Schizoanalysis

There is nothing
except
the impossible
and not God

– Georges Bataille (taken from The Thirst For Annihilation)

Schizoanalysis, also known as pragmatics, is an open-ended, creative system of experimentation outlined by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their seminal philosophical/theoretical texts. They describe it as “a set of practices.” This set of practices pulls us further from our moorings and casts us out into unforseen vistas. Reality is described as a productive process, in which assemblages (diverse interconnections of matter/energy) spontaneously self-organize. This process is always becoming and never finished; creative dimensions emerge as this process continues and are strictly relative to the process itself. In the process of production, phenomena constantly come to fruition.

What the schizophrenic experiences, both as the individual and as a member of the human species, is not at all any one specific aspect of nature, but nature as a process of production. What do we mean here by process? . . . the real truth of the matter, – the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium – is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process (enregistrement), without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production, thought they do so within the production process itself. Hence everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; productions of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serves as points of reference; productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. This is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process. (Anti-Oedipus, 3-4)

Dispensing with transcendent, all-pervading formalisms and staid absolutes, Deleuze and Guattari explore and mine the edges where theory begins to break down and fissure. Instead of becoming more rigid, we redirect the flows of matter/energy, pulling us further towards potentiality and what they term the “body without organs.” We experiment with different configurations of reality, always helping to connect and create. The ever-shifting panoply of form is referred to as “the strata.”

This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a [body without organs]. Connect, conjugate, continue: a whole ‘diagram’ as opposed to still signifying and subjective programs. (ATP, 161)

Matter/energy flows, and we are part of this flowing process.

We are not only enmeshed with all other life as our own stratum, but form dense webs of interconnections with all other phenomena. In this conception, we are what Manuel De Landa calls “intensive processes” and flows that constantly define and change our organism in each moment. The strata constantly flow into each other. Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome describes how vast linkages between what appear to be divergent forms of life constantly form and fluctuate.

Each existent strata is riddled with lines of flight that can pull it further away from certain forms and towards a more open, wild space. These lines of flight link it to different strata, different ways of life and orders of being. This is the body without organs, or the plane of consistency, the vast sea of potential matter/energy that we actualize in the process of raw creation. It progressively “becomes different” and describes the flowering of space itself, leading to worlds within worlds.

We tap into the energetic potential of the Body without Organs and pull ourselves in the direction of new possibilities. This conception of reality as an open question is an extension of Deleuze and Guattari’s experimental approach to life and knowledge. Teleology is abandoned in the free play of energetic becoming in untold (and self-creating) dimensions.

At any rate, you have one (or several). It’s not so much that it preexists or comes ready-made, although in certain respects it is preexistent. At any rate, you make one, you can’t desire without making one. And it awaits you; it is an inevitable exercise or experimentation, already accomplished the moment you undertake it, unaccomplished as long as you don’t . . . It is not at all a notion or a concept but a practice, a set of practices. You never reach the Body without Organs, you can’t reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit. People ask, so what is this BwO? But you’re already on it, scurrying like a vermin, groping like a blind person, or running like a lunatic: desert traveller and nomad of the steppes . . .
A BwO is made in such a way that it can be occupied, populated only by intensities. Only intensities pass and circulate. Still, the BwO is not a scene, a place, or even a support upon which something comes to pass . . . It is nonstratified, unformed, intense matter, the matrix of intensity . . . Matter equals energy. Production of the real as an intensive magnitude starting at zero.
(ATP, 150-153)

And from the work of Manuel De Landa:
The metaphor supplies us with a target for the theory of the virtual: we need to conceive a continuum which yields, through progressive differentiation, all the discontinuous individuals that populate the actual world. Unlike the metaphor, however, this virtual continuum cannot be conceived as a single, homogenous topological space, but rather as a heterogeneous space made out of a population of multiplicities, each of which is a topological space on its own. The virtual continuum would be, as it were, a space of spaces, with each of its component spaces having the capacity of progressive differentiation. Besides this multiplication of spaces, we need a way of meshing these together into a heterogeneous whole. Deleuze, in fact, refers to the virtual continuum as a plane of consistency, using the term ‘consistency’ in a unique sense, and in particular, in a sense having nothing to do with logical consistency, that is, with the absence of contradiction. Rather, consistency is defined as the synthesis of heterogeneities as such. (Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 72).

