I’m back (so apologies first)

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Yes, it’s been awhile. I apologize. I feel as if I’ve been putting much of my life on pause–and continue to–but I’ve been wanting to get back to this, partly because it has a public sense of responsibility, partly because it may prove helpful. The last post I wrote was Jan. 26, about Zen and Everyday Life. Since then, I’ve been busy with papers, reading, etc., and haven’t felt like writing. My head’s been elsewhere.

In a way, I think I needed a hiatus. I’m not sure if I’m fully up to returning, with final papers coming up, but I felt like writing this morning, and as Thoreau said, “Write while the heat is in you. . . . The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”

For now, I don’t have much to say, except good morning.

Video

Relevance of philosophy

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Hey all, I have a longer post I wrote today, but I want to edit it and post it tomorrow or later in the week. It’s about the relevance of philosophy, so I figured that this engaging video would be a nice primer.

The video is a roundtable discussion and lecture about the relevance of philosophy. It takes place at The New School in New York, with some leading thinkers in the field of philosophy and otherwise. Some of the conversation is quite interesting and well-worth the watch if you, too, wonder what the point of philosophy is.

Have a nice Sunday.

The Mighty Egyptians

Brett:

I had some Egyptian wanderlust, and I remembered these beautiful photographs.

Originally posted on China Sojourns Photography - 作客中国摄影:

Egypt-2006-2 There are few places on earth where I feel like I have slipped into a mythical time period, and Egypt is one.  The ancient Egyptians were geniuses, creating some of the greatest marvels of the world.  During my visits, the historical sites were never-ending and always impressive, but what intrigued me most were the people.  Incredibly insightful, and very willing to discuss life, politics and cultural issues over tea. Egypt-2006-3-2   Egypt-2006-2-2 Egypt-2006-4-2 The openness of the people was surprising, and enjoyed talking with them more than I enjoyed the tourist sites (don’t get me wrong, the sites are truly incredible achievements).  Over tea, we could delve into these discussions of politics, history and philosophy, all of which added to the flavor of country and its culture.  The one consistent trait that seeped into every conversation I had with my Egyptian friends, was their great pride in their country and their astute eye…

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“There was a Boy”

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Once again, other projects have consumed my weekend. Perhaps, I’ll try to find time in the midst of the week to write, so this doesn’t happen again. In the meantime, here is a link to a beautiful poem by Wordsworth and a picture I took in my own travels around his home in the Lake District, one of my favorite places in the world. Enjoy.

There was a Boy.”

The trail to the town of Troutbeck

The trail to the town of Troutbeck

John Cleese and Creativity

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As I have a few other writing projects taking up my time and creative energy this weekend, I haven’t gotten around to writing a worthwhile blog post. Instead, enjoy a lovely lecture by Monty Python’s John Cleese explaining the difference between the “closed zone” of everyday life and the “open zone” of creative expression and how to encourage the open zone–as best as one can.

As one can expect, Cleese sprinkles his clear explanation with humor, so at the very least, you’ll learn how many folk singers it takes to screw in a lightbulb. Enjoy.

Zen and everyday life

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lotus_flower

[Image from North Dakota State University]

I had plans for another post today, in light of a fellow blogger nominating me for a Liebster Award. But a night at a Franciscan retreat center has prompted me to write something a little different.

Since I first learned about Buddhism in high school, I’ve been interested in it. I still remember filling out answers to the Four Noble Truths on quizzes in the front of my ninth grade class, alongside sanskrit terms.

Since then, I’ve come a long way.

An independent study in Buddhist philosophy, numerous books, a few meditation retreats, and a daily meditation practice that lasted a few years have all increased my awareness in Buddhism, especially Zen.

But two winters ago, my interest culminated in a three day retreat at a Zen monastery in the Catskills. I still recall the final day of the retreat. After the exhausting stints of 5 a.m. zazen meditation and work projects–where I silently cracked over a hundred eggs–we concluded with a koan and a dharma talk by the sensei. The koan was about the diamond sutra, a central text in Mahayana Buddhism, called “diamond” because a true understanding allows one to cut through illusion and ignorance like a diamond.

The sensei brought up the ending of the sutra itself:

“So I say to you - 
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:”

“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream; 
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, 
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”

“So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”

Thus spoke Buddha.

Building on the Buddhist notion of impermanence–that life contains unceasing flux and change–the sensei stressed our need to “leave no footprints” as we moved through life, negotiating the tricky balance of “equanimity,” a peaceful abiding between aversion and desire that does not fall into indifference. Life is indeed brief. It is full of change and interdependence. Like a dream, things come and go.

