welcome to the neutral ground podcast
in this episode we're going to continue
our series on the three most important
traits of neo-modernism with a
discussion of the importance of
transcending the corporeal or the body
in the previous episode we discussed the
importance of narrative reassurance
you can certainly check out that episode
if you haven't already
so what do i mean when i say
transcending the body and why is this
important
well human beings are born into all
different types of situations when it
comes to the body
there are tremendous amount of kind of
physical data points if you will that
make us different from each other and
these various data points
often play at the very least
some role in the shaping of who we are
however
art
history and philosophy have often shown
a bias in favor of
pursuing the human experience
as it relates to inquiry emotions and
spirituality more so than the body
itself
what i mean is that our greatest
literary texts and philosophies tend to
focus on the ways in which we as a
collective species can transcend
the limitations of our body
the ways in which we break through the
barriers of our physical form of flesh
and bone
to become
something greater something more
now i've said this in other episodes but
i'll clarify it again because i really
don't want to be misunderstood here
when i use the term great or greater
i don't mean morally i mean something
forceful
something that extends itself beyond the
norms of our existence
that to me is morally neutral it's
simply an expression of grandness
i'll give you a quick example that comes
directly from my own research
captain ahab from
the novel moby dick right this is a
famous captain with one leg from the
mind of arguably the greatest author in
american literature herman melville and
i would certainly make that argument
that he's the greatest
ahab
had one of his legs torn off by the
white whale moby dick
and this has produced in him
an almost demonic like obsession with
pursuing and killing moby dick
now although ahab is physically limited
by the loss of his leg you cannot deny
if you read the novel
the tremendous force
that he exudes every time he speaks and
every time he surfaces on the deck of
the ship the pequod
when ahab is on deck
people are pulled into him by the
magnetism that he exudes
ahab is great
but there is no way around the fact that
he leads the majority of his crew to
their deaths in pursuit
of the white whale
therefore his force is great
but he's kind of a jerk
we'll most definitely be talking about
ahab at some point
nonetheless ahab is able to transcend
the body to become something greater
than his mortal form
now we are physical beings
right there there's no way around that
we interact with the physical world
and for the most part we live our lives
based on the physicality of our
existence and with good reason of course
right we are
subject to scientific laws that interact
with our physical being constantly we
need food water oxygen gravity pulls
upon our physical form so that if we
tried to jump off the roof of our house
when we were 11 and luckily walked away
with only a sprained ankle
we quickly learned two things
i am not superman i mean we
are not superman
and gravity is like really
strong so why
is it that we tend to write so much
about metaphysics
why is it that we need to transcend the
body so much throughout our history
you know part of this
i think has to do with just how
intimately aware we are
of our mortality
that our bodies
will degrade over time
and i i recently actually just played a
pickup game of basketball first time in
actually quite a long time
and of course the next day i was very
much reminded of
the decay of my own body
but that awareness of our mortality
creates
certain natural boundaries that we
simply can't overcome at least not yet
and there's also the fact that the
boundaries actually can be good we can
even find more freedom within these
boundaries
for example
parents
often let their children play freely
on a playground
now this only appears like true freedom
to the children in reality the parents
have established the playground as the
actual boundary
nonetheless children practice and play
with the concept of freedom within those
structures
well adults
kind of do the same thing we just don't
always think about it that way
have you ever driven
in traffic and watched the person in the
car next to you
rocking out like they are at a concert i
mean they're full-blown singing into
their hand like it's a microphone right
they're rocking out to
to whatever their guilty pleasure is you
you know
open arms by journey is a is a good one
for me and you know
africa by toto i'll rock out to the to
those all day
yeah they're having fun on the
playground that's really what they're
doing the artificial boundary that they
have set up
is their cars
but when they arrive at their
destination right when when we get to
work those boundaries of safe play
collapse
immediately and bob in the car goes from
being the lead singer of you know def
leppard or whatever
to the man who yells at you for not fi
you know filling out your your staples
order correctly
it's not very punk rock of you bob
the mind creates and dismantles
boundaries like this all the time
we create thought exercises in our minds
and then play around in that space only
to leave them