I would now like to discuss how the metaphysical description of virtuality and its connections to applied science and chaos theory can be paralleled and creatively applied with contemplative practice (especially its aspects of depth psychology).  Our lives can express this spontaneous, free-flowing creativity in its very workings. This creative possibility is only unlocked once one begins to explore these concepts in an engaged way.

A common description of mystical experience is the realization that our experience barely scratches the surface of universal potential. Our senses, though varied and complexly detailed, are still limited. Something vast lies beyond this experiential island, in which we are immersed. We are all expressions of this immense Unknown. In certain intense experiences, old patterns break down, freeing us from some of our self-imposed constraints. This is a parallel of the process outlined in schizoanalysis, as we explore and experience new ways of becoming and being.

Trapped in a constricting tangle of language routines we tread a narrow circuit in the maze Nick Land

This is similar to the destratification process outlined in A Thousand Plateaus. Following a line of flight in our contemplative practice, we open ourselves to divergent ways of being. If our self-image is viewed as an abstract stratification over time (habits, patterns of feeling, etc.) we come face to face with the intensive processes that gave birth to and lurk behind that self image in the first place. This is the realm of the suppressed and unconscious.

Once we begin to meditate, we begin to understand more fully the limits of our surface experiences and self-constructions. Once we strip those protective layers away, we immerse ourselves in the swarm of the Body Politic, the seething mass of often contradictory desires, impulses, thoughts and sensations that make up our organism.

Coming to understand the often frightening aspects of our diverse natures, our self-image can begin to dissolve, as it is often unable to contain these strands of contradiction. This creates a wider space that emerges as we turn our attention inwards. This engages us in the direction of increasing degrees of freedom, and new potentiality.  Once this image, and all its attendant conceptualizations and meaning-making processes, begin to disintegrate, we can experience what Ray Brassier has termed “a crisis of meaning”:

Very simply, nihilism is a crisis of meaning. This crisis is historically conditioned, because what we understand by ‘meaning’ is historically conditioned. We’ve moved from a situation in which the phenomenon of ‘meaning’ was self-evident to one in which it has become an enigma, and a primary focus of philosophical investigation. The attempt to explain what ‘meaning’ is entails a profound transformation in our understanding of it; one that I think will turn out to be as far-reaching as the changes in our understanding of space, time, causality, and life provoked by physics and biology.

Over the past few years of extended meditative practice, I have felt this loss of an absolute meaning more and more acutely. However, I do not think that this is a negative, as it emerges inexorably out of the universe’s freedom to grow, develop, and become. Since meaning is not something that is handed down to us, we are free to create and develop our own. We can explore, via some of the concepts described in schizoanalysis, whether we wish to create new ways of life that are more in accord with our desired wish for meaning. This is not a strict injunction, however, and the question of meaning can remain wonderfully open, making room for possibility. Sometimes we may wish to change those concepts and create our meanings once again.

Mystics and ex-statics dissolve and create experience-ordering structures.
– Jess Hollenback

This is the beating heart of the koan Mu (“No”) shining and pulsing in all of creation.

Schizoanalysis is thus an open-ended practice and toolkit for breaking down our rigid personal barriers and constructions. We are drawn further into the constant proliferation of life and the universe, and are part of its ever-breaking wave. We can then see the vast potential for inventiveness and creative flux open in each moment, and explore various interlocking states of being. We recirculate the flows, and with every breath, word, and action, we create the world anew.

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On Suffering

The fluid contingency of the world pulls us in unforseen directions. As much as we try to cleave to sensations and abstractions, the world constantly overspills our self-created boundaries. Throughout our lives, we create a self-image, exiling what we feel to be “other.” Traumas, socially unacceptable thoughts, and unwanted emotions lurk in the interstices and borderlands of our experience. All of this coalesces into the human experience of suffering.

Buddhism has given birth to one of the most lucid examinations of suffering in human history. This deep investigation of suffering shifts the human organism towards awareness of the ever-present nature and acceptance of suffering. In looking into this matter, our awareness and life bloom even in the shadow of sickness, old age, and death.

