Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chuang Tzu via Thomas Merton — 2009.12.15

The Way of Chuang Tzu (莊子).
Published by New Directions
(by Mclelland & Stewart, Ltd. in Canada), 1969.
ISBN: 0-8112-0103-1

(Excerpts and references refer to The Texts of Taoism translated by James Legge.)

This book was a nice little find in a used book store man years ago. I grabbed it in my ongoing effort at collecting, serendipitously, translations/versions of Chuang Tzu's works. When I first looked at it, I thought it was okay, and gave it three stars (out of five).

Today I re-visited it, and am delighted by it! I will now upgrade this to a full five stars.

I either forgot or skipped past Merton's introduction, which, today, I thoroughly enjoyed.

For example:
[My] 'readings' [of Chuang Tzu] are not attempts at faithful reproduction but ventures in personal and spiritual interpretation. Inevitably, any rendering of Chuang Tzu is bound to be very personal. Though, from the point of view of scholarship, I am not even a dwarf sitting on the shoulders of these giants, and though not all my renderings can even qualify as 'poetry,' I believe that a certain type of reader will enjoy my intuitive approach to a thinker who is subtle, funny, provocative, and not easy to get at (9).
This book is not intended to prove anything or to convince anyone of anything that s/he does not want to hear about in the first place. In other words, it is not a new apologetic subtlety ... in which Christian rabbits will suddenly appear by magic out of a Taoist hat.

I simply like Chuang Tzu because he is what he is and I feel no need to justify this liking to myself or to anyone else. He is far too great to need any apologies from me (10).
And some of the excerpts are delightful. Okay, so that is not so much a product of Merton, but of the genius of Chuang Tzu. Today, for some reason, from the many delightful bits, this is the one that prompted me to blog it:
Three Friends [vi.11]

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
'Can men live together
And know nothing of it?
Work together
And produce nothing?
Can they fly around in space
And forget to exist
World without end?'
The three friends looked at each other
And burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before
… (54).
Part of my enjoyment comes, likely, because it echoes of one of my favourite all time poems by Robert Francis:

Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings
chat on a February berrybush
in sun, and I am one.

Such merriment and such sobriety –
the small wild fruit on the tall stalk –
was this not always my true style?

Above an elegance of snow, beneath
a silk-blue sky a brotherhood of four
birds. Can you mistake us?

To sun, to feast, and to converse
and all together – for this I have abandoned
all my other lives (139).
From News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, ed by Robert Bly. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1980.

Then, even more delightfully, is that the ending reminds me of the pivotal scene in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, when Feste, Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are carousing to the annoyance of the point precise Malvolio (2.3). In both cases an embodiment of formality is castigated by the living carousing on the sadness of life!

Here's Chuang Tzu:
Then one friend died.
Sent a disciple to help the other two
Chant his obsequies.

The disciple found that the one friend
had composed a song.
While the other played a lute,
They sang:
'Hey, Sung Hu!
Where'd you go?
Hey, Sung Hu!
Where'd you go?
You have gone
Where you really were.
And we are here –
Damn it! We are here!'
Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and
Exclaimed: 'May I inquire where you found this in the
Rubrics of obsequies,
This frivolous caroling in the presence of the departed?'

The two friends looked at each other and laughed:
'Poor fellow,' they said, 'he doesn't know the new liturgy! (54).

Now for Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night, 2.3. Feste sings a supposed song of love because Sir Andrew Aguecheek 'cares not for good life.'
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.
Sir Toby Belch reacts to this sad song with a cry to life:
But shall we make the welkin dance indeed? shall we
rouse the night-owl in a catch that will draw three
souls out of one weaver? shall we do that?
And then proceeds to bang pots and pans and sing with his two friends until the unctuous Malvolio comes down to stop them.

And, like Sung Lu's friends castigating the officious disciple of Confucius, Sir Toby snaps at Malvolio:
Out o' tune, sir: ye lie. Art [thou] any more than a
steward? Dost thou think, because thou art
virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
And, I hadn't made the association between Chuang Tzu and Shakespeare in quite this way before, even though I have long thought of Shakespeare as the best Taoist writing in English for many years. And today I realized that that correspondence extends to the naming jokes in this play,which have a great affinity to the naming jokes with which Chuang Tzu riddled his stories.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Epictetus: Discourses — Re-Begun 2009.11.30

I began reading Epictetus at the beginning of the year, on the web.