when we are ready to move back into the
real world
that's an incredibly healthy way to
grapple with ideas
now there still remains however this
awkward relationship
between the mind and the body
where does that come from
well in a purely western context
we can start by looking at saint
augustine
although he certainly didn't invent this
idea
if you're at all familiar with the works
of saint augustine you've likely heard
someone talk about the saint as having a
rather contentious relationship with the
body
in fact many times people boil down
augustinian philosophy to we need to
hate our bodies
but
that's a bit dismissive of his evolution
as a philosopher
recently scholars have started to push
back a bit against this narrative that
augustine hated the body in the hopes of
balancing out his narrative a little bit
more
augustine did hold the belief
that the body is what mostly
leads humans into spiritual corruption
i certainly don't think that this is a
hot take today right i mean seemingly
every human being has some struggle with
their bodies that requires a tremendous
amount of discipline
to either keep in check
and or overcome because it can lead them
to great strife and even suffering
but by the end of his life augustine's
thoughts became more clear on this topic
and even more nuanced
he didn't want the body to be considered
evil
so much as he wanted to try and bring
the body in line with godliness
you can argue against his interpretation
of sex and desire all day
but i think it becomes somewhat
reductive to say that in his latter
years he hated the body for some really
interesting kind of critical takes on
the discussion you can read the works by
gabriel hess
and david g hunter
and i've got the publication information
for those on my website at the neutral
theneutralgroundpodcast.com
and i should also have them up on my sub
stack as well at joemeyer.substance.com
nonetheless
augustinian ideas of hating the body
persisted and continue to persist even
today
the point that i want to make here about
augustine is not about whether or not
you agree or disagree with scholarly
interpretations of his works
my point
is that in any reading of him one of the
arguments that you have to address is
the belief
in transcending the pull
of the body toward destruction of the
self
let me propose a hypothetical for a
moment and then let's break it down
somewhat
if i feel ashamed
of how i look in the mirror
is that the body
or the mind creating that feeling
now we might be quick to say
that it's the mind
however
what is actually producing the feeling
in the mind
is it chemical or philosophical
there are times when philosophy can
overcome
the chemicals that rush in and out of
our brains
we feel depressed and or feel bad about
something
and we produce a logical train of
thinking that at the very least
allows us to
muster enough movement
to go about our day and genuinely seem
fine enough that others can't really
tell maybe
that the feeling underneath is
really not quite that great
in that moment you can make the argument
that philosophy allows us to transcend
the chemical feeling in favor of moving
through
our experiences
now this is a fairly universal human
experience in that we all have moments
like this
however there are other times when
philosophy
is not strong enough
times when the chemicals or the lack
thereof
overcome any chance that we have to
produce
and or believe the philosophy of our
mind
and at that point
philosophy serves as very little help
to rid ourselves of the anger the hurt
or despair that we feel
now when i asked the question
earlier
of whether that feeling was produced
by the body or the mind
in some ways it can be one
the other
or both
when it comes to dealing with the
philosophical struggles of our existence
we have a great many methods by which we
can try to deal with them
exercise therapy
being with friends and loved ones
reading great works of literature that
explore the philosophy we're struggling
with
even movies music and
well
podcasts
all of these
things can make a tremendous
amount of difference in attempting to
transcend feelings of philosophical
despair
but how do we transcend the body itself
when the body is authoring the despair
well a few trends in society are trying
to answer that question right now you
might have noticed over the past few
years
a huge uptick in the discussions of
psychedelics and meditation in popular
culture
let's take a look at the psychedelic
part here
scientists are now studying the ways in
which psychedelics can help those who
are suffering with diagnosed mental
health conditions and or dealing with
overwhelming trauma
johns hopkins is really kind of leading
the charge here in this respect
specifically dr roland r griffith and
his research into the use of psilocybin
which is a kind of
fungi or a mushroom
the research is producing some
incredible data on the effectiveness of
something like psilocybin to help people
break through
their treatment resistant depressions
and trauma
again this is the idea of trying to
overcome the body's signal to the mind
in fact listen to the outcome of one of
griffith's studies
and i'm going to do my best here as a
phd english person to try to say this
just right so bear with me
the study essentially looked at three
groups of people and each group had 25
participants
and
one of these groups was given
a low dose of psilocybin
