Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Got Anxiety? Part 2, More About Anxiety as Asset and Liability

It's the end of the world and we know it and I feel fine? Maybe not. I am inclined to take on the prospect of America failing because if it does it fail it will be because more people voted for racism for whatever reasons than showed up not to resist it or because justice was stolen. Lots of things can go wrong.


But I think today that Trump, along with the Senators and all the way down ballot, are going to face truly crushing defeat. However, Trumpism isn't going away nor the horrors that created it. What created it is smallness, certainty, and a genuine failure to appreciate how the world invites more complexity, never less. You would have to reduce to an issue or just reduce to say yes to Trumpism and that is entirely possible. Today (I mean TODAY) I'm feeling like that Trump will fail but most assuredly not the causes of Trumpism. If you're not nervous and upset about what could happen, I have no idea what planet you live on.

It's hand wringing, pearl clutching, angst, anxiety, ahi time. Ahi is another Sanskrit word for snake (naga) and serpent (sarpa). Possibilities like the truest human self are made by in large part by forces we don't control, didn't make, and and can't know. Add complexity and every effort to make the world simple, or reduce self to something essential (Vedanta), simple (more Vedanta or just plain unreflective), or non-existent (peskyB'ists again), we bump into Emerson reminding us that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

We may _think_ we like consistency or would love to embrace real certainty but such thoughts quickly and always become more problematic, to say nothing of being just plain wrong. The price of clarity is the similarly "satisfying" but wholly unproductive belief that there is somehow less world and real finality (i.e., no more) when of course that would be another short cliff leading to another long road. Worse, we say we got this when there is more, no end, and we don't actually got this yo.

Delusions can feel good. We may have _some_thing but not all. Life, like self, will permit us to sojourn briefly in our serene complacencies and assume whatever delusion of surety is today's soporific remedy. Whole religions (think: umm, yoga) are devoted to advancing the delusion that life has a solution.

But the myths know better. That ahi (n.b., YOU are that anxious serpent) inside you will wake up soon enough to remind you that if you don't embrace being that ahi, procure it, use it skillfully and with some effort remain engaged despite all of the concomitant terrors and inevitable horrors everything will get even worse not better.

In other words, if you are in touch with the trauma that is natural to the unknown, you stand a better chance than staring down that inner consciousness cobra, hood espeliering like the wisteria eating your house one vine at time that you don't really notice until you realize it is _really happening_. Then you can figure out what you can do rather than be destroyed by it.

There's no transcendence, cure, nirvana, or other exemption from the complexity of a self that refuses to be confined by a desire to contain it or reduce it to singularity. The plural self ever remains three-fourths hidden and we never get to encroach on that percentage precisely because the more we learn, the more self appears that we have yet to learn.

That was supposed to be the simple explanation of this situation of being human. Let me try again. If we recognize how our anxieties lead us to our hearts rather than away from them, we can love and grieve in ways that allows us to take the next steps, live to die another day, live to live with what is just true about a world we don't control. Less victim, more participant is the idea: dancing with your devils is better than letting them haunt you.

Monday, October 19, 2020

About Soulfulness, Artistry, and Future

"Just tell the truth about your own life, what you're experiencing, what you're seeing and dig into it. Don't be afraid of it, confront it. Let's see where it comes out. Let's describe our most intimate relationships with the hopes that other people can see themselves in our work."---Bruce Springsteen quoted by Steve van Zandt, talking to the Band.

I want to say thank you. You keep showing up. If there's going to be any future worth creating in this troubled world, it's going to take the likes of you. Where would we be without each other?


But there you are for Saturday Conversations, with all of their eclectic madness and occasional disorganization and hours of preparation, all of which seems to disappear as soon as we lift off. And Gita Sessions for their reliable indifference to sticking to the text but also never really leaving it either. You've been there now for months and there's no end in sight really. I'd tell you that you've saved me but that would underestimate the truth, which is that you really did save me. I don't presume any such drama on your part but I'm confident you have felt deeply too. I no longer shy from the tears anymore than I shrink from the argument. With you folks, I know humanity stands a chance. It's your goodness, your curiosity, your commitment. I think to myself after every session: How he would have loved to have met you too.

Since pandemic and this madness that has infected America, you have dedicated yourselves to a deeper sadhana, a soulful life of learning, company, and conversation. "You kept returning," Appa said when I asked him, "Why me?" It wasn't about talent or ambition though what I lacked in one I tried to make up in the other. It was about the good company. It was for love. That's just got to said.

"Rajanaka" as we know it together turns 20 or thereabouts this year. But it doesn't matter how long you've been around. What matters is that you've been willing to reach into your heart, offer yourself up, to stand in yoga as Krsna puts it. Yogasthah. In these troubled times you've all managed to look across the horizon to ask what more there is even as the world burns and rages and quarantines and some people can't even wear a mask to keep their neighbors safe. But you have all this and then some.