I looked him up because Mark Kingwell mentioned him in his book Better Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac. Since then I have been looking in the used book stores for my own hard copy of Epictetus. Rather difficult to find! I here give great thanks to Peter Gribble, the proprietor of my large local used bookstore, Booktown, for pointing out to me that Epictetus's Discourses are included in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica's Great Book series, Volume 12. And it so happened that he even had one on hand, and that by lucky(?) happenstance this volume also includes Marcus Aurelius and Lucretius — whom I will now be reading in the near future, I imagine. Especially M.A. because with his inclusion in this volume arises one of the oddest little fushigis I can imagine — about 4 years ago one of my co-workers was been given, by me, the nickname Marcus Aurelius!
However, the reason I'm writing this out is because of a nice little fushigi that I came across in the writings of Epictetus. It applies to my place of work and the recent discussions I've had with a couple of my work co-podders. Our recent discussions, over morning coffee the last few days before knuckling down work, have been about the power (or lack of power) we individuals have to change that annoying other person, be it kith, kin or co-worker.

And to extend the fushigi just a wee bit, Epictetus comments on dreaming and dreamers. And dreams have also recently started to become a morning coffee topic of discussion with my pod-mates. (For example, the other night I dreamt I was in New York with Regis Philbin taking in the sites and looking for real-estate while NR dreamt he was walking across an upper floor of a small hotel that was covered in mangled, dead and dying baby ducks. He was unconcerned about them as he wended his way through them to get to the stairwell and to the main floor which was having some kind of reception or event.)

And as a great bit of philosophical dessert, and that I find particularly fascinating, is how Epictetus's dream comment contrasts with that of my favourite ancient eastern philosopher, Chuang-Tzu (莊子).

Anyway, here's Epictetus on the nature of personal obstinacy and what can be done to change it (in others):
Book I Chapter V.
Concerning the Academics.
It is said that there are those who will oppose very evident truths, and yet it is not easy to find a reason which may persuade such an one to alter his opinion. This may arise neither from his own strength, nor from the weakness of his teacher; but when a man becomes obstinate in error, reason cannot always reach him.
Now there are two sorts of obstinacy: the one, of the intellect; the other, of the will. A man may obstinately set himself not to assent to evident truths, nor to quit the defence of contradictions. We all dread a bodily paralysis; and would make use of every contrivance to avoid it: but none of us is troubled about a paralysis of the soul. And yet, indeed, even with regard to the soul, when a person is so affected as not to apprehend or understand anything, we think him in a sad condition; but where the emotions of shame and modesty are under an absolute paralysis, we go so far as even to call this strength of mind!
[Epictetus then takes his 'obstinancy' argument into a strange direction, that of dreams. He continued the above with:]
Are you certain that you are awake? — “I am not,” replies such a person, “for neither am I certain when in dreaming I appear to myself to be awake.” Is there no difference, then, between these appearances? — “None.” Shall I argue with this man any longer? For what steel or what caustic can I apply, to make him sensible of his paralysis? If he is sensible of it, and pretends not to be so, he is even worse than dead. He sees not his inconsistency, or, seeing it, holds to the wrong. He moves not, makes no progress; he rather falls back. His sense of shame is gone; his reasoning faculty is not gone, but brutalized. Shall I call this strength of mind? By no means: unless we allow it to be such in the vilest debauchees, publicly to speak and act out their worst impulses.
I included the last bit for a couple of reasons. In part because, as I mentioned, we have been talking about dreams, lately, but also because of how the existence of 'lucid dreaming' perhaps refutes Epictetus's argument! But that is not the only, nor even the main, reason I included it. I included it because Chuang-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher of about 300 B.C. or so (Epictetus died in 135 A.D.), also comments on the problem of dreams:
Once upon a time Chuang dreamed that he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting about happily enjoying himself. He didn't know that he was Chou. Suddenly he awoke and was palpably Chou. He did not know whether he was Chou who had dreamed of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he was Chou. Now, there must be a difference between Chou and the butterfly. This is called the transformation of things.
Chuang Tzu. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1994. Translated by Victor H. Mair, p. 24.
What is most interesting about this, in comparison to Epictetus, is that Chuang-Tzu does not dismiss as irrational the person who couldn't tell whether or not he was dreaming. How Chuang-Tzu puts it is very interesting, because he says that there must be difference – even if it is impossible to distinguish the two. Basic western philosophy, of which Epictetus here is clearly enunciating, is so fixated on the power of the mind that he cannot conceive of two ostensibly disparate things so alike that the mind cannot distinguish between the two. He has failed to observe that the heart/soul knows truths the mind cannot grasp, despite his use of 'soul' here and elsewhere. Curious.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Development of Personality CW17 - Re-Visited 2009.11.12

