Posts Tagged ‘pragmatism’

Speed Bump 8/21/2009
Speed Bump 9/21/09

I saw today’s Speed Bump cartoon and had to use it for today’s thought. I think it’s kinda funny, but it also illustrates for me the dangers of studying any kind of religious or philosophical path. It can be so easy to get sidetracked with the over-arcing insights and generalities that it becomes hard to apply them to the everyday choices of living. They can be a great guide, but they’re not exactly cut out to act as specific instructions.

That’s why I’ve set out to keep up my agreement to do a ‘daily zen’ thought, and end up talking about very mundane things. The zen is the compass, but it’s the mundane that is the actual journey. The more we learn how to live each day with a pretty clear perspective, making pretty honest choices and feeling pretty much at peace with them, the more we’re living zen.

An active sense of humor helps, too. 😉

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Today’s thought is again from Cary Tennis, my favorite advice writer/prosepoet at Salon.com —

I would amend the oft-repeated belief that everything happens for a reason, in this way: Everything may indeed happen for a reason, but we do not have to know what that reason is before acting. As stated, it is a little too pat, too cause-and-effect for my taste. If you wait to know the reason, you may never act. You act. Then things become clear. That’s more often how it works. Rather than rational certainty, often what you need to act on is a trust in probability, and a trust in inevitability, and your own desire. Trust your own desire. It will often lead you the right way.

– Cary Tennis, Since You Asked September 8, 2009

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The thing about Zen and Taoism (with the capital letters) is that so many of the sayings and phrases can be really nonsensical — or worse, misunderstood entirely. That is, if you don’t have the background framework. Though I guess that’s true for much of life, as saying “Consider the lilies!” wouldn’t make much sense if you don’t have the context of Jesus in the New Testament of the bible talking about how they’re pretty darn gorgeous but don’t run around stressing all the time to make it happen.

The example in my mind today is the old saying about studying Zen, to paraphrase:

When you first come to study zen, you see there is a mountain.
As you get deeper into your zen studies, you see that there is no mountain at all.
Once you really get the hang of zen, though, you see the mountain is there, after all.

What it’s getting at is that before starting on a path of introspection and understanding, the visible (and obstructionist) reality weighs heavily, and it just feels so darn REAL that it can be blindingly overwhelming. As you get into your path of understanding, you recognize there’s so much more to reality than we immediately see, and that what we immediately see is deceiving in that it doesn’t show us the whole picture. What we work with are our perceptions of reality rather than reality itself.

Kind of like Michel Foucault’s “This is not a pipe” picture with those words written under a painting of a pipe, which really isn’t a pipe but a picture of one. The mountain we see isn’t a mountain, it’s the light reflection that our eyes take in and our brain assembles and thinks “mountain”. The feeling of the rocks on it is the same thing — apparently our atoms never actually TOUCH, but the interaction of the atoms getting closer is what gives the sensations we feel as touch. Stuff like that.

And yet, you still have to deal with the fact that there’s this huge mound of dirt and stone. However the heck it exists, it’s as real as your body (however the heck THAT exists), and understanding it won’t get you to the other side of it. It can help you plan your path to traverse it and free you up from getting all stressed about it, but to climb it, you have to use your actual hands and feet.

To do that, you have to see the mountain.

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I’ve got just a very brief thought about conflict. We’ve got so much of it just as a matter of being alive, that it’s odd how much more we engage in than we really need to. Things come up we don’t like, people say or do things that rub us the wrong way (or truly offend), we catch ourselves with opposing impulses… There’s just so many things that can trigger a pushing/pulling situation that I guess it’s no wonder that our defenses (or offenses!) can get set to “On” as a matter of habit.

I think I’ve mentioned before a general remedy of practicing saying “Yes” to everything, thought, and action that we reasonably can, just for a day or two. Maybe it can work like one of those “Reset” buttons on electrical outlets when they burn out, at least for a while.

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The day has been so full, it got to be almost over before I realized I hadn’t written down any thoughts! So I’d like to share a quote that I’ve been thinking about for a while:

It is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed.
Vida Dutton Scudder

There’s still these points in my life where I think I might be trying a little too hard to hold onto things I think I ought to (deserve to?) keep, but life might be moving me away from. And also things I think maybe I should have or such, but haven’t found a way to yet. This quote reminds me of remembering to keep my focus on the experiences and feelings and processes as I create my life; while the tangibles can be enjoyable, they’re props and stage-dressing, not the play itself.