In examining his own experience, the Buddha laid out several key concepts outlining his process of self-discovery. They state that humans suffer due to clinging to experiences that cannot possibly stay permanent in the face of constant change. When we focus and place a priority on pursuing pleasure and negating pain, we chain ourselves to this endless wheel of becoming. Humans select a certain set of experiences as desirable and reject others. The Four Noble Truths are thus not only a systematic examination of our desires for sensual pleasure, but of our desire to push unwanted experiences to the margins. In recognizing this aspect of human existence, we cease to needlessly add to our sufferings when our experience is inevitably ruptured by physical and emotional pain, as well as the unknown developments of our lives. We more fully join the stream of life and plunge into its torrential waters. The Buddha finishes by outlining his Noble Eightfold Path, tenets for cultivating this kind of awareness and bringing it into one’s life:

The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering – in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering.

The Noble Truth of the Origin (cause) of Suffering is this: It is this craving (thirst) which produces re-becoming (rebirth) accompanied by passionate greed, and finding fresh delight now here, and now there, namely craving for sense pleasure, craving for existence and craving for non-existence (self-annihilation).

The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the complete cessation of that very craving, giving it up, relinquishing it, liberating oneself from it, and detaching oneself from it.

The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the Noble Eightfold Path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The importance of looking into one’s own suffering cannot be overstated. We can approach this deep question by a sustained and penetrating inquiry into our experience, to see this question laid bare for ourselves. We also go more fully into each experience of suffering, exploring its environs, probing its contours, its tastes and sensations. Here we discover a complex web of attachment and disavowal that makes up what we feel to be the core of our selves. Instead of perpetually running on the wheel of attempting to stabilize pleasure and avoid pain, and suffering when we inevitably fail to realize this, we begin to make a fundamental shift. This shift is increasingly out of the labyrinth of our own self constructions. This is the realization and possibility of freedom in our lives.

Equally important to the physical dimension of suffering is the conceptual apparatus that we impose on these experiences. The more we fully immerse ourselves in our pain, the more we notice how we change the meaning of that experience through interpreting it in certain ways. While continuing with my sitting practice, I began to notice how difficult it was to sit with my own pain. Upon looking at the experience myself, I not only noticed the physical experience of pain along with feelings of aversion, but also thoughts and concepts that flowed out of and reflected that experience. This includes conceptualizing the situation as negative or unwanted, and then feeding into the situation emotionally. This only makes the situation worse, as we cease to relate to the qualities of that experience and relate to and engage our gradually forming opinion of it. This is a spiral potentially without end as we stoke our emotional responses with our conceptualizing, feeding these aspects into each other.

The more we pay attention to this cycle, the more adept we become at subverting it and letting it go. We realize our complicity in our own suffering, and how our responses to it bleed out and affect the suffering of others. Changing the way we relate to our own suffering is one of the key insights gleaned from our meditative practice. When we can change this for ourselves, feeling each moment, we begin to notice how this shifts the patterns of our lives in new directions of acceptance, healing, and happiness. All our attempts to build rigid boundaries between the world and ourselves are doomed from the start.

The Great Way is not difficult
for those not attached to preferences.
When not attached to love or hate,
all is clear and undisguised.
Separate by the smallest amount, however,
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.
– Seng-ts’an

The freedom and contingency of the world and suffering are inextricably linked. We cannot pin down our experience into certain desired channels and expect it to conform. This is a living, breathing dynamism of which we are a part. Through the simple act of paying attention, we begin to open ourselves to that bottomless wellspring within our own hearts, and we touch the root and ground of our own existence. Through compassion to the rejected parts of ourselves we go more thoroughly and openly into our own suffering.

This compassion pulls us beyond ourselves and into communion with all humanity. This path of understanding the suffering bound up in our existence is the same path to liberation in this moment that we are all capable of walking.

Nothing to Attain

I have been trying to get back to the local Zen Center every week, after a short hiatus. We do 50 minutes of Zazen (seated meditation), combined with some chanting and Kinhin (walking meditation). After the practice, some of us were talking in the kitchen and a student (I unfortunately can’t remember her name, all credit due to her) asked a pretty insightful question referencing the Heart Sutra and practice in general. This question was along the lines of: “If there is no attainment and nothing to attain, why do we sit?” I think this is a pretty common question that arises as we sit, especially as we continue to grow in our practice and the discursive mind begins to seek answers to questions such as these.

