A post-postmodern new-new age secular evaluation of the “body-mind-soul” trichotomy

“The New Age? It’s just the old age stuck in a microwave oven for fifteen seconds.” – James Randi

Upon landing on this site’s homepage, I have no doubt that the first impression you may have received is that this is yet another site promoting some new agey zen-ish mantra that will cover the typical clichéd and overwrought topics typical of this movement such as Eastern mysticism, holistic healing, and last but not least, the spiritual integration of the “body-mind-soul” trichotomy.  The site’s home page has a zen meme graphic of three rocks self-balancing each other with the words “Body, Mind and Soul” transfixed right on them, so naturally, I don’t blame you for entertaining such an impression!  Although  I would hazard to guess that if you’re reading this post, you probably read or at least skimmed the homepage introduction and realized it was not quite another new agey zen site.

Since this is the first essay (or “post” or “blog” if you insist), I want to explain what I mean by these terms in relation to this site’s content and how they will drive all the media on this site.  In addition, I will go into why I refer to it having a “post-postmodern new-new age” secular interpretation.

Below is an image of the proverbial body-mind-soul pyramid:

Using this hierarchical metaphor, the body is the flesh and bone repository that houses the mind and this mind in humans has the most self-reflective “consciousness” of any known living creature in our planet and universe.  This self-reflective mind has allowed us humans to evaluate ourselves in relation to the natural world and to manipulate the world, ponder it and to create things like science and art.  But this self-reflecting introspection, when taken to its highest level, allows us to acquire things like wisdom, philosophy and spirituality.

This is pretty fundamental stuff and nothing should be surprising about it, until you really try to define and understand what each of these things means as you go up to pyramid.  Obviously the physical body has to exist so the mind can live and conceptualize and from these two a notion of soul or spirit that seems to emerge from it.  Or rather, due to our concept of it (because we don’t know whether it truly exists or not and furthermore) one can make the case that the soul or spirit is this grand thing that exists outside ourselves that in turn created the body and the mind to conceptualize it.

This would invert the pyramid and is not completely unlike the argument by Plato with his notion of a perfect ideas (εἶδος: “eidos”) that exists outside ourselves or a monotheistic religious view that an all encompassing, all knowing and perfect God exists outside ourselves that created and designed us and the universe.  This is a form of Essentialism and personally, I’m more inclined toward the opposite view known as Existentialism.  I’m painfully aware of the fact though, that these are categorizations of philosophical viewpoints that tries to separate “how” these things exists and interact and that doesn’t even start to address “why” these do.  In fact, why do we even ask why?

But I’m getting ahead of myself…  So that there is some semblance of a coherent set of narratives, arguments and logical exegesis of philosophical positions either from the readings and deciphering of classical texts, contemporary articles and musings, to the narrative positions outlined on this site and its media, they will be categorized according to whether it aligns more towards the body, mind or soul.  So if the essay is about some scientific article on how exercise increases brain function, then that would be classed under the body category.  But if there was an extension to that article on how the increased brain functions compels one to think more philosophically (not totally out of the question) forming new ideas, then this would be classed under the mind category.  Lastly, if said understandings lead to new insights about the mind and soul and it’s determination of one’s place in the universe and its implications, then this would be classed under the soul category.

Of course I think the above is all arbitrary, for as Immanuel Kant declared, that “each part existed both for and by means of the whole, while the whole existed for and by means of the parts”.  In other words, the whole of who we are is an interconnected and symbiotic whole of parts, and those parts, whether the body, mind or soul exists to maintain the whole, and this whole is part of an ecology each with its own attenuating elements within elements comprising its own whole.  I advocate this kind of “ecological viewpoint” and it is in line with the chan/seon/zen perspective.

The next thing I want to write about is the concept of the “new-new age”.  I do believe that we are transitioning into a new age that could also be referred to as a post-postmodern movement, but before I get into that, the reason I refer to this as a new-new age, is that to simply refer to it as a new age has all kinds of pop-culture baggage that I wish to totally dispense with as was satirized in the beginning of this essay.  As the RationakWiki outlines it, the new age:

Is a catch-all term for a wide range of spiritual and social movements that developed – mostly – from the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Characteristic of the so-called New Age movement is the focus on spiritual matters, with an emphasis on individuality.  New-Age beliefs are often attributed to real or alleged Asian mystics, particularly Indian and Tibetan, and many New-Age type beliefs draw heavily from Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism.

The New-Age movement lacks intellectual rigor and shuns scientific approaches to reality, ostensibly due to the perceived separation between science and spirituality, but also under the pretense of a vague postmodernism.  New-Age believers typically take a pick-and-mix approach to spirituality, adapting beliefs and practices from a wide variety of sources such as Hinduism, neopaganism, ufology, Zen Buddhism, and any other weird concept that may appeal to them.  The key concepts in practice are a form of vitalism, and of course money.

Go to any bookstore (which is a dying retail entity) and go to the section that is typically adjacent to the philosophy section (much to my chagrin) knows as “new age” or “metaphysics” and you will find a plethora of books with either the Yin/Yang symbol, some person with legs crossed in a meditative stance or some bearded Indian guru wearing robes and some beads around his neck that have a self-help like titles such as “The Art Of Stress-Free Living“, all of which spew the kind of new agey nonsense that this site is adamantly opposed to.  For I seek to incorporate a intellectually rigorous and scientifically logical approach to the epistemological and metaphysical foundations of Eastern thinking as well as its ethics, morals and theology, along with their Western counterparts.  Therefore, this I call this a new-new age secular perspective.

Furthermore, my perspective can also be viewed as being  post-postmodern in that it adopts the postmodern view, according to RationalWiki, that “the contemporary economic system known as late capitalism, consumer capitalism, or neo-capitalism, whose features include multinational corporations, mass media, the modern system of global finance, and consumption as a form of self-definition… is either a reflection of all the flaws of superficial, irrational, cruel, and unsustainable contemporary capitalism, or else a powerful challenge to that flawed system.”  My view is that the challenge is already over and that we are reaching or maybe even already reached the apex of a capitalist consumption driven economy and the whole culture that surround and supports this and the challenge is now how to live in this new-new age.

I plan to address this directly in my new book, but much of the writings, videos and podcasts that emanate from this site will be heavily influenced by this emerging narrative reality we will live under.

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