While playing with my books, and rummaging through words bound, I
Revisited Jung's CW17. Specifically, I looked at my plethora of sticky-
notes to revisit some of the bits that caught my eye on first and second perusals. And the following is delightful one that, fushigi-like, ties in with the citation I transcribed from Zen and Japanese Culture November 10th.
[There is] the eternal doubt whether what appears to be the objective psyche is really objective, or whether it might not be imagination after all. But then the question at once arises: have I imagined such and such a thing on purpose, or has it been imagined by something in me? It is a similar problem to that of the neurotic who suffers from an imaginary carcinoma. He know, and has been told a hundred times before, that it is all imagination, and yet he asks me brokenly, 'But why do I imagine such a thing? I don't want to do it!' To which the answer is: the idea of the carcinoma has imagined itself in him without his knowledge and without his consent. The reason is that a psychic growth, a 'proliferation,' is taking place in his unconscious without his being abel to make it conscious. In the face of the inferior activity he feels afraid. But since he is entirely persuaded that there can be nothing in his own soul that he does not know about, he must relate his fear to a physical carcinoma which he knows does not exist. And if he should still be afraid of it, there are a hundred doctors to convince him that his fear is entirely groundless. The neurosis is thus a defence against the objective, inner activity of the psyche, or an attempt, somewhat dearly paid for, to escape from the inner voice and hence from the vocation. For this 'growth' is the objective activity of the psyche, which, independently of conscious volition, is trying to speak to the conscious mind through the inner voice and lead him towards wholeness. Behind the neurotic perversion is concealed his vocation, his destiny: the growth of the personality, the full realization of the life-will that is born with the individual. It is the man without amor fati who is neurotic; he, truly, as missed his vocation, and never will he be able to say with Cromwell, ""None climb so high as he who knoweth not whither his destiny leadeth him.'
To the extent that man is untrue to the law of his being and does not rise to personality, he has failed to realize his life's meaning. Fortunately, in her kindness and patience, Nature never puts the fatal question as to the meaning of their lives into the mouths of most people. And where no one asks, no one need answer (par 313-4).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Zen and Japanese Culture - Being Read 2009.11.10

There is some evocative and challenging writing in this book! Suzuki transcribes a letter written by a Zen abbot Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645) to Yagyū Tajima no Kami. Here's an interesting excerpt from that letter:

The mind is not to be treated like a cat tied to a string. The mind must be left to itself, utterly free to move about according to its own nature. Not to localize or partialize it is the end [goal] of spiritual training. When it is nowhere it is everywhere. When it occupies one tenth, it is absent in the other nine tenths. Let the swordsman discipline himself to have the mind go on its own way, instead of trying deliberately to confine it somewhere.

Suzuki comments.

The main thesis of Takuan's letter to Yagyū Tajima no Kami is almost exhausted in the passages translated more or less literally above. It consists in preserving the absolute fluidity of the mind (kokoru) by keeping it free from the intellectual deliberations and affective disturbances of any kind at all that may arise from Ignorance and Delusion. The fluidity of mind and Prajñā Immovable may appear contradictory, but in actual life they are identical. When you have one, you have the other, for the Mind in its suchness is at once movable and immovable, it is constantly flowing, never 'stopping' at any point, and yet there is in it a centre never subject to any kind of movement, remaining forever one and the same. The difficulty is how to identify this centre of immovability with its never-stopping movements themselves. Takuan advises the swordsman to solve the difficulty in the use of his sword as he actually stands against his opponent. The swordsman is thus made to be constantly faced with a logical contradiction. As long as he notices it, ,that is as long as he is logically minded, he finds his movements always hampered in one way or another — which is suki [literally means any space between two objects where something else can enter - a psychological or mental suki is created when a state of tension is relaxed - footnote16], and the enemy is sure to avail himself of it. Therefore, the swordsman cannot afford to indulge in idle intellectual employment when the other side is always on the alert to detect the slightest suki produced on your part. You cannot relax and yet keep the state of tension deliberately for any length of time. For this is what makes the mind 'stop' and lose its fluidity. How then can one have relaxation and tension simultaneously? Here is the same old contradiction, though presented in a different form (107-9).