A similar question supposedly motivated Eihei Dogen in his own process of inquiry:

As I study both the exoteric and the esoteric schools of Buddhism, they maintain that human beings are endowed with Dharma-nature by birth. If this is the case, why did the Buddhas of all ages – undoubtedly in possession of enlightenment – find it necessary to seek enlightenment and engage in spiritual practice? (Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, 22).

This is a profoundly challenging question. If we are the very embodiment of truth and enlightenment is an expression of our original nature why do we sit in Zazen? Is this like the koan where we are polishing a tile to make a mirror?

Let us examine the passage from the Heart Sutra the student is referencing and then I’ll try to give you my understanding of this.

The passage (taken from Red Pine’s translation) is:

No suffering, no source, no relief, no path;
No knowledge, no attainment and non-attainment.
Therefore, Shariputra, without attainment;
Bodhisttavas take refuge in Prajnaparamita
And live without walls of the mind.

The Heart Sutra is an essential Buddhist text that directly inclines us to the heart of truth. This is the truth of our lives, of the present, and of reality. Buddhism is realistic, and derives directly from lived experience. It is a very concrete approach to truth that is not limited to any particular concept or metaphysic. In our meditative practice, the concepts we form about reality begin to fall away, and the immeasurable complexity and richness of the world become starkly apparent. We no longer have to relegate the whole of the world to our opinions about it, and no longer need to take refuge in systems and frameworks of our own devising.

The Heart Sutra is thus a critique of these concepts, and proceeds to negate each in turn. Proceeding through “no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind;” and come to “no knowledge, no attainment and no non-attainment.” The present opens, teeming with life.  It becomes clear that reality is unfettered by the symbols we traditionally use to describe that experience. Throughout our practice we begin to see our concepts as fundamentally incomplete. We “live without walls of the mind,” open to the boundless possibilities for action in each moment. A vast field opens up, and we become more flexible and fluid.

The Heart Sutra is thus an antidote to our mind’s constantly seeking security in concepts such as “attainment.” When we say that we will “attain” enlightenment, we divorce ourselves from the present reality. We project enlightenment into a state in the abstract, that will be realized in the future.

Asking what exactly we mean when we use concepts such as englightenment can help us as we look into ourselves.  Taking apart this question and exploring it should be gone into deeply and taken to the end.

At the same time, we will not be able to understand the feelings that gave rise to works such as the Heart Sutra without a regular meditative practice. This is similar to how no amount of reading, writing, and intellectualizing about fitness will make someone a stronger athlete. One must begin by looking into the particulars of their own situation. We sit in order to aid us in this process of inquiry, as sitting is one method that allows us to investigate our reality. This understanding will not be brought into our lives without some kind of practice. An example of this is brought out in Genjokoan:

Mayu, Zen Master Baoche, was fanning himself. A monk approached and said ‘Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. Why, then, do you fan yourself?’
‘Although you understand that the nature of wind is permanent,’ Mayu replied, ‘you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.’
‘What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?’ asked the monk.
Mayu just kept fanning himself.
The monk bowed deeply.

The actualization of the buddha dharma, the vital path of its authentic transmission, is like this. If you say that you do not need to fan yourself because the nature of wind is permanent and you can have wind without fanning, you understand neither permanence nor the nature of wind. The nature of wind is permanent; because of that, the wind of the buddha house brings forth the gold of the earth and ripens the cream of the long river.

This passage describes and directly points to actualization and action in the present moment, the becoming-real of the monk’s interaction. In our practice, we bring this understanding and appreciation for action into our lives. Sitting in Zazen helps us to see this with more clarity. It is important to remember that there is “nothing to attain” even as we do our best to practice. In this way we always come back to and appreciate whatever is arising in our lives in the present moment, without arbitrarily separating ourselves in thought. Paradoxically, we attempt to attain something in order to realize there is nothing to attain (in the way we have conceptualized it) and begin to feel the truth of it for ourselves.  Zazen helps us remember the truth of who and what we are.

We embody this understanding, always coming back to the present and caring for this reality. This is the beauty, completeness, and blossoming forth of our own lives.