Sitting in zazen position, legs folded and “heart open,” I felt a change. Buddhism traditionally has different levels of understanding, ranging from the merely intellectual to the silent but sure understanding of an Enlightened one. Somewhere between lies a heart understanding, where one truly “feels” a new insight that cannot fit into words.

In the midst of the dharma talk, I felt that insight.

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What does it mean to be happy?

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Walking to the library recently, morning tea in hand, I paused a moment and watched snowflakes powder the branches of a nearby stand of pines. The air was quiet–that vacuum-sealed hush that pervades winter dawns–and the sun glowed through the cloudy sky like flashlight through a fogged window.happiness

“I’m happy,” I said suddenly.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about what happiness means, but it’s a slippery word. Images and expressions clutter its meaning, twisting and warping the word beyond recognition in some cases. There’s the tranquil happiness of a retiree feeding pigeons to pass time on a warm Sunday morning. Then, there’s the hedonistic thrill of a teenager, beer in hand, slipping into a throng of dancers in some dim, crowded corner of a house party. Then there’s Stoic and Buddhist joy, a sort of peaceful equanimity.

Fortunately, they do have a few things in common, I think.

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89 days of insecurities

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To be honest, I’m struggling a little bit.

Okay, a lotta bit.

We celebrated my brother’s 27th birthday this past weekend. Twenty-seven; six-ish years my senior. He has an apartment that he shares with his 5-year-old Golden Retriever. He’s a success story; an internship he had during his undergrad summers morphed into a career. He’s single. He watches seasons of TV shows on Netflix, takes the dog out for walks and visits friends. He’s happy.

In fact, I’ll never forget what he told me during my birthday celebration a couple months back when I told my family about a guy who wanted to take me out on a date.

“It’s okay to be single for awhile, Em,” he said.

You may have read this post a few months back. I wrote that 89 days ago. I’ve kissed six different guys over these past 89 days, ultimately (drunkenly) sleeping with two of them. I looked up the word “slut” in the dictionary and have concluded I am neither promiscuous or slovenly –– I’m merely going for the men who seem to readily give me attention. “Promiscuous” implies I’ve had sexual relations with each of these six guys and that is simply not the case.

Sounds about right

Sounds about right

Still, in the process, I’ve lost real feelings. So imagine me a little over a month ago when a really nice, respectable guy began giving me attention. I went a little nuts and it scared me shitless. He scared me shitless. My friends told me they could tell how much I liked him by the speed of my talking and the high-pitch tone my voice adopted. That scared me, too. Now I think I’ve scared him away. Real smooth, Em, ya dummy.

I’ve realized that being rejected really depresses me. I go into full-blown nihilism mode and lose track of everything I’m working for, everything I’m trying to be. I’ve lived under the mindset of what good is anything if I have nobody to share that ‘anything’ with? for a very long time, leading to never watching movies by myself or going shopping for fun by myself.

I need to get back in touch with the adventurous version of myself I found while living away from home last summer for an internship. My brother’s found it. I’d like to join him. I’d like to be happy, learn from my past mistakes and begin a new relationship when I’m good and ready for it. Too many of my insecurities rule my life and my way of thinking –– I need to squash them before I begin anything new.

Fuck.

New semester

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I moved back into school today to start the next semester. A new semester has always had more of a “New Year” feeling than actual New Years, since school provides a ready-made change of scenery and lifestyle.

That said, I try not to treat “resolutions” like “revolutions.” Often, this time of year–especially the first week or two at the start–gets annoying. Everyone has a hundred hopes, impossible plans, and vague outlines, all aimed at turning them into a new person. I respect the hope and spirit that goes into this, but as with many things, the hope outshoots the reality. Would-be gym-goers, dieters, meditators, and volunteers slump back into their old habits, like a well-worn couch, and lose momentum until “next year.”

It’s happened to me a dozen times. To people I know. To people I don’t know, but see peppering the gym this time of year, then slipping away like a trial product that never goes big. According to a recent study by the University of Scranton, used by Time and Forbes, only about 8% of those who try a resolution say they usually make it.

Other research has different numbers, but the conclusion seems pretty clear: resolutions don’t come easily.

One thing that may hamper our ability to reach our goals is an inherent limitation to self control. Recent research seems to indicate that we can only use so much self control before we succumb to temptation. Or, at the very least, we get more likely to succumb. That pizza, ice cream, and beer hits us much harder after a long day at work.

Sometimes we even rationalize it, saying “Well, I worked hard today and kept up my diet, so I deserve a little something.” The psychologist Kelly McGonigal, who studies willpower, critiques this particular tactic that she calls “moral licensing” in an interesting video.

Moreover, moral licensing and limited self control aren’t the only things that impede resolutions. The stubborn resilience of bad habits, our inability to visualize future selves, competing priorities, guilt-saturated procrastination, and more set strong roadblocks between us and progress.

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