What struck me as I was transcribing this — but which didn't when I first read it — is the caution it is suggesting

in our use of logic to solve living problems. Is it absolutely true that to be fully alive means living with a 'relaxed-tension' between two mutually opposed states? Hmmm. What does this mean for trying to solve, with intellectual logic only, problems with seemingly opposed solutions? My experience within a bureaucratic corporation is that the circumscribed logic of accountancy and MBAs that is being applied liberally is killing the company much like the medicine 'logic' of blood-letting killed Lord Byron. How did a friend put it? 'To save an airline, a consortium of accountants would look to reduce costs and so fire all the pilots and stop buying fuel.'

And it seems to me that this relates to one of the key principles in Jung's ideas about a healthy balanced life requires a reconciliation between the opposites via some kind of transcendent experience as described in Symbols of Transformation and elsewhere.

Just a thought.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Words, Babbling Words - 2009.11.06

Well, I've been dipping into more Jung. This time, I revisited him via an old favourite collection:

C.G. Jung.
The Basic Writings of C.G. Jung, ed. Violet S. de Laszlo, New York: The Modern Library, published by Random House, 1959.

And my random pick was appropriate — From "Two Kinds of Thinking" from Symbols of Transformation — given my reading the Zen books and their emphasis on moving from living in the mind to moving beyond mindfulness to being alive completely in the moment. What Jung says is straight forward, in a way, but I find it interesting because he is hinting at both the limitations of words/language, and their power to go beyond the prosaic, and into delusion. His quotation from Anatole France is delightful, and the main reason I transcribed this. Jung writes:
The material with which we think is language and verbal communication — something which from time immemorial has been directed outwards and used as a bridge, and which has but a single purpose, namely that of communication. So long as we think directedly, we think for others and speak to others. Language was originally a system of emotive and imitative sounds — sounds which express terror, fear, anger, love, etc., and sounds which imitate the sounds of the elements: the rushing and gurgling of water, the rolling of thunder, the roaring of the wind, the cries of the animal world, and so on; and lastly, those which represent a combination of the sound perceived and the emotional reaction to it. A large number of onomatopoeic vestiges remain even in the more modern languages; note, for instance, the sound for running water: rauschen, rieseln, rûschen, rinnen, rush, river, ruscello, ruisseau, Rhein. And note Wasser, wissen, wissern, pissen, piscis, Fisch.
Thus, language, in its origin and essence, is simply a system of signs or symbols that denote real occurrences or their echo in the human soul [not mind]. We must emphatically agree with Anatole France when he says:
What is thinking? And how does one think? We think with words; that in itself is sensual and brings us back to nature. Think of it! a metaphysician has nothing with which to build his world system except the perfected cries of monkeys and dogs. What he calls profound speculation and transcendental method is merely the stringing together, in an arbitrary order, of onomatopoeic cries of hunger, fear, and love from the primeval forests, to which have become attached, little by little, meaning that are believed to be abstract merely because they are loosely used. Have no fear that the succession of little cries, extinct or enfeebled, that composes a book of philosophy will teach us so much about the universe that we can no longer go on living it (15-6).
Anatole France.
Le Jardin d'Epicure (Paris, 1895), p.80.
France seems to be suggesting that words are... problematic. Or, more specifically, what he may be suggesting is that the abstraction of words away from their sensual origin is the problem. If he is in this passage — and that could well be disputed — he is approaching Zen thinking.

