Cartesian Meditation

Here is Descartes, a founding father of the philosophy (myth, theory, story) of the modern world:

And certainly the idea which I possess of the human mind inasmuch as it is a thinking thing, and not extended in length, width and depth, nor participating in anything pertaining to body, is incomparably more distinct than is the idea of any corporeal thing.” Descartes, Meditations

When Descartes famously defined us as thinking things (“res cogitans” in Latin) and we (the West) built our modernity upon this foundational myth, did we not miss the chance to build a civilization based on life? 

At some point, we agreed to the basic tenets of modern – which is to say Cartesian – civilization and thereby agreed to becoming things (res) whose defining quality is thinking (cogitans).  We agreed that thinking partakes of what is divine, transcendent, unearthly and that transcendent thought is more important than earthly bodies.  If it is this thinking that defines us then it is only thinking, which is say our symbolic systems, our estimates and appraisals, our profits and our percentages that we value.  At its foundation our civilization doesn’t value life.  It doesn’t love the body that lives, breathes, eats, has babies.  That body is merely the servant of the intellect that thinks transcendent thoughts and builds un-living things: machines, monuments, data-bases. 

I would that we, together, would write another philosophy/myth – the myth, not of thinking things, but embodied animals. Of creatures that love our world in its living, dying, embodied wholeness.  That we would surrender to the flux and flow of life and death, to these grand metamorphic fields, to all of our length, width and depth, all of our individual particularity. We would not  need to anxiously build monuments to commemorate our undying achievements.  From life, that passes and changes and that we experience in common with all living things, we would draw our strength, security.and certainty.

2 Replies to “Cartesian Meditation”

  1. Western civilization does appear to have been particularly successful at prising open the cracks between mind and body, and body and world, and turning those cracks into wounds. Sometimes I feel those of us who are products of that civilization are just the living scar tissue.

    But as you say we can at least seek and restore ’embodied wholeness’ in the community of life wherever our influence allows.

    1. “Living scar tissue,” yes, I think there are some of us trying to heal and many that don’t know any other way to be except wounded. Part of the challenge is trying to find a way to live that is not driven by the frantic, fearful, overwhelming, brilliant energy that resulted from the opening of those wounds. Old habits and identities die hard, especially if they are the only thing you’ve ever known.

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