Challenging attachment

This summer I’m working one-on-one with a student. Most of my work for the schools is with large groups of children; I supervise K-6th grade recess during the regular school year.

The school district assigned me to a student who has Doose Syndrome. She’s 10 years old and reading at a 1st grade level. She has difficulty speaking, remembering, and controlling her body. But she loves to dance!

Sometimes, I wonder how her parents deal with the knowledge that their child will never be independent. Who will care for their child when they’re gone? I’m a parent and wonder how I would handle it, but I don’t have to. Am I “lucky” or should I remember the “poor farmer’s horse story”? (read the story at this post)

My student does a great impression of Goofy, which makes us both laugh. She shares stories of her favorite things, like her purple bedroom. Today, we shot hoops during recess, and she made five baskets. She also recognized the word “little,” a word that was giving her so much trouble last week.

I’m going to miss her when summer school ends. Attachments hit with every new year. The cycle of beginnings and endings challenges me when it comes to kids.

During my first month this past school year, a sixth-grader was hit with a rock during recess. He had a head wound that was bleeding profusely. I held his head and tried to calm him; he was frightened he was going to die. I’ve never seen blood spurt out of a body; I was pretty shaken, too.

He was fine after they got him to the hospital. His friend had thrown the rock with no malice intended, but the police had to investigate, and both boys went through a few weeks of trauma. I got to know them pretty well during that time and throughout the remainder of the year, as we talked often at recess.

They’ll be gone when school starts this year, both at the junior high. I wonder how they’ll do. I’ll never know.

I spend two hours with 400-500 kids every day, and I always seem to have a few I get attached to. When school ends, it’s painful. I really can’t imagine how teachers, who have much more time getting to know particular ones, manage the cycle as these kids come and go.

These losses remind me I occupy a humble place in the world. I believe challenges to attachment are good for all of us, because they remind us.

Some days I appreciate the adventure. Other days, I’m just sad.

Let’s get philosophical

Non-doing (wuwei), non-knowing (wuzhi), non-desiring (wuyu). These are the keys to walking with Dao.

What a bunch of bullshit.

When I first read about Dao, I dismissed it as nonsense. Isn’t this “un-ness” what we think of as “chaos,” after all? Musn’t this worldview necessarily end in nihilism? At that time, I was firmly western in my view of life: ontological presence — the belief that there is an unchanging reality behind things — is the only thing that allows us to bring order from chaos. We do this through:

  • principles of action that create order in events (cosmologically as god, nationally as government, and in your everyday life as you yourself or maybe as your boss).
  • principles of reason that create order with regard to knowledge, meaning, and morality.

In Greek, the word for principle is arche. Having no controlling principles or rules for order is anarche. And as any rational adult will tell you, anarchy is destructive, lazy, and selfish. The clearest difference in my mind between western philosophy and western religion is that philosophy will acknowledge that reason creates these principles but religion tells us we merely discover them. In either case, reason and principles are what reveal reality. The West has relegated the aesthetic (emotion, sensation, intuition) to a subordinate role.

Daoism does quite the contrary.

I’m reflecting on Laozi and Zhuangzi in new ways thanks to an American philosopher who truly “speaks my language” (David L Hall). My academic background focused on Greek thought. My scholarly pursuits included reading and editing western philosophy. My personal reading focuses on post structuralism and feminist philosophy. So, when Laozi told me to quit using my reason, I was at a loss.

This is why, I suppose, many people seek out a “master.” I’m not interested in a temple or sage of the modern variety. Daoism, as it’s evolved over the centuries, has become a typical religious experience of humans trying to control everything. Through rituals, self-sacrifice, and occultism, modern Daoists:

  • game the universe by creating contracts with and paying off the gods
  • seek to mitigate death through secret, exotic formulas
  • seek to soften the blow of existential impotence with an internal war, of which they are both ally and enemy. (Asceticism is the favored choice, as a war of attrition.)

All of these approaches are ways to control what we can’t truly control. But we feel better trying and distracting ourselves, and many of us believe in an immortal parent who will care for us regardless.

The earliest Daoist authors (and like Jesus didn’t call himself Christian, these authors didn’t call themselves Daoists), are explicit about not doing any of these things. Non-being came from being, after all. We lose the Way when we act, when we know, when we desire.

Here’s the thing:

An aesthetic perspective, as opposed to a rational or logical one, involves experiencing the world in a relatively unmediated fashion. Mediated experience requires one to grasp or comprehend the essence of a thing, while the unmediated aesthetic experience is simply had as lived experience. (Ames, Roger and David L. Hall. Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

The key to what Laozi means is to understand that reason defines and discriminates and makes permanent. The West assumes being is the true reality and life as we live it is the becoming part that obscures it; think of the forms of Plato, the god of Christianity.

No, says Daoism. Reality is becoming. Nonbeing arises from being and being from nonbeing. This yin-yang dynamic so often mentioned with regard to Dao is not about two principles, two competing poles, not about “there’s black because there’s white to balance,” but black is always becoming white and white is always becoming black. Yin-yang is process not presence.

Dichotomies may be created by language and reason, but reality is a dynamic equilibrium, transience. Being and nonbeing exist together in motion and as such, reality is a becoming. Becoming can only be intuited through lived experience; using reason and creating principles drives us further from Dao.

This is the “non-knowing.”

As a creative process, intuition allows for transience and change necessary to participating in a becoming universe. This aesthetic cosmology is comprised of self-creativity/self-actualization — the virtue or excellence specific to a thing, the de of Daode Jing (and perhaps the arete of Greek?). There is no one correct order. Each thing has its own. The universe is the sum of all orders, a homogeneous chaos.

I’ll write more on the mediation of experience. Or rather…not mediating…by knowing without universalizing, doing without coercing, and desiring without objectifying.