Quotations Stumbled Upon [Recently]

To survive in this world you have to be many times a coward but at least once a hero.

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s son

The metaphysical assumptions upon which you want to build your life cannot be an inherited duty.

Patrick levy, Sadhus

It is true that if there were no phenomena which were independent of all but a manageably small set of conditions, Physics would be impossible.

Eugene wigner, the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences

I feel about literature what Grant did about war. He hated it. I hate literature. I’m not a literary West Pointer; I do not love a literary man as a literary man, as a minister of the pulpit loves other ministers because they are ministers: it is a means to an end, that is all there is to it.

Walt whitman, as quoted in Yone Noguchi’s the spirit of japanese poetry

Know that all the sects in existence are a way to Hell.

Nichiren, as quoted by yone Noguchi in the spirit of japanese poetry

It is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult to convert oneself.

oscar wilde, the critic as artist

If you meet at a dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself — a rare type in our time, I admit, but still one occasionally to be met with — you rise from the table richer, and conscious that a high ideal has for a moment touched and sanctified your days. But Oh! my dear Ernest, to sit next to a man who has spent his life trying to educate others! What a dreadful experience it is!

Oscar wilde, tHE CRITIC AS ARTIST

Future Imperfect [Free Verse]

skyscrapers rise & fall
storms hit & wither
waves crash & recede

nature neither blesses nor curses,
despite the constant counting 
of its boons & banes; 
its bonanzas & broken bones

one who can feel grateful 
in the face 
of ignorance & imperfection
is free 

one who feels suffering 
in the absence of perfect comfort
will never know freedom 

such a one as that 
imprisons himself
in a cycle of imagining 
& coveting 
a perfection that has 
never existed  

Diamondless Diamonds [Free Verse]

Diamondless Diamonds?

Sounds like Daoist doublespeak
or 
a crazy Zen koan.

But, it's that which has
imaginary value,
but 
not real value.

Much of what human hands
reach for or produce
(& which human minds obsess upon)
are diamondless diamonds.

People stare at them 
with covetous eyes,

but when those eyes
saccade away
there's no reason to believe 
the diamondless diamond
still exists.

Eyes covet
what the mind knows
to have no particular worth.

Diamondless Diamonds
may change the world
for moments at a time,
but then are gone - 
and instantly forgotten.

Heat Death [Common Meter]

A timeless time will come to be,
when all is uniform.
And nothing 's hot & nothing 's cold,
but all is just lukewarm.

So thank your lucky stars you've lived
in this age of bedlam:
when stars can shine and buildings rise
and we've cerebellums.

Enlightenment in Four Bits of Shakespearean Wisdom

If you’re looking to attain Enlightenment, you may have turned to someone like the Buddha or Epictetus for inspiration. But I’m here to tell you, if you can put these four pieces of Shakespearean wisdom into practice, you’ll have all you need to uplift your mind.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

william Shakespeare, Hamlet

Through Yoga, practitioners learn to cultivate their inner “dispassionate witness.” In our daily lives, we’re constantly attaching value judgements and labels to everything with which we come into contact (not to mention the things that we merely imagine.) As a result, we tend to see the world not as it is, but in an illusory form.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

William shakespeare, julius caesar

In Psychology class, you may remember learning about the self-serving bias, a warped way of seeing the world in which one attributes difficulties and failures to external factors, while attributing successes and other positive outcomes to one’s own winning characteristics. Like Brutus, we need to learn to stop thinking of our experience of life as the sum of external events foisted upon us, and to realize that our experience is rooted in our minds and how we perceive and react to events.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

william shakespeare, as you like it

A quote from Hamlet also conveys the idea, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If you grasp this idea, you may become both humbler and more readily capable of discarding bad ideas in favor of good. It’s common to want to think of yourself as a master, but this leads only to arrogance and to being overly attached to ineffective ideas. Be like Socrates.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

william shakespeare, julius caesar

Fears and anxieties lead people into lopsided calculations in which a risky decision is rated all downside. Those who see the world this way may end up living a milquetoast existence that’s loaded with regrets. No one is saying one should ignore all risks and always throw caution to the wind, but our emotions make better servants than masters. One needs to realize that giving into one’s anxieties has a cost, and that that cost should be weighed against what one will get out of an experience.

There it is: Enlightenment in four bits of Shakespearean wisdom.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sunny Nihilist by Wendy Syfret

The Sunny Nihilist: A Declaration of the Pleasure of PointlessnessThe Sunny Nihilist: A Declaration of the Pleasure of Pointlessness by Wendy Syfret
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

In this book length essay, Syfret proposes that the reader reconsider the much-maligned philosophy of Nietzsche, arguing not only that it needn’t lead one into a dreary morass of gloomy thinking, but that it might just help one live more in the now while escaping brutal cycles of self-punishment. She has her work cut out for her, but she doesn’t shy from the challenge. Much of what she discusses could just as easily be presented under the guise of the less melancholious brother school called Existentialism, but Syfret embraces the vilified term, at least it’s cheerier side, under the moniker “Sunny Nihilism.”

