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        a trace of spirited time
gary e. davis
March 12, 2015

We accept the complexity of the world—its veritable incomprehensibility—yet we need a “spirituality” that somehow transcends conflicts of political religion and can settle into admirable, sustaining norms across the globe.

If only the cacophony of the 24/7 news cycle would imply a coherent Conversation of Humanity that prevails over so much treachery, then we might shape a lasting constellation of transnational institutions, including a UN that works as designed (or as re-designed).

The distance from there to thinking about the spirituality of a life may seem greatly trivial—not thinking about a spirituality of my life but of any life that considers itself “spiritual”—which is to consider one’s life how?

Those who rely on the notion likely find their understanding very much their own, i.e., individualized—outside of doctrinal commitments. Yet, a large plurality of folks do consider their spirituality to be outside of doctrinal organization (e.g., “spiritual but not religious”—not that being “religious” requires a doctrinal organization). But it’s easily confusing: What’s “spiritual,” but not religious; what’s religious but not doctrinal?

I have no easy way to sort through all of that—which involves conundrums of history going back to the origin of mind: surmising that there are non-material presences substantially (substancely) determining things, living and non-. Later outgrowing supernaturalism doesn’t annul apprehensions of transpersonal significance or gravities; and of course we have vastly deep-cultural traditions that have cohered inter-generational life “forever.” What’s the substantiality, the gravity, the prevailing presence of that? The entirety of cultural anthropology might be called into relevance: What’s the substantiality of prevailing cultural presence?

What can I say briefly that’s worthwhile? For you, with you, I’d invite a tailored conversation. For myself, I need to move on. ‘Spirituality’ is not a keyword in my thinking, and I recognize that brief senses of countering inhumanity likely seem facile. However, there are fascinations worth recalling, re-minding that’s worthwhile. Allusion to large-scale issues can be useful.

Extrapolating from the etymology of ‘spiritual’ would be fun. That anthropological moment (etymology is really lexical anthropology) could begin a path into identifying—far up a way—importances of authentic spirituality (relative to a large body of scholarship—impossible for a brief discussion) which would not be overtly religious—e.g., a large-scale conception of mindfulness in poetic terms.

Much discussion of spirituality is initiated by religious minds, even when the focus isn’t religious (e.g., The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality, 2013). So, getting clear about a trans-religious Conversation of Humanity or spiritual discourse that would also show as already always intrinsic to the great religions would be a huge task—though fun. My intent (in a long view) would be to get clear on a Conversation, a Discourse, going forward for the sake of futures, difficult enough, rather than trying to show retrospectively how the “already always” goes, i.e., how the great religions implicitly but definitely anticipated trans-doctrinal comprehensions that only become feasible for actualization in the late 20th century.

There is spirituality and there is “spirituality,” so called. As I’ve mentioned, I think that one may be genuinely spiritual and also not yet authentically spiritual. So, that difference could easily fill an essay (related to potentials for trans-doctrinal thinking implicit to the genealogy of great religions). What are the potentials of our living transpersonal relations that may be on the way to authentic spirituality, yet not there yet? (And who’s to say what’s “merely” genuine?)

For decades, I’ve been an advocate of healthy, thriving childhoods whose spiritedness belongs with any conception of spirituality just as the Inner Child (that is not in need of healing) is integral to everything that makes a life creative and confident and self-determinative. One’s selfhood is ontogenic. So much can be said about relations of early attachment security and later openness to learning about what’s strange—learning with the stranger, larger-scale aspects of explorations—and shaping flexible attitudes toward the varietals of life (diversities, hybrids, kinds of exotic paths) and trans-horizonal potentials. Elation, inspiration, exuberance, enthrall—all may connote an aura of enspiration with appeals of awesome prospects and heights and grand scales, as if the horizon is a chord of grand invitation—Being: the gravity of cosmic mirroring?

Anyway, other persons are integral to any landscape, of course, such that dimmed interest in a landscape’s potential becomes dimmed interest in appreciating others, amid dimmed interest generally in learning. (Presumption is so much easier for the busy consumer, you know.)

