Ancient Chinese Philosophy (Plus!)

Part Eight

Well, I finished the Mengzi book and started reading The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. It’s helped me clarify (again) that my whole project as a clinician and as a student of philosophy is about liberation. Where are the places within your mind-body-heart-spirit complex that feel stuck and frustrating, where you’d choose differently if you could? It’s an endlessly satisfying experience to help open up new options of thought, movement, experience, and – maybe most importantly – imagination.

Mengzi distinguishes between fate as an excuse for giving up or wrongdoing, and “proper fate,” which is beyond human control. “…someone who understands fate does not stand beneath a crumbling wall.” (Book 7A2.2)

We exist in a world with many limitations. Some of these are outside our control, but maybe not as many as we’ve been led to believe. My wish for you today and everyday is that you’ll give yourself some time to just imagine the kind of world you’d love to live in. Use all your senses and play with world-building. “The function of the heart is to reflect.” (Book 6A15.2) You’ve been generously loaned your magical heart for such a short time – how will you honor that gift?

The Dawn of Everything is a survey of the latest archaeological science, what it might mean, and a gentle inquiry into why it’s so hard for historians and social scientists to talk about those findings. There is strong evidence against the conventional story we’ve learned, that all humans everywhere are inexorably drawn on a linear path from primitive foraging to complex hierarchical systems. It’s a myth that centralized, cereal-based agriculture is the necessary foundation of any thriving society. There is strong evidence, instead, that for at least half of the 12,000 years that humans have existed on this planet, we have moved in and out of complex cities and federations, rich with art and knowledge, trying various modes of governance and living for centuries at a time in something that looks like sustainable, egalitarian peace and prosperity more than anything else. There’s evidence that the story of humanity can be playful and kinda boring and I’m here for it. 

Graeber and Wengrow talk about the basic forms of social liberty which one may actually put into practice: 1) the freedom to move away or relocate from one surroundings, 2) the freedom to ignore or disobey commands issued by others, and 3) the freedom to shape entirely new social realities or shift back-and-forth between different ones. We live in a world that has been shaped to keep us from even knowing these freedoms are possible. What would change if we stepped out from under those crumbling walls and reclaimed them? 

“To fully fathom one’s heart is to understand one’s nature. To understand one’s nature is to understand Heaven. To preserve one’s heart and nourish one’s nature is the way to serve Heaven. To not become conflicted over the length of one’s life but to cultivate oneself and await one’s fate is the way to take one’s stand on fate.” (Book 7A1.1-3)

“Benevolence is the human heart and righteousness is the human path. To leave one’s path and not follow it, or to lose one’s heart and not know to seek for it – these are tragedies! If people lose their chickens or dogs, they know to seek for them. But if they lose their hearts, they do not know to seek for them. The Way of learning and inquiry is no other than to seek for one’s lost heart.” (Book 6A11.1-4)

Most of us need help seeking our lost hearts, looking at our snarls of conflicting beliefs, narratives, and survival impulses, and carefully disentangling ourselves. It can be done, and it’s essential work. I’m so grateful to be taking a stand on fate with many of you! 

We have no limits to our world. We’re only limited by our imagination.

-Bob Ross

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