Bodily Futures

FutureOfTheBodyJust about everyone I know has their own method of curing the hiccups (or, in their more evocative spelling, hiccoughs). Most of these involve holding one’s breath or elaborate ways of drinking a glass of water. Since hiccups are involuntary spasms that can be quite annoying, they can’t be predicted or easily foreseen. Some years ago I realized that the methods I’d been using to rid myself of this unpleasantness were really just ways of getting my attention off of the hiccups—in other words, it was a matter of concentration. I started to respond by thinking the hiccups away whenever they struk me. Cut out the middleman, as it were. And it works. All of this is preamble to the remarkable material to be found in Michael Murphy’s The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. Murphy is one of the co-founders of the Esalen Institute, about which I’ve posted before. Promoting exploration of human transformative potential, Esalen was a landmark in 1960s culture that I was a little too young to appreciate. Besides, I lived far from California and in a strictly religious mindset. Those who founded Esalen knew, however, that people are capable of more than we appear to be.

Human transformative potential involves matters with which materialistic science is often uncomfortable. Religious practices such as meditation, sports, and martial arts training, all, however, can produce results that shouldn’t be on the books. Whether it is the basketball player who can stay in the air a little too long, or a religious adept who can survive being buried alive for protracted periods of time only to be revived later, or even the remote viewer hired as a spy by the government, people are capable of more than we’re told we are. Murphy suggests that perhaps it is because we are socialized to think this way. Our young minds are open to a realm of possibilities that adult minds have been conditioned to discount. If it’s impossible, it’s impossible. Or is it?

The Future of the Body will take some readers where they do not wish to go. The fact is, however, that faith healers and stigmatics exist without fraud. Just because some frauds imitate reality, it doesn’t follow that the genuine article can’t exist. The usual reductionistic answer is that such things can’t possibly be real—let’s teach our children this fact—we are only robots made of meat. But this view still hasn’t accounted for consciousness, and consciousness is, at least for most of us, inescapably real. We know that because these bodies with whom we are associated do all kinds of things that bring it to mind. We get sick, we experience pain and emotion. We get up and go to work when we don’t feel like it. Most of the time we’re conscious of where we are, and what he have to do. Or do we? It very well may be that matters much larger than the hiccups might just be negotiable.

Esalen

Esalen Every great once in a while, you read an academic book that really makes you think. Not that many books aren’t erudite or thought-provoking, but the ones that cause a reader to question reality are relatively few. I suppose that’s why I’ve been reading Jeffrey Kripal’s books like candy. I’ve posted on his Authors of the Impossible and Mutants and Mystics. Now that I’ve read Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, I somehow feel like I missed out on something important that had never entered my awareness. Growing up in the eastern part of the country and not reaching my teenage years until the program at Esalen was already under way and famous on the west coast, I’d never even heard of the institute until I’d started reading Kripal’s books. Esalen, for those who are like I was, is hard to define. Indeed, Kripal studiously avoids doing just that as he narrates its history and impact on the nation, and indeed, the world.

The human potential movement has seldom found institutional support. Since our worldviews determine what we are capable of seeing, and since our reality has largely been defined by a rationalistic monism, an entire universe remains for us to discover, if we were only to open our eyes. Reading about Esalen was like finding a long lost twin—much of what the institution has stood for has found its way into my own psyche in some form or other. I suppose I’ve never really read too much on eastern religions, but I do appreciate what meditation can do. Reading the names of those associated with Esalen over the decades, it would be difficult to disagree.

Our society has come to trust materialism assiduously. How easy it is to forget that even the material world consists of so much more than our limited senses reveal. We know that animals sense the world differently, so we call them non-conscious beings and get on with pretending that if we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. As the Esalen devotees know, even scientists have come to consider the implications of quantum mechanics. If we are to take the results of physics seriously, the impossible does happen. Right here in our own corner (or arc) of the universe. We lose so much by refusing to believe the impossible. Lewis Carroll knew that and we’ve been talking about going down the rabbit hole ever since. There are rare places in the world where the spiritual, the scientific, the sensuous, and the artistic come together to explore what the human experience truly is. One such place is Esalen, where, I’m told, the religion is no religion.