Why intellectuals need to meditate
What is the aesthetic? Am I not having an aesthetic experience in this very moment? Where and why do we draw the line? I ask this question because it has become increasingly urgent to me to challenge the disciplinary divisions that frame and structure ‘valid’ intellectual inquiry. For instance, why should a young student bother studying with professors who do not meditate? From one point of view, of course, meditation is an eastern practice, or a religious practice. It’s too personal, too subjective, and too much a matter of belief. It’s ‘uncritical’ or pre-critical: naive, romantic, essentialist, even ‘indigenous’.
From another point of view, meditation is a quality of awareness or of attention, and the only thing that prevents a serious thinker from approaching this quality is bias. In other words, the thinker has chosen to draw a line in respect to the mind. The intellect holds itself apart from a certain kind of cognition that it equates with animism, mysticism, hallucination, and prophetic vision. There’s a certain stigma attached to “navel-gazing,” as if it is quietist, onanistic, and (above all) a kind of unstructured surrender to what Freud characterized as the infantile (and polymorphously perverse) libidinal self-involvement of “primary narcissism.” (Is it a coincidence that Freud linked the “primary process” of “primitives” and children not to a kind of pre-personal sense of interconnectedness but to the “magical” thinking of a mind that is all selfishness, or all id?) Now, in the twenty-first century, we realize that Freud was operating well within the imperial parameters of Enlightened rationality, in its “civilizing” project to shed its superior “light” on an inferior “darkness.” We have arrived at moment when we also need to question the validity of studying with professors or priests of the intellect who purport to be dedicated to critical thought and inquiry, but who have sanitized their own experience in this way.