Social Constructionist Model of Enlightenment

Paul Anthony, modified 11 Years ago at 6/22/11 1:43 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 6/22/11 1:43 PM

Social Constructionist Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 71 Join Date: 6/22/10 Recent Posts
Hi all,

With regard to the recent interesting discussion of clinical mindfulness and the research of Dr. Britton, it occurred to me that there has never been much discussion on the DhO of a 'constructionist model' as a possible addition to the various models in MCTB. Basically this would entail that it is the map that constructs the terrain rather than the reverse. So in this type of model, the experience of the practitioner would be explained in terms of responses to expectation caused by the social context (including maps, teachings, group dynamics and the like). This could be a partial explanation for outcomes or more radically the main explanation for them.

I respect the fact that there are some good reasons for this not being discussed - most people on the DhO would not have much time for this perspective because it perhaps runs counter to the assumptions of hardcore dharma practice. (Although it also surely plays into Cause & Effect in an interesting way). However, the social constructionist view is definitely part of Western psychology (for example, it's one of the prevalent psychological models of hypnosis) so it's likely to be a recurrent theme as the clinical mindfulness thing evolves.

Personally, I think there is a case to be made on both sides. On the one hand, I think it's possible to meditate for decades and not encounter 'vibrations' until one reads about them in Daniel's book (because this was my experience). Maps provide a vocabulary for previously undescribed events and therefore appear to partly construct them. On the hand, TM is an interesting example because the 'map' presented to new practitioners describes only a very mild set of adverse outcomes (referred to as 'de-stressing') yet I think there are many accounts of Dark Night type experiences, usually from disgruntled practitioners on TM-EX sites.

Best wishes,

Jake , modified 11 Years ago at 6/22/11 7:31 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 6/22/11 7:31 PM

RE: Social Constructionist Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 695 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts

It seems to me that the social-constructivist mode of describing things is useful to be able to deploy at times. I think the usefulness of such a descriptive system is proportional to the lightness and flexibility with which one holds it.

For me, this view (social construction) helps illuminate where content comes from (like, you see lights, and feel oneness, and see a being forming out of the light... is it Jesus, or Buddha, or so on?) and to illuminate the possible significance attributed to kinds of content (so you had an experience of a being coming towards you out of the light and had feelings of oneness; well, is the goal of your practice to have experience X or to understand the process of experiencing, generally? And if the latter, in what way is attention directed by other practitioners to particular facts about the process of experiencing?).

But while it seems that social-constructioncan play a role in determining content and in directing attention more generally in other ways, it seems that most of these factors (such as content and overall purpose of practice) could as easily be determined by personal preference or other causal chains.

All in all, I would say the more interesting things sociologically are

1) the way group dynamics shape discourse and discourse shapes the kinds of identity which different groups will reinforce with approval or attempt to marginalize with rejection;

2) the transparency with which a given group engages these dynamics to enforce the group-preferred mode of discourse-- which is inverse to the degree to which such dynamics can be easily exploited for personal ego gratification and thus inverse also to the degree to which the group will tend to congeal into "in" and "out" groups

3) the effectiveness of the chosen discursive climate in facilitating the kinds of processes valued by the group members.

For example, if the stated purpose of a group is to facilitate the experiential/existential freedom of its members, then to the extent that the group in question functions in opaque, indirect ways, with complex hierarchies of approval, disapproval, inclusion and exclusion, based on the degree to which and socio-emotional adroitness with which individuals tacitly agree to perpetuate and participate in the social conditioning of experience of the group members, such a group will be inhibiting, in its actual dynamics, its stated purpose.

So the extent to which liberation and enlightenment are socially construct-able, perhaps they are to that extent not the genuine article. But this is a subtle distinction. It can be extremely helpful to have one's attention and inquiry directed in particular ways at particular times-- whether the redirection comes from life circumstances generally or another human being in particular is irrelevant, as the important thing at that point is what one discovers in following up on the pointer. So we need to make the distinction, it seems to me, between social construction (of something that is to some extent pure fiction) and social discovery or facilitated discovery (of something which is true whether we knew it or not, but knowing it, can take on multiple significances).