Archive for taoism

I crave equanimity.. sometimes.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2010 by 99ppp

I recall as a teen seeing those infomercials on Transcendental meditation. They were usually quoting studies on how they calmed the mind and lower stressed and I was fascinated by it. I knew little or nothing on eastern religions, yet it seemed that they were peaceful, and even as a youngster, I tended to analyze situations from a myriad of angles before making a decision. The line between thinking and worrying is very fine, so I was fascinated by it. My mother got a bit panicked, thinking it was some cult (some might argue that it might be). Yet this started my exploration into equanimity, meditation in particular, and pined for the ability to remain cool under pressure, and even handed in stressful situations. The journey has been sporadic and elusive, as I am both attracted to equanimity and skeptical simultaneously. Spock-like stoicism seemed attractive at one point to one curious of the world around him and gravitating towards science.

Dispassion, objectivity, perhaps this was the way to stop craving, wanting, pining. Buddhism is described as the middle way, evenhanded, as any leanings could could make one suffer. While the Four Noble truths resonated with some part of me, the eightfold path didn’t as it sounded pretty moralistic despite I may agree with many of the principles. Then there is the apparent paradox of wishing suffering to end. I’ve read enough commentary, and several books on Buddhism attempting to reconcile them, making exceptions adding more and more words to what should become simpler, without being simplistic. Detachment or attachment, indifference or commitment. Both seemed right and wrong.

Paradoxes fascinate me, I eventually ventured into Taoism through a wonderful book called The Tao of Physics. Connecting both my interests, I found Taoism somewhat more flexible, allowed for mystery, allowing for harmony and flow rather than stoic discipline. There seems to be a sense of humour in the Tao Te Ching, telling the reader the Tao cannot be defined, and yet the book attempts to describe it. Sometimes the passages read like fortune cookies or a conversation with your drunk uncle.Buddhism still held many important ideas, many shared with Taoism, yet seemed a little rigid, and more structured. However, I could not dismiss it.

Meditation practices are pivotal to both traditions so I began to investigate how to do so. I lost interest in Transcendental Meditation, and began to dabble in ways to experience thought-less, ego-less mindspace which seemed to promise some respite from my constant overthinking and fretting. I even used “Theta wave” cassettes which did hold some promise, experienced some lucid dreams, but didn’t like the idea to use technology to get there. I believe these states of mind are accessible to all and not reliant on some gadgetry or decades sitting in a cave. Eventually, I decided on Dr. Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response”, a simple secular form of meditation. Then came Zen.

The Zen tradition intrigued me since it was a mix of Buddhist practice and Taoist philosophy. I’ve read several books on the subject over the last two decades, but have yet to sit zazen, a form of meditation with eyes open. What boggles my mind is that the most powerful transcendent experiences came to me while doing the most mundane tasks. The first one came while washing the dishes. The second, while cropping my hair with an electric clipper. I lost my complete sense of self, everything was effortless. Then I just discovered there was no dishes to wash, no hair to cut. I didn’t do anything. A verb with no noun. Cutting, washing. I am now persuaded that the key to awareness is attention. To WHAT one pays attention to matters little, whether it’s sweeping, a mantra, a prayer, counting the breath, or a yoga pose. Conversely, it appears that these states are so elusive because we are continously distracted. I still struggle reconciling the irony that becoming so focused on one thing can make one dissipate from everything else, yet seem connected to everything else. Maybe there is no else, just everything.

Changing what I can’t accept. Accepting what I can’t change.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2008 by 99ppp

This post is a followup by my previous one on the Fat Acceptance movement. It is clear that many in that movement have given up due to how hard they believe it is to lose weight and keep it off. So they chose to accept it.  This is a deeper exploration of the word “Acceptance”, both as necessity and liability inspired by my secular interpretation of the Serenity Prayer.

Acceptance is a refuge to today’s success oriented and “chasing the carrot on a  stick” world. Eastern faiths like Buddhism and Taoism also vaunt the idea to accept and live in the moment. But how realistic is that? Fully engage in the moment, one has to decimate the idea of self. The self is how we discriminate ourselves from our environment. It can be argued that the self is an illusion, but perhaps it is a necessary one, the cost of conscious thought and being able to construct time to concoct causality.

So when is it the time to accept, and the time to change things? The question goes to desire. Desire in the western industrialized world is often associated with aquisition of more and more goods. Wealth is linked to freedom as getting more stuff, makes one presume that there is a greater range of activity that could be done. Freedom of possession and freedom of action are not equivalent, and often we sacrifice one to get the other. Imagine having all these possession and not being able to enjoy them out of lack of energy or time. Everyone gets twenty four hours in a day, whether rich or poor.