And so, what are words? Well, besides being one of the biggest impediments to great communication, they have been described variously. There are two description I particularly love, the best being from Chuang Tzu:
A fish-trap is for catching fish;
once you've caught the fish you
can forget the trap. A rabbit
snare is for catching rabbits;
once you've caught the rabbit
you can forget about the snare.
Words are for catching ideas;
once you've caught the idea,
you can forget about the words.
Where can I find a person who
knows how to forget about
words so I can have a few
words with him?
Chuang Tzu. Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1994. Translated by Victor H. Mair.
Another one I love is from Socrates:
In Plato's Phaedrus Socrates reports a conversation between. The Egyptian god Thoth, the inventor of letters, and the god Amon. Amon says:
This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls [not minds!], because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be bearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Socrates continues:
I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question, they preserve a solemn silence, and the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer.
Plato. Phaedrus. Toronto: Penguin, 1973,p. 84. Cited in Mass Communication in Canada, 3rd Ed. by Lorimer and McNulty, Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Modern Man in Search of a Soul - Being Read 2009.11.02

I'm keeping my eyes open for ideas relating to why I have embraced what looks on the surface to be an hypocrisy, that being my great respect for the ideas of both David K. Reynolds and C.G. Jung. Jung's ideas most certainly embrace Reynolds' but not, it would seem, the other way round.

The other day, as I continued to flip'n-read through Modern Man in Search of Soul, I came across a great comment on Alfred Adler's methodology. The
comment supports how my thinking (or is that delusional brain-washed re-iteration?!) has been moving as I examine my apparent hypocrisy in liking both C.G. Jung and D.K. Reynolds. Here's some food for thought:
The Adlerian school [of psychological thought], with it its educational intent, begins at the very point where Freud leaves off, and thus helps the patient who has learned to see into himself to find the way to normal life. It is obviously not enough for him to know how and why he fell ill, for to understand the causes of an evil does very little towards curing it. We must never forget that the crooked paths of a neurosis lead to as many obstinate habits, and that, despite any amount of understanding, these do not disappear until they are replaced by other habits. But habits are only won by exercise, and appropriate education is the sole means to this end. The patient must be, as it were, prodded onto other paths, and this always requires and educating will. We can therefore see why it is that Adler's approach has found such favour chiefly with clergymen and teachers, while Freud's school has its advocates among physicians and intellectuals, who one and all are bad nurses and educators.
Every stage in our psychic development has something peculiarly final about it. When we have experienced catharsis with its wholesale confession we feel that we have reached our goal at last; all has come out, all is known, every anxiety has been lived through and every tear shed; now things will go as they ought. After the work of explanation we are equally persuaded that we now know how the neurosis arose. The earliest memories have been unearthed, the deepest roots dug up; the transference was nothing but the wish-fulfilling fantasy of a child's paradise or a regression to the old family situation; the way to a normally disillusioned life is now open. But then comes the period of education, which makes us realize that no confession and no amount of explaining will make the ill-formed tree grow straight, but that it must be trained with the gardener's art upon the trellis before normal adaptation can be attained.

The curious sense of finality which attends every stage of development accounts for the fact that there are people using catharsis today who have apparently never heard of dream interpretation; Freudians who do not understand a word of Adler, and Adlerians who do not wish to hear any mention of the unconscious. Each is deceived by the sense of finality peculiar to the stage of development at which he stands, and this gives rise to that confusion of opinions and views which makes it so hard for us to find our bearings.

But what causes this sense of finality which evokes such bigoted obstinacy in all directions? I can only explain it to myself on the ground that each stage of development is summed up in a basic truth, and that therefore cases frequently recur which demonstrate this truth in a striking way.
Our world is so exceedingly rich in delusions that a truth is priceless, and no one will let it slip because of a few exceptions with which it cannot be brought into accord. Whoever doubts this truth is of course looked upon as a faithless reprobate, while a note of fanaticism and intolerance creeps into the discussion on all sides.

And yet each of us can carry the torch of knowledge but a part of the way, until another takes it from him. Could we but accept this in an impersonal way — could we but grasp the fact that we are not the personal creators of our truths, but only their exponents who thus articulate the psychic needs of our day — then we should be able to perceive the profound and super-personal continuity of the human mind (45-7 my emphasis).
The main reason I transcribed this was Jung's great slag of Adler and Freud, and those who are drawn to their ideas! Well, not only that. I also love the complex and yet simple way he argues the weakness of singular truths and fixation. (And here is another equivalency with The Dog Whisperer, whose goal is often to break both dogs and owners of fixating.)

And the idea of the non-singularity of truth is an old one, and one that has been addressed by philosopher's and poets alike.

Here is a great example by a contemporary poet,
On the Road Home

It was when I said,
"There is no such thing as the truth,"
That the grapes seemed fatter.
The fox ran out of the hole.

