A Phenomenological Critique of Mindfulness

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Abstract
How do such normative affectivities as 'unconditionally intrinsic goodness', 'spontaneous compassion', 'luminosity', 'blissfulness', ' a calm and peaceful life guided by the fundamental value of nonviolence' emerge as ultimate outcomes of a philosophy of groundlessness? Aren't they motivated by a sort of 'will to goodness', a preferencing of one affective dimension over others? It would seem that groundlessness for Francisco Varela and Evan Thompson doesn't apply to the thinking of affect and desire. Despite their claim that nihilism cannot be overcome by assimilating groundlessness to a notion of the will, they appear not to recognize that the positive affectivities they associate with meditative practice are, as dispositions of feeling opposed to other dispositions, themselves forms of willing. In The Embodied Mind, Varela and Thompson assert that Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger’s phenomenologies produce ‘after the fact’ theoretical reflections that miss the richness of immediate concrete pre-reflective experience as present in the here-and-now. But Varela and Thompson’s separating of being and becoming in their empirical approach leads them to misread these phenomenologists, and as a result to mistakenly give preference to mindfulness approaches which fall short of the radicality of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Varela and Thompson follow Husserl’s method of reduction up to a point, stripping away acquired concepts associated with a naive belief in the independence of subject and object. They don’t complete the reduction though, allowing subject and object to occupy separate moments. Varela and Thompson succeed in reducing materialist physicalism to fundamental co-dependency, but still find it necessary to ground intentional processes in a foundation of temporary self-inhering objectivities (the “arising and subsiding, emergence and decay” of transitional forms which inhere in themselves for a moment before relating to an outside). Varela and Thompson found the affectively, valuatively felt contingency of particular acts of other-relatedness in what they presume to be a primordial neutral point of pre-reflective conscious auto-affective awareness. But the phenomenologists show that attention, as a species of intention, is sense-making, which means it is sense-changing. Attention is affectively, valuatively and meaningfully implicated in what it attends to as co-participant in the synthesis, creation, constitution of objects of regard. As auto-affection turns reflexively back toward itself, what it finds is not the normative sameness and constancy of a neutral positivity( blissful, self-less compassion and benevolence toward all phenomena) but a newly sensing being. Mindful self-reflexivity, expecting to find only what it put there, instead is confronted with the self-displacement of its being exposed to and affected by an other. The basis of our awareness of a world isn’t simply compassionate, empathic relational co-determinacy, but the motivated experience of disturbing CHANGE in relational co-determinacy.
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First archival date: 2020-01-19
Latest version: 2 (2020-01-22)
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2020-01-19

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