I really am in love with this conversation and can’t resist another rejoinder! Firstly, I think I’ve perhaps muddied the waters a bit with Tolle by not giving him due credit. I actually haven’t read the whole book and was bit too hasty with some of my claims. In this, I defer entirely to you. Nevertheless, I still don’t like the description of the mind as a tool.
A tool is something to be picked up and put down as needed. The mind is an integral and absolutely necessary part of existence, of reality (which is just our representation – thanks Schopenhauer). Therefore, reality is, in a very real sense, created within the very mind you would look to switch off in order to BE in the present.
I agree, of course, that our entire being cannot be reduced to mind and think your examples are apt (I wouldn’t quote Gladwell too quickly though, Benjamin Bratton labled him a “journalist who recycles fake insights” and there is some serious questioning of his methods doing the rounds).
However, I definitely do not agree that we do not think when we are in a state of flow, my point about the neocortex shutdown has to do with how we are able to access different patterns of thought more closely associated with both direct experience and representation of the present. We very much continue to think, although I agree that we are more than the sum of our feelings and thoughts.
I also like Lacan and his mirror, and I agree that we are prone to misidentify with our minds, but disagree that this comes about due to our relationship with time. The first point here is that I do not know, and nor do you, what the eagle would say if he could speak – this a failure of communication, not proof that time does not exist outside of the human mind. Secondly, I think that time would indeed continue to exist without humanity present. Merely because we know time is relative, this does not mean that it does not exist, or is somehow an illusion. The universe is, at base, a time-space continuum, merely because we aren’t here to measure time in seconds and hours does not mean it would cease to be as an physical phenomenon. Therefore, mind is needed to interpret time, but not to create it. Moreover, to interpret time, the mind must necessarily be capable of existing outside of time. Here’s Jason Silva on the issue:
“The human mind lives in the liminal zone. It is not bound by time, by space, by distance. There is a natural intuition to live in these spaces of dream, these spaces between […] the human mind has no problem orienting its awareness into dimensions in which time is no longer linear. We enter these virtual realities, or really they’re real virtualities and we believe them! We actively metabolise belief. We become immersed.”
I like this quote – I think it shows we’re talking about the same thing from slightly different sides of the debate. I agree about continually seeking the past and the present and how harmful it is. However, if one subscribes to what Silva says, and I do, then my only ‘true’ existence is not necessarily in the now. This is ultimately the problem with defining the mind as a tool, rather than an integral part of being. The mind is how we exceed the now, how we extend moments into a psychological continuum which we can make sense of. The body is how we experience the moments themselves, although the two are far more intimately linked than such a simple dichotomy indicates. To put the mind down would be to become immobilised in the present without an awareness of that present – not the stuff good poetry, or a good life, is made of.
I also don’t like the example of meeting someone at a party – yes they are real to me, but I do not know who they are precisely because I do not have access to all the contexts, thoughts, feelings and experiences which make up their being. In other words, because I do not have access to their mind.
Nevertheless, I am genuinely in love with your refined argument about poetry. It’s flawless. ‘Light like the moon’ – delicious! I wish only to challenge one more point, that of ‘why’.
I put more value in answering the ‘why’ of existence precisely because it is a more complex question, therefore one with more inherent value. To me, it is the ‘what’ of existence that is a simple and ugly thing. Simple because it is primary, ugly because it provides so few clues, let alone answers, to the questions such existence gives rise to.
But, you know, I keep reading over your argument and I can’t really disagree. Poetry, my own and others, definitely does have to with what it means to be, live and love and what it felt like in the botanical gardens or talking to Bruce. The only answer I can come up with, and it’s a shaky one, is that the poet must first know why he is, why he lives and loves and and talks and feels before he can effectively communicate that. He must know why he writes in order to know what to write. It seems that a way to achieve this, I must admit, is to access the ‘eternal present’ as you so eloquently choose to call it. Still, ‘eternal’ implies some sense of presence in the present, and for this, we require the mind to function.
What this really means is that perception seems to blend the lines between ‘why’ and ‘what’ and so to define the debate in such terms might also have been hasty of me. To reiterate though, creativity still requires presence in the present, that ability to draw connections between different thoughts, times and realities so as to extend your own, personal, lived truth into a general one, accessible to other minds which have felt similar things, experienced a similar life.