When I remember all that, it seems like the tangibles actually help take care of themselves. And I’m far more free to just relax and enjoy the whole flow of life.

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Shall Good

Shall, should, shouldn’t and shan’t.
We’d choose well where we wouldn’t,
yet it seems that we can’t,
for we shall where we shouldn’t,
and shan’t where we should
– still –
fail to try,
and the good will be even more scant.

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Today, I wish to share a quote in simple celebration of “stupid questions”. When you don’t know what more experienced people have already established as “fact”, sometimes you can find out ways to get places they’d ignored as “impossible”.

In the context of deeply entrenched problems that many people have given up on, it helps to not have a traditional framework so you can ask the naïve questions. That can help you set goals that more experienced people wouldn’t think are feasible.

– Wendy Kopp

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Looking ahead to Sunday’s quote on my Zen Calendar, I saw a quote from Diogenes:

“We are more curious about the meaning of dreams than about things we see when we awake.”
– Diogenes

It struck me with the idea on how easy it can be to get caught up in, well, the “idea of ideas”, epsecially when trying to lead a meaningful life. It helps to be aware of what’s going on inside our heads and the deeper meanings of it all, but that’s all only practical when it is in context of the life we’re actually in.

Same goes for self-denial, needless restrictions, etc. etc. — cutting back and sitting still is an important way to let yourself process what you’ve taken in, but not when it gets to the point that you’re denying yourself the valuable experiences of life. The true meaning of life can only be experienced through truly living.

Our old friend Ikkyu the irreverent Zen monk agrees with me. Here’s his poem reflecting his take on the strict path of self-denial:

Exhausted with gay pleasures, I embrace my wife.
The narrow path of asceticism is not for me:
My mind runs in the opposite direction.
It is easy to be glib about Zen — I’ll just keep my mouth shut
And rely on love play all the day long.

– Ikkyu

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Last night I was thinking about the whole “glass is half-empty/half-full” kind of thing.  Regardless of how hokey it may sound, the last time I heard that referenced my response was, “Personally, after a long, hot day, I’m just grateful there’s water to drink.”

I of course didn’t mean that I wouldn’t like MORE water if I was still thirsty… though usually after half a glass of water I’ve had enough for a little while and finish it later.  Which now that I think of it, may be part of the point.  So what if the glass isn’t full?  Does it have enough water to give you what you’ll actually use right now?  If not, maybe you can get more, or maybe even find where you stuck some fresh juice in the back of the fridge.  If so, then why stress out over how much water the glass DOESN’T have?

I know, I know, it’s supposed to be all about optimism/pessimism.  But unless you throw in a healthy, useful dose of pragmatism, I think both kinda miss the point and don’t really give you much to work with.  That said, I prefer optimism.  I’ve tried both, and finally decided I’d rather be happy with what I can’t change than miserable.

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There’s a Salon advice columnist named Cary Tennis, of whom I’m quite fond.  I love his perspective and turns of phrase, and how he can be more than a little mad (in both senses of the word) but still come out thoughtful and poetic and, in the truest sense, PRACTICAL.

Somebody had written him about having to choose between two things that were happening at the same time, and he said that it made him think of the incompressibility of time.  He then said something that I’m just going to quote:

To do the “incompressibility of water” experiment referenced above, one must first remove all the bubbles of air from the water. If you suck out all the bubbles, then your flask full of water becomes a hammer. Which makes one realize that time, which is also in its pure state incompressible, does, like water, seem to contain many bubbles; that is how we learn to manage time, and how one person can do twice or three times as much as the next person in the same period of time: We find the bubbles. We work in the bubble space. Bubbles in time are found in such things as the random or not-so-random thoughts one has while making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Bubbles in time occur while driving, while walking the dogs, while reading e-mail. Thinking takes place in the bubbles.

If you suck out all the air in the water, then the flask becomes a hammer. If you suck out all the bullsh** in time, then time becomes a hammer. If you fill each bubble with thought, then consciousness becomes a hammer.


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