you. It’s challenging, not to say foolhardy, to be vain and preoccupied with your appearance when there’s no one there to look at you. Does this jagged desert landscape care whether I have an impressive resume or naturally curly hair? Do these rock-encrusted mountains folding and stretching and yawning in the distance take note of whether I’ve worn make-up today or will shower tomorrow? For now, for the first time, I’m a lizard, a praying mantis, a bud on a fragrant creosote bush: I’m knee-high to a grasshopper, unseen and obscure. As the moon rises, I watch the darkening clouds ignore me, opaquing, thus making room for a primordial take on this the golden world.

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Total Work, the Chief Enemy of Philosophy

This piece is an accompaniment to a fiery LinkedIn post I wrote yesterday.

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I used to think that the chief enemies of philosophy were bullshit and deception. Bullshit because, as Harry Frankfurt in On Bullshit argues, it shows a complete unconcern, or lack of care, for truth. The bullshitter advances whatever will make the ruse efficacious, so that he appears to know what he is talking about and that appearing suffices for him to win the day. As I put it elsewhere, he’s skilled at using whatever is at hand–be it half-truths, confabulations, cock and bull stories, chumminess, statistics, faux-neuroscience–to “pull things off.”

Deception is a more recognizable enemy. If philosophy teaches us to care for the truth, then deception, just insofar as it seeks to mislead us, is a genuine opponent to philosophizing. The more we deceive others, deceive ourselves, or are deceived in turn, the less we’re in contact with the truth.

Only recently, though, did it strike me that bullshitting and deception aren’t the chief enemies of philosophy. Total Work is. Let me explain.

In Leisure: The Basis of Culture, the German philosopher Josef Pieper foretold a time when “total work” would come to pass, a time when, as I see it, our lives would revolve around work, working, and–most important for my purposes–work-thoughts and work-feelings. To say that our entire lives would be wrapped up in work is to make a profound understatement.

The man in private equity working 80-120 hours per week when in the midst of finalizing a big deal. The female executive in Silicon Valley working at least 60 hours, not counting all the work from home she does. These are far cries from the late philosopher Bertrand Russell’s proposal, published in 1935, for a maximum four hours of work each day. The longer story of how we got here would need to begin with the Bourgeois Revolution. Such a history would seek to illuminate (i) the advent and then hegemony of commercial society together with (ii) the radical transvaluation of values leading to a newfound affirmation of the realm of production (work) and reproduction (the intimate sphere of the family). Today I simply wish to compare “total work” with philosophy.

Total work is always on the clock. Ever behind, always in a rush toward, or just behind, an approaching, encroaching deadline. Philosophy occurs when clock time falls away. It seeks to put us in the presence of eternity.

Total work assumes that the logic of the market must penetrate into all aspects of life. A man a cofounder and I interviewed yesterday asserted unequivocally his view that all human relationships are transactional. Philosophy denies the logic of the market, opening up a space defined by the gift.

Total work is the latest, and most potent, assertion that the vita activa is first, last, and everything. Philosophy is one such proponent of the view that the vita contemplativa must come first. It is out of thought (whether considered or, later on, spontaneous thought) that good action arises.

Total work is solipsistic. The entire world, it believes, turns around it. It is so wrapped up in itself that there can, in its eyes, be no other. Philosophy privileges the two, even more so the other who speaks. Philosophy opens up time, eternal time, for the other.

Total work is ferociously hegemonic. As I wrote yesterday,

  • The Centrality thesis [the view that total work is that around which everything else in life turns] goes hand in hand with work’s imperial colonization of the rest of our lives. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to think of what is not work without thinking (a) of not-work in work-derived terms (I rest from work; I have a weekend; I am taking a short break from work; I am taking time off from work; I spend time away from work; etc.) or (b) of what is non-work in working terms (“Oh, I have X number of tasks to do on Sunday.” “We need to work on our relationship.” “I’ve been very busy during this holiday.” “We got a lot done on Sunday.”)

Philosophy, like art, welcomes new concepts, fresh perspectives. It doesn’t wish to get bogged down in one way of seeing. Indeed, philosophy is especially focused on changing our perspective on the world and in this it is like art at its best.

Total work denies thought–specifically, thought about First and Last Things. Philosophy embraces thought.

I see that while these points and counterpoints bring out their differences, this approach fails to reveal why total work is such a horrible monster. So, let me come to the heart of the matter. Total work utterly and completely refuses the most basic metaphysical assumption that I believe is true: that life in general and human life in particular is a mystery. Carelessly does total work destroy, even before it begins, the very possibility of questioning what we most basically, fundamentally, ultimately care about. The horrible consequence is that, falling prey to total work, we can live our entire lives without ever having investigated why we’re here. I’m saying that our blind embrace of total work is the culprit, and I’m struck by how modern American culture is one. big. delusion.