The other day I read that a man had pushed a person onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train. The week before that, I'd read in a book by Robin Ince that a person who -- having had a baby thrust into his hands -- has intrusive thoughts of throwing said baby out of the nearest window is [believe it, or not] the best person to ask to hold one's baby. The argument goes like this, the person having these intrusive thoughts is being intensely reminded by his or her unconscious mind that under no circumstances -- no matter what unexpected or unusual events should transpire -- is he to throw the baby out the window (or otherwise do anything injurious.) I've heard that, at some point, virtually everyone has some type of awkward intrusive thought such as the thought of pushing a stranger in front of a train. Most never do it, nor truly want to do it. Then this one time... someone did.
People pray for blinding, deafening magic. Instead, they should make themselves keen observers of the mundane miracles. Those little magic moments like seeing a baby's smile or crossing over a green ridge to face a snow-capped mountain. Feel these rare moments to their fullest, rather than wishing to be dazzled by grand displays of the supernatural. Those loud miracles will probably never happen, and - if they do - one who hasn't become attuned to hearing the quiet moments of glorious perfection might still miss them.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book collects three essays composed between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. They are in chronological order, but also in order of increasing length, i.e. Saigyō’s piece is a short excerpt, while Kenkō’s essay makes up the bulk of the book.
An excerpt from Saigyō’s Senjūshō tells the story of the monk’s meeting with a wise reclusive meditator on Mt. Utsu. Saigyō tries to talk his way into living / meditating with the hermit, but the sage convinces him that that wouldn’t be good for either of them. The monk goes away, planning on visiting the hermit on his return, but he wistfully tells us that he took another route.
“The Ten-Foot Hut” is about the benefits of a simple, minimalist existence. It discusses Impermanence, and takes the view that having more just means one has more to lose. A quote that offers insight into the monk’s thoughts is, “If you live in a cramped city area, you cannot escape disaster when a fire springs up nearby. If you live in some remote place, commuting to and fro is filled with problems, and you are in constant danger from thieves.” The author’s solution? Build a tiny cabin in the woods and – in the unlikely event it burns or gets robbed while one is away – what has one really lost?
The Kenkō essay makes up about eighty percent of the book. Its rambling discussion of life’s impermanence delves into morality, aesthetics, and Buddhist psychology. There are many profound bits of wisdom in this piece. Though it’s also a bit of a mixed bag in that some of the advice feels relevant and insightful, while some of it hasn’t aged / traveled well.
I enjoyed this book and found it thought-provoking. Some may be disappointed by finding how little of Saigyō’s writing is included (he being the author of greatest renown,) but I found each author had something valuable to offer.
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We laud our rational side - The Thinking Man - But we're emotional beasts to the core. To use that old [and disparately applied] chestnut: Of emotions, better master than servant. Poetry is a conduit to emotional savvy. That's part of the reason Plato urged poetic restraint; he found the emotional inferior to the rational, and thought most youngsters couldn't behave responsibly in the face of poetry's emotional power. It's also where Aristotle found virtue in poetry, its ability to induce catharsis. Could they both be right?
The Immovable, said to lasso evil & vanquish it with his flaming sword. And I have so many questions... -can one vanquish evil? -what material must a sword blade be made of to fatally wound something so conceptual? -why don't we see more vanquishing these days? [It seems to be an activity that's fallen out of favor.] where can one obtain a conceptual blade to vanquish a conceptual fault? i conclude that it's all made of mind.
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. - Ralph Waldo Emerson Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. -William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. -Albert Einstein Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost. -Erol Ozan Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live for ever. -Mahatma Gandhi There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. -Albert Einstein The journey itself is my home. -Matsuo Bashō No matter where you are, you're always a bit on your own, always an outsider. -Banana Yoshimoto There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. -Robert Louis Stevenson One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. -Henry Miller I don't want to die without any scars. -Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? -Mary Oliver Do not chase after what is true, only cease to cherish opinions. -unnamed Zen master If any man be unhappy let him know that it is by reason of himself alone. -Epictetus BONUS QUOTATION: Respect the Gods and Buddha, but don't expect their help. -Miyamoto Musashi
I saw something sad in the park this morning. A boy was trying to learn to ride a bicycle, but I could see that he never would — not with his present approach. Why? He had one training wheel, and the bike was leaning about 15-degrees off vertical as he struggled to use the bicycle as a tricycle. I could see that the metal arm that supported the training wheel was starting to bend from the strain — thus making the lean ever more pronounced. [Incidentally, with two training wheels, I think he might rapidly learn to ride because he’d experience tipping from one side to the other, through the balance point.]
