Not long after I married in 1989, my wife and I were taking a road trip out west. I had already discovered that she was not as anal-retentive as I was…how could I expect otherwise as she was a musician and artist…but this difference became more apparent on this trip.
To make a long story short, we could not keep track of our road maps and related travel information. I had an easy solution to this—keep maps and such in a side-pocket on our respective car doors. But Claire, lacking this god-given (and mandated) anal retentiveness, would use that door pocket for all sorts of stuff—gum, food wrappers, reading material, sun-glasses, newspapers, etc, etc. and pretty soon it was overflowing with all sorts of stuff, so much so that often the road maps and other “pocket material” would end up elsewhere. Thus, when needed a map it could not be found. I was frustrated for, clearly, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, God had instructed us to “Keep the categories pure” and side-door pockets were meant only for specified material, “specified material” which I was clearly more qualified to define than was she.
After this trip, I was sharing re the trip with a good friend and sharing re frustrations which had arisen, as is always the case when newlyweds travel for the first time. And, I remember emphatically making the point to him…albeit facetiously and self-consciously…that I wanted to scream at her from time to time, “Keep the categories pure! Keep the categories pure, dammit.” Fortunately, and wisely, I knew that sharing my frustration at that point on this matter with her would not have been prudent!
But this anecdote is admittedly so revealing about how my mind works and how alienated I am, how detached I am, how “clinical” I am in my approach to life. Sure, she needed to honor the Old Testament Levitical instruction more closely but my emphasis on this categorization was also very problematic. For, in reality none of us can “keep the categories pure” as I was implying and, as I admit, my first nature dictates. For, reality is not clearly defined and in fact is, ultimately, not defined at all….it is a flux…and our “definitions” are very arbitrary and limiting.
This “categorization” is a verbal or cognitive enterprise and reflects the human penchant for subjecting the whole of reality into cognitive structures, i.e. “thought”, so that he/she can manage and manipulate them and feel that he/she is in control. And, without this ability, we would not be human and we would not have human culture; for culture is an invention, the result of our ability to carve up reality and make it subservient to some purpose even something as simple, and necessary, as the well-being of the group.
But, this carving up can become problematic and I think most observers of the human predicament….particularly the Western expression of this predicament…will agree has become problematic. For, we have come to see the world as our oyster, something to be exploited and used. We have come to see ourselves as separate and distinct from the world and done so to such a degree that could ultimately lead to our demise as a species.
Yes, we must always “categorize” and “think” but we do have a forebrain and with that God-given contrivance we can find the capacity to get outside of ourselves, to “think outside of the box”, and think in less categorical terms, in terms that are more inclusive of others and of the world as a whole. We can come to the point where we no longer see the world as our oyster and see ourselves as part of the world, an expression of the world even, and that the world includes all of us….even those who are different than ourselves! Even more so, it even includes those people who we do not like…cursed be the thought!
To sum it up, we can have our “categories” but the goal is to not worry so much about keeping them “pure” as I have been wont to do. For anybody who actually succeeds in “keeping the categories pure” is certifiably nuts! Fortunately, I never literally went to that extreme! Yes, we can have our “words” and “thoughts” and must have them. But we can realize that they are not to be taken literally, that they are a means to an end, that the astute Buddhist wisdom is very appropriate, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”