Nihilism proposes that there is no inherent “god-given” meaning to, or purpose of, life. There’s no god to create such meaning and purpose. This notion is accepted as a given by most scientifically-minded people today, but it still results in the occasional visceral dread. For cravers of meaning, the argument goes like this: at least some of life is suffering, why should I subject myself to suffering if there isn’t some grand purpose and plan.

The retort of many nihilists and existentialists goes, “You only feel that way because you’ve made mountains out of molehills through your obsession with meaning, purpose, and divine plans. The experience of being able to experience life is awesome, but you make the whole of life such a daunting prospect that anything that doesn’t turn out perfectly makes you angst-ridden. You worry far too much, and – what’s worse – you’re usually worried about the wrong things. You’re missing the freedom that comes from being able to choose for yourself what you value and to put your setbacks in perspective.”

The book also explores such related issues as: coping with the pandemic, millennial malaise, celebrity deification, and how technology and social media influence the light and the dark sides of nihilism.

I found the book to be thought-provoking, and I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a philosophy to help them live through the trials of our age.

View all my reviews

On Intrusive Thoughts & Shoving Someone in Front of a Train

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.   

Balance & the Value of Learning to Fall

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.

POEM: Kindred Spirits [Prose Poem]

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.

Even imaginary monsters get bigger if you feed them

Public domain image sourced from Wikipedia

Public domain image of Epictetus, sourced from Wikipedia

There’s a story about Epictetus infuriating a member of the Roman gentry by asking, “Are you free?”

 

(Background for those not into Greek and Roman philosophy. Epictetus was a Roman slave who gained his freedom to become one of the preeminent teachers of stoicism. Stoicism is a philosophy that tells us that it’s worthless to get tied up in emotional knots over what will, won’t, or has happened in life. For Stoics, there are two kinds of events. Those one can do something about and those that one can’t. If an event is of the former variety, one should put all of one’s energy into doing what one can to achieve a preferable (and virtuous) outcome. If an event is of the latter variety, it’s still a waste of energy to get caught up in emotional turbulence. Take what comes and accept the fact that you had no ability to make events happen otherwise.)

 

To the man insulted by Epictetus, his freedom was self-evident. He owned land. He could cast a vote. He gave orders to slaves and laborers, and not the other way around. What more could one offer as proof of one’s freedom? Of course, he missed Epictetus’s point. The question wasn’t whether the man was free from external oppressors, but whether he was free from his own fears? Was he locked into behavior because he didn’t have the courage to do otherwise?

 

I recently picked up a book on dream yoga by a Tibetan Lama, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Lucid dreaming has been one of my goals as of late. I wasn’t expecting to learn anything new about practices to facilitate lucid dreaming because I’ve been reading quite a bit about the science, recently. I just thought that it would be interesting to see how the Tibetan approach to lucid dreaming maps to that of modern-day psychology. Tibetan Buddhists are–after all–the acknowledged masters of dream yoga, and have a long history of it. Furthermore, I’ve been doing research about the science behind “old school” approaches to mind-body development, lately. At any rate, it turns out that there were several new preparatory practices that I picked up and have begun to experiment with, and one of them is relevant to this discussion.

 

This will sound a little new-agey at first, but when you think it out it makes sense. The exercise is to acknowledge the dream-like quality of one’s emotionally charged thoughts during waking life. Consider an example: You’re driving to an important meeting. You hit a couple long red lights. You begin to think about how, if you keep hitting only red lights, you’re going to be late and it’s going to look bad to your boss or client. As you think about this you begin to get anxious.  But there is no more reality in the source of your fear than there is when you see a monster in your dreams. There’s a potentiality, not a reality. Both the inevitability of being late and the monster are projections of your mind, and yet tangible physiological responses are triggered (i.e. heart rate up, digestion interfered with, etc.) It should be noted the anxiety isn’t without purpose. It’s designed to kick you into planning mode, to plan for the worst-case scenario. Cumulatively, one can get caught up in a web of stress that has a negative impact on one’s health and quality of life.  For most people, when they arrive on time, they forget all about their anxiety and their bodily systems will return to the status quo, until the next time (which might be almost immediately.) Some few will obsess about the “close call” and how they should have planned better, going full-tilt into a stress spiral.

 

Mind states have consequences, whether or not they’re based in reality. I’ve always been befuddled by something I read about Ernest Hemingway. He’d won a Nobel Prize for Literature and was universally regarded as one of the masters of American literature, but he committed suicide because he feared he’d never be able to produce works on the level that he’d written as a younger man. There seems to be more to it than that. Many others managed to comfortably rest on their laurels when writing became hard[er]–including writers with much less distinguished careers.  The monster may be imaginary, but if you feed it, it still gets bigger.

 

As you go about your day, try to notice your day-dreams, mental wanderings, and the emotional states they suggest. You might be surprised to find how many of them have little basis in reality. They are waking dreams.