Thursday, 28 June 2018

Escaping bad habits of thinking: should we aim-at good habits, or no habits?

That modern Western Man has developed bad habits of thinking is obvious to anyone who has tried to escape them. In a post a couple of days ago, I excerpted a representative analysis of this phenomenon by Owen Barfield, which he concluded by suggesting that the only cure for bad habits was good habits.

Here I ultimately disagree with Barfield; because the essence of the problem is not just the badness of habits, but the dominance by habits - so the cure of bad thinking habits is more along the lines of reducing the habitual element in thinking.


It has proved to be very difficult indeed for individuals to go beyond the point of analysing this problem in their own lives, to giving general and effective advice (or training) about what to do next. For example, Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield thoroughly understood the nature of the problem; but Steiner - in my view - became sidetracked into system-building, and movement-building; and in more than a century his anthroposophical movement has got nowhere in achieving Steiner's original goals for a new consciousness.

Barfield made no claims to expertise in this matter, and always pointed to Steiner as the authoritative source of guidance - yet Steiner's specific guidance (for example in How to Know Higher Worlds, 1904-5) has a long track record of failure, and indeed even in principle seems clearly insufficient and prone to unwanted consequences.


My understanding is that the reason for this difficulty is that, when to comes to going where we want to go (which Steiner sometimes terms Pure Thinking, Barfield terms Final Participation and I have called Primary Thinking) - then habits are the enemy, and there is no such thing as a 'good' habit.

My understanding of this is rooted in the simplifying idea that (very briefly put) what we are trying to do it to attain a conscious version of the spontaneous and intutive state of young children or simple hunter gatherers. That is, our goal is a life in which the present moment is intuitively comprehended; and therefore all a life without much in the way of strategy, complex social systems, plans or routines.

I am aware that there is an inevitable, indeed irreducible, element of strategy, system and plan in any life - I regard the matter as one of polarity in which there are valid distinctions that cannot be made into division (i.e. we can validly distinguish between stability and change, but these are abstractions, and in life neither can be produced in a pure form; because life is 'developmental', and development is a process that necessarily includes stability and change).

However, my point is that any increase in the habitual, organised, systematised, strategic, planned elements of life will thwart our goals. Final Participation cannot be implemented by a flow-chart. And the attempt to organise, to drill, to proceduralise; has been a trap into which person after person, organisation after organisation, institution after institution has fallen over the past couple of centuries during which the need for a development in consciousness has been known.


If not, then what? First, we need to be careful that the form of the question does not simply lead us back into error. The demand for general advice, for general guidance, often contains an implicit demand for 'a system'. When the objective is to live from our real and divine Self, in harmony with God's creation; then any explicit, communicable external and objective system is going to be wrong - since it must be a simplified, partial and distorted version of God's creation.

When we align-with and participate-in the on-going reality of creation this is exactly-Not about implementing pre-decided plans. It is about love as the basis for working-with God in our family-business. Coming into this business with a set of plans developed before we joined, when we were lesser people (as we are now) would be harmful - and indeed simply does not happen.

(Love makes possible creation, love sustains creativity - and the family is the true metaphysical principle of reality.)

To join with the work of creation (which is the nature of Final Participation, of Primary Thinking) requires that we are not of that way of thinking - it is not that this is a test or exclusion criterion - but that Final Participation just-is a setting aside of the abstract models, plans and schemes, rules and protocols that Man has developed over the past several thousand years of 'civilisation' in his state of increasingly alienated consciousness.

(That Rudolf Steiner developed a massive, complex system of abstract distinctions and protocols, and a huge international social organisation - with and elaborate headquarters, a bureaucracy, multiple branches and specialities; is a measure of how far Steiner fell-away-from the clarity and purity of his original insights.)


When we are stuck in bad habits, based on false metaphysics; we need to correct our metaphysics: that is vital. If we are materialists, we need to stop; if we are not Christians, we need to start. But this of itself will not induce the desired changes - the nature of our situation tends to lock us into falsehood and error... bad habits.

We may have insight and be born again as believer-in Jesus; but for our-selves to become more divine (i.e. theosis; which is what Final Participation is about - the divine mode of thinking) we cannot achieve by drilling ourselves into some new habit: it is habits-as-such that are agents of our alienation.

This is why we cannot rely on any organisation, any system, any abstract scheme, strategy or plan of training. Why we must take personal responsibility for our theosis. Why we need to become attuned to the actualities of the existing situation, to develop aware intuition as the basis of life.

The aimed-at state - as I said - is much like that of the child or hunter gatherer, a life in which memories and aspirations all find integrated expression in the present. However, the child is passively immersed-in living and unconscious of it - he may be an instrument of God, but never a co-creator.

Our aim, by contrast, is to be consciously participating with life, with God (our Heavenly parents) and his grown-up children (our older brothers and sisters); and this is done by-and-in our thinking.



1 comment:

  1. I think that the important thing to stress is that habits are, by definition, not thought. They are behavior patterns that are ingrained to the level that they occur without us thinking about them.

    However, I would not go so far as to say that all habits are the enemy of thought. We can and probably should have habits for most of our daily behavior, going to bed and waking at a regular time, eating, cleaning, scripture study, checking our calender (I should admit that I have not any of these habits, nor the serious intention of developing them, but that means I am also readily able to say that the lack of such habits does not improve my thinking).

    What we must not attempt to do is extend habit to take over our higher and more variable lives, the way that Wither is described in That Hideous Strength. Wither converses in an indeterminate, rambling, vague style as a matter of habit, the great majority of what he says, and most entire conversations, can be carried out without him paying any conscious attention to what he is saying, because he is usually not saying anything in particular at all. The same is true for his appointments and schedules.

    To think thus is, quite simply, not to think. It is to abdicate thought.

    But for carrying out much of the task of simply maintaining our lives and health, habits can be not only good but invaluable. Even I have not lost the habit of breathing, I should be in desperate straights and quite unable to think deeply about much else should I not be able to depend on respiration occurring by habit. I should not mind having some more good habits, I simply lack the energy to instill them as a regular part of my current life, I've had some of them in the past and found them generally favorable.

    Our conversations with others, and our thoughts, and our creative efforts, should not and probably cannot be dominated by habit...at least, not without becoming something other than genuine or meaningful. The meaning of a meal or a good night's sleep occurs without the need for conscious contemplation, the meaning of of a social interaction, a work of art, or pondering of spiritual matters, can't exist unless we really are consciously aware of them.

    What would exist could only be the negative meaning, or absence of meaning. That is to say, existential despair.

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