How does 'Metaphysics of Place' figure into the migrant crisis?

Philosopher Barbara Scott seeks to put a 'halo of divinity' above everyone

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 3/26/19

Local writer and philosopher Barbara Scott plans to invoke the ancient wisdom of Aristotle in a public lecture titled "The Metaphysics of Place: A Mystical Human Rights Practice." …

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How does 'Metaphysics of Place' figure into the migrant crisis?

Philosopher Barbara Scott seeks to put a 'halo of divinity' above everyone

Posted

Local writer and philosopher Barbara Scott plans to invoke the ancient wisdom of Aristotle in a public lecture titled "The Metaphysics of Place: A Mystical Human Rights Practice." It happens on Sunday (March 31), 11 a.m., at the Unitarian Congregation of Taos, 124 Camino de Santiago.

Scott, president of UCOT's board of trustees, said she seeks to "build on the theme of Aristotle's Physics, in which the ancient Greek philosopher grappled with physical concepts such as place, time, movement and change, and then apply that curiosity to understand the nature of place as it pertains to people, including those who have no place to call home, those who are part of this current vast migration."

Scott expanded on her thoughts in a brief interview.

Why do human rights practices need mysticism?

Because politics and activism aren't working. They aren't getting at the root of the problem, which is that we don't respect strangers or people not like us. This mystical practice shows us a way to regard others in their place, and I think of place as a halo of consciousness around every person, the vessel of our divinity and a container of knowledge. We are the same person at 80 as we were at 8. When we realize how special it is that only one person can occupy each place, we see that every single person has a divine right to be, and that we ought to help usher their way instead of obstruct it. We need a radical shift in the way we see all people... I'm convinced that if we could all shift the way we look at others, the threats we all feel would soften. I'm calling for a perfect world in which everyone will put those principles into practice. But if one person can do it, they become a particle of light that can light up the next person and the next.

How is thinking about migration through the lens of mysticism and the divine more beneficial than a policy-driven or political approach?

Because it's far more radical. Radical means "proceeding from the root." Policy just deals with the surface but it doesn't change our minds, and it's minds that need to change.

In your press release you said: "Politically radical ideas are presented as moral and mystical responses to the questions of our time." How does your approach differ from using a confirmation bias supported through your theology, to uphold your views on a geopolitical humanitarian disaster?

That's such a great question. My approach does not rely on a theology. The secret to it is this: In most religions, someone has told us to love one another. But we don't love one another. Many people don't even love their families. It's because loving one another is an impractical request. This approach asks people to see one another, to regard them as in their place, to appreciate them, because they are the only ones who can do that job to be in their place. For God's sake, don't hinder or obstruct them. Sometimes our appearance and personality can destroy relationships before they even start. If I don't look like you, you may have an unpleasant feeling about being with me. So, if instead of looking at the obvious - my physical appearance - I ask you to look for my halo of consciousness, which surrounds my head and body, like you see in the paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And see me as divine just as you are. Then all the other characteristics just burn away.

I'm dirty, I'm hungry, I'm exhausted and I don't speak your language, but we share a space of consciousness if just one of us opens that door. The person who was here first is the only one that can do that. If I come across your border, no matter how kind and hard-working I am, I cannot reach out in the same way, because I do not have the primacy of place you do. You are the host. But if you open that heart of consciousness, even for a few seconds, it will transform both of us. That's where the mysticism comes in. Believe me, you will like that feeling. And you'll want more of it, and so you'll try it with another person. And another. Until you've changed your world, bringing that particle of light and giving it more and more to others. And, hey, you can do it right here in Taos. You don't have to go to the border. Practice it here.

How are the movements of humanity, regarding migration and immigration, a matter of the divine?

People in motion are desperate. Think about having to leave the home of your birth because you're no longer able to keep your family fed and safe. Imagine your feet as the only means you have of transportation. They are not on their way to another country because they're seeking more; they're in migration because they have run out of options. It's no longer enough to work hard and love your family. So they have no choice. That's true for migrants from Central America and Mexico, and those from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and so on.

How are ancient Greek philosophers' thoughts on kinesis relevant to a 21st-century humanitarian crisis?

At first blush, I would have said it's the method as much as anything, but I think there's more to it than that. It's the questioning mind of someone like Aristotle, who was trying his earnest best to figure out how the physical world operated. I'll tell you a little secret. My nervous system sometimes gets hijacked for a day or a week. The last time it happened, I recovered and had four immediate directions from what I can only say is the divine. One was to figure out the real meaning of "God Is Love." The other was to think about the "Will to Surrender" - a total paradox, right? The third was to revisit William James's lectures on "The Varieties of Religious Experience" and condense them into shorter lectures for all the people I know who wish they'd read his book but could never devote the time to it. It's a lot easier to read than people think. And the last of these four ... was "Revisit Aristotle's Physics, the part about Place." So I didn't set out to write a piece on a humanitarian crisis. That's just where thinking about place took me. And it built on mystical practices I've developed over years of trying to get beyond just base existence.

As a mystic or theologian, what would you say to someone who is experiencing the migration crisis firsthand? Do you think people in crisis can "transcend their physical realities"?

Wow. Another great question. I just had open-heart surgery in December, and to my surprise, I could not transcend my physical reality of pain and weakness. So, I think it's very, very hard for people in crisis to transcend their physical, emotional and spiritual realities. My advice to someone who is experiencing the crisis firsthand -- and keep in mind, I have never been a migrant and so I'm not sure I have a right to speak from their perspective - but I would at least offer to them they accept what they are doing as being why they're here on earth. That they are in their place, on the move, holding their little children's hands, wearing a backpack, keeping track of how much water is left, trying to keep the children clean, and they are doing what they're supposed to be doing. They chose a difficult path, far harder than mine, and I admire them for that. They are doing holy work being themselves in whatever form that takes. And to those who are experiencing the migration crisis firsthand from the other side? The side of privilege? I would say, "Take the hand of one person. Guide them to a chair in the shade. Give them water and find something for them to eat. Then ask them to tell you about their long, hot journey."

Admission is free to the talk. For more information, call (877) 217-2154 or visit uutaos.org.

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