Tonight I was reading an interview with Nils Lofgren and Steve van Zandt about the new E Street Band album that will be released in full this coming Thursday. Yeah, I know, here I am talking about Springsteen again. And I'm not trying to make you like anything I like. Music leads the way, like other art, and we're all made to hear our own songs. But this record is going to come some 10 days before the election and whether it stirs your soul or not, whether its lyrics about love and friendship, grace and death are to your tastes, what it _means_ to do is remind you that art is something we are going to _need_.

We're going to need to do a lot of hard work if there is to be a reckoning with all that has been hurt. But we are also going to need art to heal. We're going to need art to address these terrible challenges we will face, some deep and foreboding, and with those who will not love us even if we offer an open hand. We'll do what we can, you've proven you will go as far as it takes to create community and conversation. But I tell you, we'll evolve, perhaps even take a few steps towards progress if we make art that bares our souls.

In Rajanaka the soul is not a metaphysical fact or an argument made through dialectic. Soul isn't something we contest or need to prove---or disprove. (Those pesky Buddhists. Gotta love'em.) Soul traverses through feelings, all feelings, but it's not itself a feeling. Soul is what _moves_ feelings. It is the prime mover within us and requires no cause or reason, no maker because it is the creator. It takes courage and humility to bare your soul. It takes work to dive deeply into parts unknown, unasked for, into shadows hidden by the light that creates them. Soul is a journey best taken together even when it is wholly ours.

Soul happens when we dare to turn ourselves inside out, what the Tantrikas call, what Rajanaka calls uttanita: the extended, the upside down, the contrarian way. Art dares to move with and against, towards and away at the same time; the soulful doesn't resolve such paradox so much as it brings out its beauty and power and strife and value. Your art is whatever you do that makes that happen for you and it's your artistry, your soulfulness that changes the world. Don't suffer alone. Don't be alone unless you want to. Share that journey and your artistry becomes a gift.

Becsuse art emerges from soul it can't help but create more soul, more connection. It's no small task to learn how to reach into the unconscious and from that source create the forms of memory that express the heart's secrets, its wishes and desires, hopes and fears. Some of us do that with music or dance or in our commitment to a yoga practice or in raising children and caring for them, or even through the power of food and love and other forms of human care for the world.
Soul comes from the depths but means to reach the surface. What happens then isn't something we can completely control or direct but it is ours to experience. The worlds of yoga, worlds of care, of artistry are truly astonishing. Soulfulness is the liquid fire, the source of rasa, the essential, the elixir; it is the self coming into its own light, emerging from mixed up, muddled up, shook up worlds that invite us to _see_ ourselves and _be_ ourselves at the same time.

Everyone has the talent but not all get their chance. And somehow it doesn't seem to burn as hot for those who never kindle the fire. Or maybe they never learned how. And as we have come to learn over the past four years, soul can be callow, damaged, and even empty. There are no guarantees that the soulful will be found or cultivated, much less evolved into distinguished artistry and authenticity and take the shape of the integrity of self. But most folks, given the opportunity to love deeply will find the soulful because they will experience joy and pain and they will grieve too and likely find their way to offering something of what they have learned and felt.

Now I confess, the real reason for this note was to cite from this interview in Forbes what Bruce told the band when they got together to make music.
That could have been Appa those years ago because that is what he offered. He wished for me---and for you---that chance to tell the truth about your lives, to not be afraid of what you find and to share it because it is in your soulfulness we will all grow, each into our own artistries. If the love we give is equal to the love we take--- to quote those other guys who put it all on the line--- we'll have lived enough.

Sing on, Rajanaka. And dance like Nataraja is delighted you've come. Kali is holding you close. If all that seems a bit much, well, we've got even more stories to tell. I hope to see you more, and soon. If we dare to tell our truths then we will have a future. Better yet, together.

Friday, September 4, 2020

45 Years and More Broken Pieces and Sammelana

It's 45 years now since Born to Run was released in 1975. Yeah, that matters to me but this isn't about that. Or is it?

This post is not likely going where we might think it's going. You may get bored. Writing these sentences last, it's also a mixed up muddled up shook up maelstrom of metaphors, more like curry in hurry than a carefully prepared word cuisine. Truth is, I woke up thinking and this mighty rad gumbo of ideas and mixed up metaphors was what was happn'n.


I went to India looking for the path to liberation and for someone to take me there. Though barely more than a teenager, I had read Buddhist sutra and Shankara's Advaita and I wanted to be in that game. I wanted to be able to engage those worlds on their terms and achieve their ends. I didn't realize how I was making the same mistake again.