I’ve told yoga students before that there are three timelines for learning inversions (upside-down postures, which all require one’s body to learn to balance 180-degrees out of phase with the balance we all mastered as toddlers.) The first timeline is if you are willing to learn break-falls (i.e. how to safely land when — not if, it will happen — one loses balance.) If so, one can learn any inversion (that one is otherwise physically capable of performing) in an afternoon. Second, if one gets near (but not up against) a wall, and only uses the wall when one is falling towards over-rotation, then one can learn the inversion in a month — give or take. Finally, one can lean up against the wall for a million years and one will not spontaneously develop the capacity to independently do the posture. Why? Because one’s center of gravity is outside one’s body, which means one is in a perpetually unstable state, and one cannot stabilize into a balanced position from a state of falling (and leaning is just falling with a barrier in the way.)
Finding balance requires that the body be able to adjust toward any available direction to counteract the beginning of a fall in the opposite direction. I was fortunate to have studied a martial art that required learning break-falls from the outset, this made learning balances (not just inversions, but also arm balances, standing balances, etc.) much easier because there was no great concern about falling. I knew my body could fall without being injured.
Without falling there’s no learning balance, and if you only fall into the under-rotated position, you are still not learning to achieve stable balance. At some point, you will need to experience the dread fall towards over-rotation.
Time to ditch the training wheels.
Occasionally, I’m asked whether I BELIEVE some idea or BELIEVE in X [i.e. fill in the person, place, thing, or concept.]
If I were to answer these questions honestly, that answer would almost invariably be, “No.”
But, because that can seem overly contrarian — not to mention insane — I often try to guess the sense in which the questioner is using the words “BELIEVE” and “BELIEF,” and then answer accordingly.
Like many words, BELIEVE is one whose meaning meanders, and shadows fall across it in different ways, creating different hues [and impressions thereof,] depending upon one’s vantage point.
Often, people seem to use the phrase, “I BELIEVE X ” synonymously with “I understand X to be true.” “I BELIEVE it” can mean: I behave as though X is true, [but am not necessarily commenting on the degree to which X is supported by evidence or reason.] I, on the other hand, try to use BELIEVE in the sense of: “I accept the truth of X and behave accordingly, but I don’t really have any solid basis on which to rest this conclusion.” I like to draw as few such conclusions as possible, though sometimes it’s hard not to. For example, like most people, I live my life as if we are living in base reality — as opposed to being in some “Matrix”-like computer simulated world, but — if pressed — I’d have to admit that I can’t really support this belief convincingly.
If I were to be asked whether I BELIEVE there is a force that inexorably pulls me toward the Earth’s center, using my own interpretation of the word “BELIEVE,” I would reply in the negative. Before you ask how I can be so anti-gravity [pun not intended, but acknowledged,] let me say that I firmly understand there to be such a force as gravity. This is not to say that I fully understand the mechanism by which gravity works — which I certainly do not — but rather to say that I recognize the truth of such a force’s existence. I can experience gravity in my pathetic vertical leap, and even note it in the very impressive vertical leap of skilled athletes. I see it in the red leaf, twirling as it falls to the ground. I feel it upon takeoff as an airplane’s seat raises against my butt. Furthermore, I recognize that there are many scientists who’ve come to understand a great deal more about gravity than I, but also that none of what they’ve learned through their vast number of controlled observations contradicts my basic idea that I’m being pulled toward the planet (and it toward me.)
At the Jaipur Jantar Mantar, I was once asked whether I BELIEVED in astronomy and astrology? The questioner clearly thought this was a closed-ended, yes or no, question — as if the two fields dealt in identical content. Of course, from my perspective, it was a question similar to: “Do you BELIEVE in Zebras and Magical Unicorns?” — which is to say, not at all a straightforward and closed-ended yes or no question. [Incidentally, the reason I used the modifier “magical” is because I do “believe” in unicorns. I just call them “Indian Rhinoceroses” [Latin name: Rhinoceros Unicornis.]]
The long and short of the matter is this: I strive to BELIEVE as little as I can, and to hold even those BELIEFs only so tightly that they might fall away in the face of learning. Otherwise, what’s learning for [or is it even possible?]
Sitting with my wife at the breakfast table this morning, I was struck by the realization that human beings and seedless watermelons have something important in common. We were both robbed of our evolutionary raison d’être, and, in both cases, the culprit was humanity (the OTHER “damned dirty ape.”)
But, at least, humans have gotten a chance to choose their new [and, hopefully, improved] reason for being. Seedless watermelons have not been so lucky.
The mind is architect of a slum town of grief.
Silent words, yet ceaseless calling.
I envy the simple way of a falling leaf.
No grasping, nor fear of falling.
If a thought could twist on the wind for its brief life —
not frantically seeking hold.
We would not live these dear lives strafed by strife.
We’d not find our dreams bought and sold,
or feel untimely turning old —
vigor sapped by a false form of cold.
And life would be all we had to live.