January 26, 2006

Engaged spirituality.

The Hidden Face of Wisdom: Towards an Awakened Activism
Sean M. Kelly California Institute of Integral Studies
What I would like to draw on from James, however, in combination with his sensitivity to the power and vitality of ideas, is his use of the field metaphor which he applies to the phenomena of consciousness. Extending James’s metaphor, I suggest that we can speak of a field of action, which in some sense is identical to the field of consciousness, the same unitary reality considered from more of a motor (action) than a sensory (consciousness) perspective. As in the case of consciousness, the field of action also involves the distinction between focal point and margin—where what occupies the area at or around the focal point is experienced as more concrete or “real”—along with the recognition of the indeterminateness or uncertainty of the margin. From the perspective of the dominant (extraverted, materialistic, power-driven) worldview, the realm of the psyche, of mind, spirit, or consciousness, is marginalized and therefore practically invisible. Since what is attended to or focused upon is where most of the action is—or thought to be, at least—the dominant view is blind to fact that, despite its subtlety and general invisibility, consciousness too is a form of action (and, as we shall see, to some the most potent form of action).
One could, in this connection, appeal to the spectrum metaphor instead of, or along with, that of the field. The advantage of the spectrum metaphor is that it suggests a graded scale of increasing subtlety (from infrared to ultraviolet). One could also draw fruitful parallels with David Bohm’s theory of the implicate order, with the focal point of the field corresponding to the explicate order. Bohm has applied this theory to the special case of the relation of mind or consciousness to matter with his notion of “soma-significance” (see Bohm 1985; and Kelly 1992). According to Bohm, what we consider matter (“soma”) from one perspective—say, for instance, a photon or electron—looks like “mind” (as “active information” or “significance”) from the subtler perspective of the field with which it is inseparably associated (the field, which is described by the Schrödinger wave equation, corresponds to the implicate order of the particle). For our purposes, however, the field metaphor will suffice. In what follows, I want to consider a range of increasingly subtle (and therefore generally marginal) regions of the field of action along with some representative players in an expanded vision of spiritual activism or engaged spirituality.

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