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Coolness and dispassion

27 May 2008

I was idly surfing through some blogs on Blog Catalog, and came across this piece, which I rather liked.

I have come to understand the meaning of “coolness” in spiritual terms.A person is `cool’ when he or she is free from pressing desires (grasping) which always produce dissonant emotions (uncoolness).

An uncool person squirms with needs, waiting for the next coffee or cigarette or chance to break into the conversation, and thus is a state called “senseless agitation,” like Bodhi in the cartoon above.

On the other hand, a cool person is free of cravings and repulsions, and is thus in an empowered state of equanimity.

Being cool and detached is not being cold and uncaring. I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling cool and requiring nothing from the situation, it seems to clarify my thoughts, and in this state I tend to respond to other people’s agendas more, instead of my head being full of my own agenda.

To me, coolness means more compassion and less self-ness – the opposite of being heated.

That took me back nearly 50 years, when Brother Roger, of the Community of the Resurrection, wrote an article with the title “God’s cool cat”, about Francis of Assissi. The subtitle was “How beat was St Francis, and how Franciscan are the Beats”. One day I might post the whole article in my blog, but for now what strikes me about this is that it reflects the original metaphorical meaning of the word “cool”.

Nowadays “cool” has been devalued, and is applied to things that would never, ever have been considered cool back in the 1960s. I read somewhere that being cool is knowing which brands were fashionable and things like that. Back then that was about as uncool as it was possible to be.

Brother Roger was the one who introduced me to Jack Kerouac and his book The Dharma bums, which I think was the best thing Kerouac wrote. But it ended with him coming down the mountain and kept right on going downhill. But for some of the Beats, there was something that remained. As Lawrence Lipton wrote in his book The holy barbarians:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

Cool covers what Buddhists call “detachment”. what the Beats called “disaffiation”, and what Christians call dispassion, or apatheia. These three things — detachment, disaffiliation and dispassion –are not identical, but they have some common features. For Christians dispassion means not being ruled by our passions and desires, but bringing them under control and directing them towards God. And that is also something of the essence of cool.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 May 2008 3:46 pm

    This is your coolest post ever.

  2. 28 May 2008 9:29 am

    I don’t think a discussion of cool is complete without referring to Kalle Lasn’s anarchic “culture jamming”.

    Lasn is an activist dedicated to the “uncooling” of “Brand America”.

    Why his book is important here is that he notes the change in the meaning of cool between the 1940’s and the 1990’s. Originally it meant “authentic, original, offbeat” but it came to signify “conformist, consumerist, conventional”.

    I know this is not what you are getting at – I agree with your points about dispassion – but in my mind a discussion of cool needs to broaden to look at its meaning in popular culture.

    Like Lasn or not (many are his critics), he has a fine critique of consumerist culture, ruled wholly by craving, and offers some original and subversive ways to do something about it.


  1. How to be Cool « Andrea Elizabeth’s Wordpress Blog

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