one milligram essentially and part of
what they wanted to look at was the
effect of psilocybin in conjunction with
various levels of kind of spiritual
practice support i think in other words
a way of of looking at life from a
from a transcending the body kind of
experience here right and so this first
group had a very low dose of psilocybin
and what they called standard
moderate level support
for spiritual practice
the other two groups in the study
were given high dose
or high doses of psilocybin somewhere
between 20 and 30 milligrams these
groups broke up with each other based on
the amount of support that they were
given
for their spiritual side so the second
group was given also just a moderate
amount or standard amount of support for
spiritual practice
and the third group
was given a much higher support
for spiritual practice now
here's a quote from the study itself
compared with low dose
high-dose psilocybin produced greater
acute and persisting effects
at six months
compared with low-dose
kind of standard
religious practice both high-dose groups
showed
large significant positive changes on
longitudinal measures of interpersonal
closeness
in gratitude life meaning slash purpose
in forgiveness and now hear this death
transcendence
daily spiritual experiences
religious faith
and coping and community observer
ratings
end quote
all because the psilocybin
was able to sort of break through
the body's signals to the mind here
now the research at the
you know medical slash university level
is one thing
but there's also an uptick in just the
general discussion of psychedelics as
well
now my argument would be that this is
not by coincidence like we've just
discovered this connection between
humanity and psychedelics the connection
goes back thousands of years
this uptick in interest however
is very much connected with our culture
of neo-modernism
it's a tool that makes transcending the
body
much easier
it provides individuals a means to reach
places outside of the awareness of the
limitations of their mortal form
when you listen to people talk
about their psychedelic experiences what
do we usually hear
they tend to be described in mystical
and or religious language right
in an article by alan watts entitled
psychedelics and religious experience
from 1968
he talks about his own experience using
psychedelics
one of the four primary characteristics
he identifies as experience in
psychedelic usage
is awareness of eternal energy
he describes it as such
quote
one sees quite clearly that all
existence is a single energy and that
this energy is one's own being
of course there is death as well as life
because energy is a pulsation and just
as waves must have both crests and
troughs the experience of existing must
go on and off
basically
therefore
there is simply nothing to worry about
because you yourself are the eternal
energy of the universe playing hide and
seek
off and on with itself
at root you are the godhead
for god is all there is
end quote
as an early americanist this reminds me
a lot of emerson actually and the
transcendental movement
although watts makes this energy into
something more human and universal what
is fascinating to me
is that religion still provides the best
vehicle
from which to try and explain
that urge for transcendence
let's get a more in the now discussion
on the relationship between
transcendence religion and psychedelics
in brian miura rescue's book
the immortality key
he opens the book with a
quote like a discussion that he had
with a woman just listen to
the way this woman
describes her experience here
quote
i'm an atheist
i don't believe there is a god she
affirms
but then i began to feel this love
just
overwhelming
all-encompassing
love
there is a long silence
and the way i describe it is being
bathed in god's love
she goes on her voice cracking
because i find no other way to describe
it
end quote
now the reason
for this type of language of course is
because religion often has transcendence
of the physical built into its very
structure
there is more than just your physical
form
and for billions of people
that provides enough
of a transcendent experience
that it gives them strength through
suffering
and hope
through despair
for others however
psychedelics remain one of the ways for
them
to try and reach beyond
their physical form
again these connections that we're
making today between psychedelics and
religious experience are not new
so why is it that these studies from the
1960s didn't seem to carry the same
weight as they do today
one reason among many of course is that
they came out during post-modernism
and what is one of the chief
characteristics of post-modernism
skepticism of grand narratives
this point connects back to our previous
episode on narrative reassurance
there was skepticism of these
experiences built into the very fabric
of the society back in the 60s
it's not to say that people didn't tell
their psychedelic stories of
transcendence or that people didn't
believe them
however the dominant pull of
postmodernism tended to push these
stories to the periphery of dominant
discourse
whereas neo-modernism
seeks narrative reassurance
rather than look with a skeptical eye on
the transcendent narratives of people we
actually look at them with a yearning to
believe them to a large degree
we want to hear about these mystical
experiences because they are evidence to
us that there is something beyond our
physical limitations
and that provides us with a kind of hope
that we can strive to become something
greater
than what we currently are
and how we currently feel
about ourselves
now you've undoubtedly also heard
numerous people exalt the use of
meditation today as a means of trying to
remove themselves from the material
world
oftentimes the language that is used in
meditation is quieting the mind
but
what does that mean exactly
what is the noise of our mind
the noise is mostly tied to our physical
existence
people hate me at work i hate my job i
feel angry and frustrated all the time
these are manifestations of our
conscious self so when we try to quiet
the mind
we're trying to create a space from
which we can simply be in existence
and then slowly
reintroduce the important aspects of
life back into our state of being
it's sort of like
when you get a brand new phone and
you're like oh right i'm back to the
core here no ridiculous programs and
apps just you know kind of taking up my
space
then
little by little you start to install
the programs and apps
and you start to feel
digitally claustrophobic let's call it
and you have to wipe it clean all over
again
but in meditation
for that brief period of time
you have the ability to try
and let in the transcendent elements of
human existence
back into your life
make no mistake meditation is about
transcending the pull of the body
towards self-destruction
and trying to make it a vehicle from
which you can experience a kind of
sacred existence
as a human being
so what do we do with all of this
if we wish to transcend the body are we
supposed to hate it
no
and i want to to make it clear
it's one of the reasons why i wanted to
try and clarify a bit of augustinian
philosophy because i don't believe that
he wished us to hate our bodies either
especially toward the end
of his kind of philosophical existence
in fact
i offer you a section
from walt whitman's
i sing the body electric
whitman writes
have you seen the fool that corrupted
his own live body
or the fool that corrupted her own live
body
for they do not conceal themselves and
cannot conceal themselves
oh
my body
i dare not desert the likes of you and
other men and women
nor the likes of the parts of you
i believe the likes of you are to stand
or fall with the likes of the soul
and that they are the soul
i believe the likes of you shall stand
or fall with my poems
and that they are my poems
whitman raises the body to the level of
the spirit
he makes it into something worshipful
and you're thinking
thanks joe now i'm confused
why would we transcend something that
whitman raises to the level of worship
because
although i cannot meet you on the level
of the body
we differ in everything from follicles
to limbs to height to dna
i can meet you in transcendence
i can meet you in suffering because i
have lost
i can meet you in joy because i have
laughed and i can meet you in humanity
because i'm human
these are not concepts
of the physical world
they transcend
and unite us
i'll leave you with an anecdotal story
i was in a grocery store
some time ago and i was waiting online
the line was moving a little bit slower
because the cashier was new and being
trained you know a young person looked
like a teenager maybe very early
twenties
suddenly this guy about two people in
front of me
throws up his hands and starts yelling
and making a scene about getting someone
who knows what the hell they're doing
to work the register
now here's where it gets interesting
the person immediately in front of me
someone i've never met before or seen in
my life
turns around
and gives me
this look
and in that look
was a conversation that expressed
our mutual frustration
not with the young cashier
but with the gentleman in front of him
i swear to you
in that look
he and i shared what seemed like years
worth of conversations
that we never actually had
in that moment there were no physical
bonds that made us different from each
other
we united in a moment
transcended our personal frustrations
and found unification
without saying a single
word
the body is not to be hated
your body is wonderful
however it has force
it has a gravity to it that we must
always be mindful of
and that gravity can sometimes make us
lose sight of the fact that we share
human bonds that transcend the physical
ones
neo-modernism reminds us that we yearn
for transcendence of the body
but it doesn't mean that we should
dismiss the body
just to close out my story here
ultimately a manager came and helped the
young person and the line started moving
much more quickly
when it came time for me to cash out my
groceries i made it a point
to tell the manager that i thought the
young cashier
did a great job handling the pressure
and that put a smile
on the young person's face
until next time
try to keep one foot firmly planted
on the neutral ground
and have a great day
as always i i thank you
from the bottom of my heart for taking
the time to listen
and i do hope you've enjoyed the episode
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additionally you can find me on
joemeyer.substance.com
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thenutralgroundpodcast.com
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thank you for listening
your time is truly appreciated