DIY Ecology Of Practices Or Iterative Best Practices?

A recent post summarizes the argument in the title: “Why The Therapeutic Needs The Spiritual And Vice Versa And Why They Both Need Philosophy.” On Twitter, I discussed the matter further with my friends @DGozli and @peternlimberg:

I’d like to reflect further on this spiritual and historical moment with special reference to this chart.

Historical Context

In my conversations with people at new spiritual and religious schools, I’ve noticed that more are taking an “integral” (Wilber) or an “all hands on deck” (Taggart) approach. I believe the cases of Zen masters involved in horrendous scandals provide sufficient reason to re-examine what it means to be a more fully transformed human being. My sense is that these schools are, in some respects, the products of examinations like this one.

Puzzles: DIY Ecology of Practices

The puzzles flowing from a “DIY ecology of practices,” however, become abundantly clear upon further consideration.

  • First, one accepts the categorial framings (body, mind, spirit, and shadow) without asking whether they are accurate, whether altogether the model is complete, and so on. This is one of my main objections to “the entrepreneurial mindset” more generally: it’s perfectly happy to use any framework as a tool to see what it can do with the tool. Yet contemplation and examination, by my philosophical lights, should almost always precede any pragmatic talk.
  • Second, consider the Spirit category. This is very far from a complete and accurate list of the different spiritual paths, Eastern or Western, existing today.
  • Third, take the example of weightlifting provided under the Body category. It’s perfectly possible, as I can attest from being a weightlifter in the early 2000s, to lift weights out of vanity. And vanity is an impediment to the realization of Spirit. What this critique illustrates is that (a) the Body activity should be consonant with the Spirit activity (e.g., sacred dance could be consonant with seated meditation) and (b) the quality of the activity itself needs to be brought into question. You can see a similar shortcoming under the Mind category: does it not matter what one reads?
  • Fourth, the biggest objection, of course, is that DIY is so often a way of propping up the ego. The ego chooses what it wants rather than the person surrendering herself to something beyond herself. This is why traditions, schools, and spiritual teachers can, at their best, provide a much needed corrective to the ego’s claim to autarchy. (At their worst, they can be corrupt.)

Mixing and Matching or Best Practices?

While an ecology of practices is a fine idea, a DIY ecology of practices may be misguided. I believe it would be wise, then, to rule out syncretistic mixing and matching based on the ego’s predilections.

Yet consider, in closing, the approach taken by the Monastic Academy. Imagine there being, say, four monastic branches; imagine each branch testing out different “technologies of transformation” (Daniel Thorson’s words) to see how well they bring out the transformation of the practitioners in question; then adjust and tweak the practices over time according to this iterative process in order to come up with a set of “best practices.” This seems sensible.

Call this approach a genuine contemplative science.