Acceptance thus is an invitation to live in the moment. Buddhism says that life is suffering and the solution is to eliminate “craving”, which is just a slightly stronger word than desire. Desire propels us to where we can be fully ourselves, but only temporarily. Man’s insatiable curiosity, will move us to change, even out of sheer boredom. No amount of meditation will destroy it.

The dynamic struggle between novelty (change) and tranquility/stability (acceptance) makes many of us confused about which of these two paths to move through. What I find is that this struggle makes many of us running around like a dog chasing his tail, frantic activity heading nowhere. Many of the stoic philosophies tell us to see.. and not judge. The analytical ones tell us to judge then see. A graceful dance between acceptance and change isn’t easy, many will only change facing a crisis, or accept after endless energy has been wasted striving to achieve some futile result.

Making decisions in a state of crisis often work temporarily. A means to an end to alleviate immediate suffering. There are a myriad of self-help books giving suggestions to change, or to accept, but few mention how to harmonize these two. The idea of wu wei, efforless effort, or flow as described by some can only come after getting in touch with whatever authentic self we have at the moment. Our idea of self changes as time goes on, so the idea of a static “true” self is deceptive. Our sense of self is dynamic, like a river whose source can not be rigidly defined.

Changing what I Can’t Accept

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation – Thoreau

Thoreau’s quote above describes what many experience because they feel they have no choice but accept their lot in life. Desire contained within a cocoon of acceptance, and calling it peace of mind.

Many people don’t change simply because they don’t think they deserve it. They leave their passions at the door, often claiming some higher spirituality (acceptance) to rationalize it. But the acceptance is often an evasion, a lack of faith in one’s ability, or confidence. This has occurred to me quite often, related to writing as I tend to write as I speak, while others weave their words so eloquently that my writing feels inadequate. My lack of consistency lies in my prior belief that writing stemmed from pure inspiration, now I see it as a craft. I believed that reading more about how to write effectively would stifle my creativity, and while I believe that it is a valid concern, it has previously diminished my inclination to hone my craft. I was a strong believer in wu wei, a good philosophy in its proper context, but using it to rationalize my rebellion. In a world full of rules, it is easy to fall into the role of “rebel” without exploring the rules and seeing why some others heed them. My co-blogger and editor here wisely said “You need to learn the rules to break the rules.” I initially rejected this premise as I saw it as an invitation to indoctrination, which I got enough of at school. Now I can read other peoples ideas and not fear their influence by judging them prematurely, and just allowing myself to be exposed to them. Judging comes later, to see if I can selectively use them or amend them to fit my philosophy, or style of writing.

This is the kind of rebellion I often saw in the FA movement, confronting the valid concerns about equality and media images of beauty by self sabotaging and indulging in sensory hedonism, almost out of spite. Behind the surface I saw many people who were discouraged from their lack of success in losing weight. Both of us here at 99ppp have gone on bouts of lethargy and poor nutrition, before finally making a decision to make the shift towards exercise and healthy eating. The road is not a straight line, and we are hardly perfect. We make adjustments to the exercise programs we use, and allow for temporary nutritional indulgences, with full awareness of what we are doing.

Accepting what I can not change

Here the philosophy of living in the moment triumphs, as time melts away and the division between the self and the environment dissipates. Meditative practices and some ancient philosophies mentioned above certainly remind us to look, a relationship with who and what surrounds us before jumping to judgment.

Indulging in perpetual wants, wishing, pining, fantasizing can erode one’s energies and can contribute to feeling helpless, instead of accepting perhaps some harsh realities and acting within the sphere of where one has choice. Finding a vision that is both inspiring and realistic is a challenge to many, often we can sell ourselves short, or overestimate our ability to affect matters.

The wisdom to know the difference: Life as a winding road

Learning this wisdom is where the adventure lies.

We often want novelty and stability simultaneously, and can suffer through the quiet desperation Thoreau describes. There are no answers, only approaches that work well under certain circumstances. There are as many philosophies in the world as there are people, and every path is unique. Many are looking for quick formulas, systems, or rigid ideologies and religions to keep them from the risk of making some mistake. There’s nothing wrong with exploring other people’s conceptual maps, I do it myself, yet at the end we’ll each have to chart our own, and recognize that sometimes we may feel lost despite having one.

I will expand on the tension between desire and acceptance, freedom and security, AND order and chaos in future posts, since this can fly on various tangents but all of these apparent dualities interrelate.