No Affect?

Pot Head

 It may be hard to imagine that anyone regards an affectless state - a condition of no feeling - as some sort of ideal. 

 Surely it’s nobody's ambition finally to lose his capacity to feel anything.

 I mean, who wants to end up in the realm of an unfeeling void

 Who wants to be like the unfeeling android, Data, (Star Trek) or the unfeeling Vulcan, Spock, (Star Trek) or the unfeeling Jedi knight, Darth Vader. (Star Wars)

 Who wants to be so disconnected from feeling that he presents with the flat affect of a zoned-out pothead?

 Nobody, I hope.

 And yet, however, as I look around, it seems that perhaps more than a few are moving steadily towards such an affectless condition, and some, sad to say, appear already to be firmly planted in that unfeeling void. 

 Whether it’s people in line at a supermarket, or sitting in a Doctor’s office, I sometimes notice a certain dronish look on display. It’s the look perhaps of the sofa spud who has ventured forth to show up somewhere, to then stare blankly into space, showing little or no affect

 Now, sometimes this state of no affect receives a higher rating than I’m giving. This is when a state of unfeeling detachment is spiritualized and is regarded as some kind of an attainment.

 Some aspirant, from this point of view, has attained “an affectless void of cosmic consciousness.” (Swami Shankarananda, A Carrot in your Ear)

Well, I am not impressed with either the sofa spud or the new-ager. For what I have observed in both doesn’t seem like anything achieved, but rather a failure to engage. Tuned-out, not in.

 What I see is a washed-out look on the face. A disengaged look, indicating a collapse of some kind. I notice a spacey, dopey look. And the nose ring doesn't help.

 Your state of no affect, in other words, has no inspiring effect but serves only to depress. 

 Indeed the effect of no affect can be more than depressing. It can be paralysing. Energy zapping.

 I met someone once who claimed that he had always lived in some kind of untroubled, unaffected, state. He called it being a believer. His state of belief, he explained, had come to him naturally without any kind of struggle.

 There before me was a man in the state of no affect, but trying to gussy it up.

  It didn’t work. 

  For as he spoke, there was no feeling, and he was no presence at all. 

  I felt myself sinking in response, as he sucked the energy out of me.

  In effect, his condition of no affect, clobbered me. It felt like a full-out assault. It was hard to fend off the punches. 

 His state of no affect was passively aggressive. 

 In fact, his success at attaining a condition of no affect was effectively violent. There was something inhuman about it. Kind of scary, too. It felt abusive. Maybe the worst kind.

 You wallop other people, I think, by your state of no affect. You probably should be locked up soon.

 For it’s the surest way to kill any relationship. 

 If you’re a married guy and practice no affect, you will effectively drive your latest wife crazy, or take her down to your level.

 You then will have both teamed up to practice no affect, a prospect the world could do without.

 You may have noticed a couple or two who have made this kind of pact with each other. Their practice is to be absent while present. There, but not there.   

 I once, by the way, noticed a group of Sisters practicing no affect. They were sitting around watching a game show at their convent television.

 I’m still recovering from the sight.

 It was said by the great Australian art critic, Robert Hughes, that Andy Warhol “set out to become an affectless hero of the affectless cultural movement of the mid-60’s.” 

 I expect that you will have heard of Andy Warhol - “the guy who paints soup cans, knows all the movie stars and praised banality.” (Robert Hughes, The Rise of Andy Warhol, New York Books.)

 Warhol - amazingly - thought that the affectless condition was worth going after!

 Thus, says Hughes, the time "favored a walking void," and that’s what it got in Andy Warhol.

 Television’s effect was beginning to produce an affectless culture. Andy Warhol, the walking void, led the way in spreading the contagion far and wide.

 Indeed, says Robert Hughes, Andy Warhol “seemed to have had some kind of aspiration of no affect.”

 Hughes describes how until the 1960’s that there had been a general understanding in the culture that it was important to distinguish between higher and lower art.

 Warhol’s effect was to wear that distinction down - to say that it didn’t matter to discriminate. 'Art,' said Worhol, is anything that you can get away with.'

 Those therefore, says Hughes, "who had unfulfilled desires and undesirable ambitions, and who felt guilty about it all, gravitated to Warhol.”

 And what did Andy give them? "He offered them absolution, the gaze of the blank mirror that refuses all judgment.”

 For "Andy Worhal was a Chauncey Gardiner, the hero of Jerry Kosinski’s Being There.” He was credited, like Chauncey, with wisdom, though he had none.

 Obama-like, he was but a blank slate upon whom people projected their hopes of what they would like to see, when all the time, nothing was there. 

 Even Andy agreed that he was a nothing and was shamelessly proud of it!

 In an interview in the 60’s he said: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” 

 Worhal and company are exemplars of an unaffected, robotic condition. They live without real feeling. In such people, there is little or no aspiration for truth, beauty or goodness. 

 No. Any yearning for the highest is being effectively suppressed. The state of no affect has taken over.

 For as Colin Wilson writes - when the robot is in charge "our capacity to feel is restricted." (Colin Wilson, Poetry and Mysticism, p. 39)

 When deep feeling is suppressed the robot takes over. Our capacity for deep feeling atrophies, just as muscles that aren’t exercised become flabby.

 As Wilson puts it: "In this state, nothing seem worth doing; life becomes flat and pointless.” (Wilson, p. 40)

 Now, in contrast to the no affect effect of Andy Worhol and company, there is the inspiring effect of Swami Shantananda, a former University Professor who became a Siddha Yoga monk.

 Shantananda experienced a revelation that he regards as the turning point of his life. It was a glimpse, he calls it, of “my own being.”

 An enlightened Meditation teacher had given him a mantra to repeat.

 Here is his experience: "Sitting on a cushion, repeating Om Namah Shivaya silently in my mind, I noticed the letters of the mantra begin to dissolve. I could perceive the words as pure energy, as a vibrant and intelligent power."

 "This mantric power, which had a presence, also had an intention. I could feel it move to the base of my spine and proceed, gently, up the spine until it reached the top of my head."

 "There it seemed that the power of the mantra opened itself out, like the petals of a blossoming lotus, and then slowly began to close again, wrapping itself tenderly around my mind."

 "I had the very clear impression that this energy formed a grip on my mind and then quite literally, put it to the side. Although I didn’t open my eyes, it seemed as if I could see my mental activity neatly bundled beside me on the meditation cushion."

 "At that point I became totally serene. It was almost as if I’d entered an inner space, a space that contained no images, no emotions, no mental conversations, no thoughts at all."

 "Yet this space was not empty. It was filled with something, but what was it? All I was aware of at the time was a pervasive sense of sweetness.” (Swami Shantananda, The Splendor of Recognition, pages 9-11)

 Shantananda’s experience was to be effectively raised beyond any state of no affect into another state entirely - a state of inner fullness, what has often been called the state of the purified heart

 There was no absence of feeling, that no affect state. Rather, there was feeling to the full. Purified feeling

 A very good place to be.


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