So, let’s have it all: Make all enchantment come true: child-centered parenting (and enough time for that); educational excellence (and smart money for that), enough care embodied in identity, enough confidence to persevere with ambitious projects (and manage stresses smartly)—an endless list could be fleshed out for community-based human development of flourishing lives, thriving organizations in supporting such lives, and healthy regions sustaining them. We’re not short of progressive architects or public policy wonks!

Conceptually, a developmental keynote is flexibility of attachments, based in “core” attachment security—which can be gained late in life, if you were unlucky young! But that’s not about dependence! It’s about “concerted cultivation” in parenting, which instills self efficacy. Clinical research clearly shows that a strong sense of self makes one generous, not selfish. Caring independence shows attachment flexibility, which leads to a flexible sense of identity and flexible perspectivity (e.g., ease of not regarding errors of action as flaws of self, such that one thereby doesn’t resent having to learn from recognizing mistakes—nor resents others’ critical observations).

Pleasure flows from flexible attachmentality and ability to care easily about others. Caring independence is not about weak fidelity, rather about astute adaptability. Caring independence is not about ambivalent commitment, rather about open engagement with healthy change. It’s not about being casual about others’ need to easily trust, rather about keeping communication genuine. It’s not about fear of dependence, rather about full mutuality in collaborative life. There’s a continuum, of course: All great values have degrees of relevance relative to living situations. But stability doesn’t, as such, require inflexibility. But fidelity (a normativity) is only as good as its fidelity (enacted and re-enacted engagement), and good fidelity has fit and fitting flexibility. A commitment is only as good as one’s ongoing committing and re-committing; engagement as one’s [re-]engaging; love, one’s renewing love; trust, [re]trusting. It has no proper name: flexible adaptability? rational flourishing? I just say: flourishing. Yet, that’s no simple notion, to my mind. It involves issues of individuated capability and comfortable prudence that are complex, but readily correlated with well-researched best practices.

I could cite a lot of peer-reviewed research (parenting science, positive psychology, leading educational psychology) on how the above works. Now, though, I’m trying to confine myself by briefly rendering a spiritedness of growth in flourishing.

How enchanting
that a leading philosopher of ethics—housed at Princeton—capped his career by writing of love? Enchanting it is that the leading empirical psychologist of intelligence writes more than one book about love. Do you feel uncomfortable with notions of finding love easy, fun, and enspiriting? Another leading ethical theorist caps his career with a non-sentimental philosophically-sentimentalist theory of mind (which might rightly make Kant turn in his post-Humean grave.) Such delights can figure into a fascinating spectrum of enlightening “spirituality” philosophically.

Yet, discursive bridging from spirited individuation through metaethics to thinking about the spirituality of a life easily becomes very difficult—not thinking about a philosophicality (love that) of my life but of any life that considers itself “philosophically.” Can philosophicality be a coherent kind of engagement without presuming a given school? (This is the kind of issue that the journal Metaphilosphy entertains.)

Anyway, there’s no wrong in having conceptual fun (re: some dear persons I’ve known well)—unless, perhaps, one’s sense of conceptuality is inflexible, i.e., play is easily received as an intimidation of one’s identity (re: ditto). But I digress (—well, not I. My Inner Child absolves me.)

Eudaimonia, Aristotle called it (within his province): eu- (good) -daimonia (spirit), following Plato showing Socrates toying in good spirit with his interlocutors (like the ever-giggling professor who introduced me—presumptuous teen—to “ancient” philosophy)—flourishing for the sake of educing the same. May we belong together in The Same high spirit of being as we most may.

But I’m beyond eudaimonia, frankly. The classical Greeks were properly oriented to ethically interpersonal life—the Good, the spirit of interpersonal life. Whatever could be appreciated of highly spirited individuation (a rather modern notion, exemplified by highly inquiring, creative minds) was heavily socialized in conception—which was quite appropriate among aristocrats striving to be[come] enthusiastically ethical. Relative to a trope of lateral and elevational, classical thought sought to secure the lateral dimension fruitfully, such that the elevational was a derivative kind of laterality: supernatural (super-lateral). Oddly, one idealized gods that were like us! And it was gods idealized, not one’s ownmost potential in terms of a life’s possibilities. Flourishing was to bring fruitful social integration. But it all wasn’t yet spirited enough.