You....You said,
"There are many truths,
But they are not parts of a truth."
Then the tree, at night, began to change,

Smoking through green and smoking blue.
We were two figures in a wood.
We said we stood alone.

It was when I said,
"Words are not forms of a single word.
In the sum of the parts, there are only the parts.
The world must be measured by eye";

It was when you said,
"The idols have seen lots of poverty,
Snakes and gold and lice,
But not the truth";

It was at that time, that the silence was largest
And longest, the night was roundest,
The fragrance of the autumn warmest,
Closest and strongest.

I came across this in one of my absolute favourite books,
News of the Universe: Poems of Two-fold Consciousness, ed.by Robert Bly. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1980, p. 116. (The cover shown here is of a recent re-issue; my copy is from more than 20 years ago, and is not as shown.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Quiet Therapies - Sampling 2009.11.01

It would seem that breathing — more specifically proper breathing — is important for one's state of well being. I have, of course, in the course of my varied meditative and self-help readings seen this belabored. (I love how Tom Robbins spoofed this in his book Jitterbug Perfume, one of my favourite books, and perhaps my favourite by Robbins.)

I mention this because the other day I picked up my recently purchased
David K. Reynolds
In typical fashion, I flipped randomly, and where my fingers stopped was in the chapter 'Seiza: Quiet Sitting Therapy'. The chapter has two directives — to sit and to breathe.

I have taken this as a gentle reminder from the universe to resume my efforts at proper breathing. This is something I have intermittently practiced over the years, only to let it slide as soon as I get busy or stressed, even though each time I've concentrated on breath I have felt physically, mentally and psychologically healthier. (I had for more than seven years a small sign on my computer at work to remind to breath, as I seem to have developed when very young the psycho-somatic tendency to hold my breath in preparation for struggling to cope with the next task.)

Lately I have been struggling with poor energy and excessive tiredness. This seems to have become more pronounced after a recent cold, which may be lingering. It is also likely that my relative lack of exercise in the last couple of years is an even bigger factor to my feeling at times quite listless. However, instead of getting out for a walk, such as right now on what is a beautiful post-Halloween afternoon, I will sit in front of this cursed iMac and write out about the importance of breathing to post in a blog. Sigh. There seems something sad about that, but here I am anyway, transcribing, writing, blogging.

And so, instead of walking, I have been practicing the seiza breathing over the last two days. Intermittently while doing other things, such as running around doing chores, baking or, even now, while typing. Very specifically not what Reynold's suggests — although I am not looking for his approval, so my way is good enough — as long as I get results. And I have felt a little better, at times.

So, here is how to breath the seiza-therapy way, according to David K. Reynolds:
Proper breathing is the second key element of
seiza. Either of the sitting positions described in the previous section is taken in large part to facilitate proper breathing, and the thought process to be described here is both a consequence of Okada-style breathing and an aid in achieving it. The focus of seiza breathing is a point several inches below the navel, the point at which the centre of gravity of the body, the tanden, is said to be found. When doing seiza properly, the upper chest does not expand and contract; the shoulders do not rise and fall.

During the inhalation phase the diaphragm moves down as the solar plexus fills with air and is pushed forward. This creates a feeling of pressure in the area below the diaphragm. Then, on exhalation, the solar plexus is allowed to relax slightly while the pressure is maintained in the lower abdomen. The diaphragm naturally moves up as the solar plexus us loosened somewhat. At the moment the air is felt to be exhausted, inhalation begins. Air is again allowed to silently enter the nose, fill the lungs, and swell out the solar plexus. When done skillfully, the inhalation phase takes only one quarter of the time of exhalation.

The critical period of this breathing technique comes during exhalation. Attention is concentrated on the lower abdomen. Never forced or strained, the air is slowly, silently exhaled through the nose. As Dr. Yokoyama put it, once should exhale so lightly that if a rabbit's hair were placed on the tip of one's nose it would not blow away.

For the average person, when breathing normally an inhalation-exhalation cycle will occur about fifteen times a minute. While doing seiza, the cycle slows to about six or seven times per minute. Advanced practitioners reduce the frequency to as low as two or three times a minute and lower. The aim for the beginner is not to reduce the number of breath cycles per minute quickly but to achieve the maximum in proper expansion and contraction within the range of comfort, without strain.

