Prehension and Friendliness: Creative, Dynamic Peace

By Dr. Arlette Poland

Whitehead coined the term prehension. In his opus, Process and Reality, starting at page 19, he begins to unfold what prehension means in his complex and thorough biological model of existence and becoming. Prehension has two aspects that can be understood as subjective and objective, both. This fits with one of the fundamental sayings of Process thought: Reality is both/and – not either/or.

Prehension is the experience of taking in information that is concrete. The other aspect of prehension is subjective. We can borrow ideas in John Cobb Jr.’s book entitled The Whitehead Word Book, pages 31-33, where he explains that the subjective form is the subjective form or feeling with which the becoming event receives the actual or objective world. So, for example, my feeling about the color yellow is that it is a happy color. If I see something yellow, one of my responses to whatever the object might be will involve happiness. The object might be an armored tank or a flower. But if it is yellow one of my responses of this yellow object will involve happiness.

“The one who seems to be the most serene is really the one who is most friendly with the chaos within” (Listen Within Ministries). Chaos is that which has no perceived order to it. If I can combine my negative history of perception regarding chaos with a new and creative approach to the world that involves accepting chaos, then maybe I can enter a new prehensive determination/feeling about chaos. If I can accept that chaos is my perception that that there is no order here, if I can be friendly towards the experience of chaos, I enlarge my creative potential.

Catherine Keller, in “On the Mystery” at page 121, writes: “Creativity signifies at every level … the self-organizing complexity of creatures living on the edge of chaos.” The edge of chaos is the swing between opposites such as subjective and objective, acceptance and rejection, order and chaos. Once something is concrete or actual, order has been expressed. What if we could be friendly with the reality of the swing of one opposite to the other? What if we could accept chaos is part of order and order is part of chaos?

How? How can we be friendly with that internal swing that seems to haunt even our peaceful sleeping moments? I suggest that one answer is meditation or mindfulness. This means that we stop, breathe, notice and allow. Accepting the swing from one opposite to the other requires not only an internal flexibility but also a trust that is challenged in every moment.

Mindfulness asks us to accept what is. If we can accept the dynamic chaos within with friendliness, we are prehending the world with the subjective form or feeling of friendliness, kindness and acceptance. We open to creative, dynamic peace within. If we can do that then maybe we can also learn to be friendly towards the apparent chaos in the world – especially today.