Seas still beckon. Suppose—prospect—that “spirituality” ultimately expresses our potential in cultural evolution to design our humanity, just as academic psychology has shown (citations available) that the innate “spirit” of the child expresses one’s potential to design a good life. The evolution of childhood hallmarks the evolution of humanity. Fun! The spirit of humanity is in our bones. If I may quote myself: Inspiration in growing up, exuberance for learning and inquiry, love of exploration, elations of imaginability, entrancements of creativity—on and on—originally led our spirit to shape all our legacies that keep life promising.

The ancestors were not yet capable of what we know of enthralled scientific researchers and artists showing a high individuation that wasn’t imaginable in the evolution of humanity before recently. But we have effective history (which historiography re-traces) to truly thank for creating conditions for the possibility of what humanity could not yet envision. History deserves to be greatly appreciated for its generative, evolutionary enabling. We are the truly evolving species (not just ecologically changing, naturally selected) because we have been doing intelligent selection for tens of millennia. Our speciation is now intrinsically cultural. We are now learning to [re]design Our nature—in what I call hyperNet City, encompassing the entire, Gaic Earth like a planetary mind, now searching for cosmic “kindreds.”

Fun. Resolved: The humanity (value sphere—a meta-ethical discourse) of humanity (global sphere—a discourse on Our Anthropocene?) is intrinsic to our nature.

I connote something more ambitious than Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness (though I can’t hope to match the succinct intelligence of that majesterial, albeit short, capping of a life. Ruth Garrett Millikan is Foot’s essential complement)—ambition I won’t try to represent briefly. Yet so the spirit, so to speak, draws. However far I get, the waymaking is joy.

Anyway, no grand audacity is required to emphasize the obvious: that generally pertinent caring is integral to the notion of our humanity. We do fall from fair devotion to supporting well enough those whose lives are devoted to advancing humanity. Indeed, highness never much belonged to “the people” because near-term struggle was kept paying with all the time there was. The tiresome Story of inequality goes on because we are such a plurality of cultural species, progressing and regressing—one regression inhibiting another progression; one progression remediating another regression. The endless story of our nature includes that We are not altogether evolving, too often still bound to the foresst of zero-sum gaming: two steps forward, one back, yadda, yadda.

All may seem to be rhetoric in a dismissive sense. Stories dramatize, but are soon forgotten. Great lives are forgotten while they’re still alive. They die. We commemorate how great the loss. Then quickly forget again, because life belongs to the living.

But rhetoric can embody its best sense: We give way (ideals, prospects, promise, policies, etc.); or else there’s no way. Children need exemplarity to grow well. Inequality needs smart and progressive leadership to stand powerfully for what truly matters—among nations, within communities, and as exemplary families of good families. The great rhetoric (historiography, philosophy, visionary politics, great poetry—all humanities and sciences, such transcendental substantives) can outlive everyone, remaining generative and prevailing, given that the living keep It alive, generative, and prevailing.

So what else is new. Perhaps it’s new that a nobility of spirit is not dismissable as lofty rhetoric—that character and virtue are empirically proven to be not ethnocentric (nor metaphysicalist); post-2004 research citations available. Perhaps it’s news that teaching is a noble calling.

Again, ‘spirituality’ isn’t a keyword for me. But I appreciate important potentials for a philosophical rhetoric focused on the notion, a grandly transpersonal domain, for me leading to a conceptual topography that is wholly philosophical.

Spirited time includes exemplifying creative learning as ventures of love—potentially encompassing all kinds of loves—and well-shown devotion to the importance of caring for as well as caring about all that truly matters.

It includes aspiring for comprehensive comprehensions, even though that’s inaccessible, because the venture—the so-called search for Truth—is enriching, while the appeal of horizons can feel intrinsic.

It gives effective admiration for enabling humanity—teaching, beyond instruction (or lecturing).

And It gives the Inner Child staying alive and well in one’s life, giving way to evinced and enabled new lives, thus staying immortally evolving.

It gives loving the day more often than not, maybe even always.

    Be fair. © 2015, g. e. davis.