Physiological Changes
It is possible ... to use instruments to continuously monitor certain physiological signs during seiza and to note consistent changes that appear in nearly all clients. Seiza meditators often report experiencing sensations of warm hands and feet, a cool forehead, and increased salivation. The instruments confirm these self-reports. Yokoyama has reported findings of lowered pulse, lowered blood pressure (particularly in persons of high initial blood pressure), lowered temperature under the tongue and at the forehead, increased circulation and warming of the extremities, and increased salivation. As in
zazen, the expenditure of energy probably decreases some 10 to 20 percent (83-6).
Good luck! And don't hold your breath.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just Purchased: Barbara Hannah and David K. Reynolds - 2009.10.24

While doing a personal chore on my lunch break from work a few days ago, I visited, in piss-pouring rain, the north Burnaby bookstore, Companion Books. It is one of the cleanest and most orderly used bookstore I've visited in metropolitan Vancouver.

And I did well, with three great finds!

The first is phenomenal — sorry for the hyperbole, but … it is just so nice. It is the biography of C.G. Jung written by Barbara Hannah, called Jung: His Life and Work: A Biographical Memoir.

This is a book I read many years ago from the NWPL. It is well written and very interesting. I was thrilled and delighted to see and be able to get this near mint condition trade paperback. (I've left it at work because a co-worker, BJV., wants to read it. And I've left it at my desk where she can see it to help spur her reading The Art of Living by Epictetus, which I've already lent her. We'll see if that works to speed her reading. She says that Art of Living is good, but that she hasn't been reading it, lately.)

The other two books are also very, very nice! The nicer of the last two is a mint condition trade paper back of A Handbook for Constructive Living by David K. Reynolds. (My cover not as shown.) I've already glanced at it and it looks like a mighty fine find.

And the last is also by Reynolds: The Quiet Therapies; Japanese Pathways to Personal Growth. This is one of Reynolds' earliest books, I think, with its original publication being in 1980, although my trade was published in 1985. I am interested to see how Reynolds' ideas have evolved, and so this is also a great find.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

modern essays: A RHETORICAL APPROACH - sampling 2009.10.22

I felt like changing up my reading this evening, and so drifted to my library and, more or less allowed my hand to randomly select Modern Essays: A Rhetorical Approach. It is/was a grade school/college reader, I think, that I picked up at my local library's semi-annual book sale for 25¢.

Most of the writers listed are, even if I've not read them, at least known to me. For example, E.B. White, Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, George Bernard Shaw, and the like.

But what my random hands took me to was George Orwell's fascinating little piece called 'Marrakech' (pg 109). As noted elsewhere, I am a great fan of Orwell's writing, and this essay exemplifies why — he with brutal self honesty admits to possessing white man's blindness to the brown mans' slavery in Africa. And he observes that somehow this easy 'natural' blindness is a quality of being human that needs to be addressed.

It opens with a great short paragraph:
As the corpse went past the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed after it, but they came back a few minutes later.

And, of course, it continues brilliantly:
... when you see how the people live, and still more how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. The people have brown faces — besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil. Sometimes, out for a walk, as you break your way through the prickly pear, you notice that it is rather bumpy underfoot, and only a certain regularity in the bumps tells you that you are walking over skeletons.
He closes it with a revelatory self examination on the nature of poverty's invisibility when it applies to the colonized brown people:
... But what is strange about these people is their invisibility. For several weeks, always at about the same time of day, the file of old women had hobbled past the house with their firewood, and though they had registered themselves on my eyeballs I cannot truly say that I had seen them. Firewood was passing—that was how I saw it. It was only that one day I happened to be walking behind them, and the curious up-and-down motion of a load of wood drew my attention to the human being underneath it. Then for the first time I noticed the poor old earth-coloured bodies, bodies reduced to bones and leathery skin, bent double under the crushing weight. Yet I suppose I had not been five minutes on Moroccan soil before I noticed the overloading of the donkeys and was infuriated by it. There is no question that the donkeys are damnably treated...
And, finally:
This kind of thing makes one's blood boil, whereas—on the whole—the plight of the human beings does not. I am not commenting, merely pointing to a fact. People with brown skins are next door to invisible. Anyone can be sorry for the donkey with its galled back, but it is generally owing to some kind of accident if one even notices the old woman under her load of sticks.

Yup, I like Orwell.

This essay gets: