Over Christmas, I allowed myself to indulge in yet another book which might have a distinct impact on my way of thinking: Undoing Yourself by Christopher S. Hyatt. Indeed, this book is like a big box full of sweets – you never know what dogma or preconception will be unwrapped on the next page. „Unwrap“ in a very real sense, too – the author wants to deconstruct simply everything: Religion, Society, Morals… Facts, causes and solutions are randomly stated; in fact, the book itself seems to be designed to unwrap the reader. The Monty Python-esque cartoons and pictures inbetween contribute to transgress the reader`s comfort zones.
In general, the author claims that there is no such thing as free will. Instead, we have to go through lots and lots of meditation and ego-dissolving to even begin to experience inner freedom. This idea is rooted in the tradition of sufism, the mystic branch of islam. Much like in Christian Gnosticism, its basic ideas are dissolution of the ego, abstinence from sensual indulgence and unification with the divine spirit.
As in many books on consciousness, one of the key propositions in Undoing Yourself is „Things are not what we think they are“. The author suggests we should stay away from labelling things or people, even ourselves:
In fact, if you can forget your name for a few moments, the entity or more precisely the space-time event called You obviously was changing, sometimes faster and sometimes more slowly all through the decade…. Think seriously about whether it is strictly and totally true that Youyesterday really is Youtoday.
One of the main concepts Hyatt tries to deconstruct is monotheism. He thinks that monotheistic religions only leave us with one perspective on life, ultimately leading our thinking and free will into a dead end. Indeed, the basic ideas of monotheistic religions seem to have permeated our whole concept of life, also and especially when it comes to love. He cites Nietzsche, who was in favor of polytheism just because of that reason: „In polytheism man`s free-thinking and many-sided thinking has a prototype set up the power [sic] to create for himself new and individual eyes, always newer and more individualized.”
Hyatt concludes, rather amusingly:
Has [Nietzsche] sensed that polytheism really correlates with multiple brain(s) models of the universe? Has he anticipated the notion that culturalization is simply the channel for a preference of a singular brain mode activity, like the overly-simplified right/left brain model? Is he saying that culture is merely a form of advanced toilet training?
Can a “poly-consciousness” evolve if we create our own gods or even find the god(s) within us?
Even harsher is Hyatt`s verdict of our current society:
The middle class takes the refined elements of the wealthy, i.e., products – consumes and over-eats, then distorts and destroys the idea which created the product and feeds the result … to the lower classes… This process of vulgarization is paid for by the lower class, which is eternally maintained by the middle class` cult of conformity.
Apparently, for Hyatt, the middle class is the main problem as it is the one that takes the weight and gravity of their material possessions as a sign that they are living stable, sane lives. The reason for that is our wishful thinking that “we might last forever”. This is allowedly one of the paragraphs where the logical connection to the main points of the text remains vague, where Hyatt allows himself to “rant” about the current state of society. But he has a point (or points); material possessions are symbols of status (however different ones for different classes of society), and status is one of the preconceptions we must get rid off.
„The biological is the absolute and the cultural is the relative.“ Rather than condemning our biological roots and building oh-so-refined cultural structures, we should plant our feet more firmly on the biological ground – because the cultural realm is where all our preconceptions which we must get rid off are created. When preconceptions prevail long enough and are shared by many people, they become “dogmas”.
In truth, things do not have much in common with these preconceptions or dogmas. This is where phenomenology comes into play, once again:
[Y]our feeling or opinion about any object … is based on a vast body of opinions, conditions, feelings and ideas that you have superimposed upon it, and which have very little relation to the object itself.
I tried this exercise myself, and for sure, things and people began to lose their – for me – often negative and/or even threatening connotations. A certain blurriness faded; faces got more defined, things got more detailed/structured/shiny/rough/etc. The author suggests that we see objects, people, ourselves as nuclei of atoms which are surrounded by these preconceptions, the electrons; in fact, there is so much space between an atom and its electrons that it is comparable to the distance of a baseball inside a stadium to the outer grandstands. Only then, when we put enough “space” between us and our attributes, can we experience our “true” free will, which Hyatt defines with the words of Aleister Crowley as “magick”, “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”.
The author urges us to create our own little „lab“ in our head where we can experiment with our consciousness. In between the „theory“ chapters, he offers little self-help-lessons, like this one:
When you speak to others notice your Dead phrases, and your patterned stylized responses. They are indications that you are sound asleep. … Count the number of times you use them in a three day period, and then: STOP.
Hyatt`s main technique to achieve the free will is Energized Meditation, “a sensory-tonic (muscular) technique which takes into account the fact that tension is thought, and thought is tension. Every thought has its neuro-sensate-muscular equivalent. Conversely every tension can be converted into a thought.” When we think, even before we think, our whole voice (box) apparatus is stimulated, jaw, eyes and tongue are moving slightly.
For those whose prime realm of experimentation is the bedroom, there is even a chapter about Tantra. Actually, it gets really interesting when he touches the subject of love and sexuality – but maybe I will write a special entry about that!