As a kid I'd taken myself to church to hear what was supposed to be so important. And it was inasmuch as they were talking about the origins of meaning and how to create a life of goodness. It took awhile to figure out just how their versions of these vital human concerns were either another "who would think otherwise" matter or, far worse, a manipulation and exploitation that plays and cons you for their own purposes. So either we're talking about things that need to be beyond dispute---"love your neighbor"---or you are being handed a load of nonsense---"he died for your sins," "your reward will be great in heaven."
I didn't yet surmise that these same issues follow around _every_ religion or spiritual path, particularly in their corporate and institutional forms. When I went to India I was still looking but I thought they had the answers, in their traditions, that I could stand under their umbrella to withstand the consequences of all the rain.

Appa agreed to teach me the sources in the original and his traditionalism was my personal guarantee that I had found the guru. Who could not love this man at first sight? He wasn't seductive and there were no saffron robes or titles or claims but his authenticity was irrefutable, as much as his erudition and integrity. It was when he began to offer his own interpretations and critiques that everything started to change.

It's as if we all have to stand in the rain. The world is pouring rain, whether it's personal, social, political, you name it, the storm is raging. It's going to challenge us to find a place to stand, ways to withstand and perhaps find some kind of refuge. Everyone does that and, if we are lucky, we receive love and learn better how to give some so we can live in our own skin, endure the outrageous fortune. But for me that was not enough.

I'd been lucky, loved aplenty as a kid but when I went looking for meaning---and I mean from adults who were somehow supposed to know---I was disappointed in the answers and then disappointed in their character. They'd opened their umbrella and allowed me to step under, to share it with them but the umbrella was made of fixed dogmas and institutional straw. I figured that out before I went to India. What 

I didn't realize is that I was just looking for _another_ umbrella, just another corporation's story that would offer shelter from the storm.

The "institutional" storytelling gives you answers and reminds you that they are the correct ones. The corporation welcomes you in to participate in _their_ story and if you deviate too far you get in trouble or, like my own Italian grandmother, you get excommunicated because your story can't meet their expectations. My grandmother was excommunicated from the Catholic Church after she divorced by grandfather who had abandoned them---he was deeply traumatized with PTSD after serving in WWI and one day disappeared. To receive the benefits of the New Deal she had to prove destitution, which included three little girls. My mom the middle daughter.

Now that horror story of the church may not be unusual but my point isn't merely to castigate or accuse, it is to point out that we are punished for dissent. Step out from under _that_ umbrella and you are pretty much on your own. 

What I didn't really understand when I met Appa is that he had not only been reared under a wide and encompassing umbrella of traditions, practices, doctrines, and customs, but that he had stepped out from under its shelters. Somehow he had freed himself from the Matrix while still being in the Matrix, in fact, without ever leaving the Matrix. He had not disowned or disavowed, he hadn't been busted for heresy or been found out. He didn't want to leave or abandon his worlds entirely. He didn't do what I'd done even though he too was born to run. He knew however that "it's a death trap, a suicide rap, we gotta get out while we're young." How's that for a slew of mixed metaphor and allusions?

But in his own quiet way, Sundaramoorthy had fomented in his heart and mind a revolution. He didn't believe that the umbrellas of tradition understood traditionally were any real shelter at all. The rain is no illusion but the umbrella as it was made by his traditions didn't provide enough honest shelter---and after all there is no stopping the storm, the storm eventually takes us all. Rudra and Kali never fail to have their ways.

Appa had his own version of the slow burn, the coming to terms with the storm that we call Rudra and Kali. It wasn't like mine but it was all the same storm. I had the chance to run, he couldn't. Then I got lucky and I ran into him just as I was figuring out that you can run but the storm doesn't stop no matter where you go. I thought he'd show a way through the Buddhists or the Hindus that would finally provide that shelter. I wanted _his_ umbrella to do the job.

But as he began to teach I started to grasp his point. First, that the sources of tradition do indeed raise the important questions and provide plenty of indirection that helps---myth, ritual, practices, ideas, maps that aren't entirely useless. He set about helping me understand what the corporations of tradition were teaching. We all really face the same storms: love and grief, joy and sorrow, mortality and, well, what more, what else?

Next, he never relented in telling me to query and question, to use my own wits, be honest with feelings and ideas, and not capitulate to belief, to adherence, to any dogma or doctrine that he or anyone else was claiming to be the real shelter, the only true shelter, the correct shelter from the storm.

Last, he urged me to have the courage, to look into my own heart---the very meaning of the word "courage"---to see how we share the storm and _need_ an umbrella, need to be part of traditions and histories and, at the same time, not to be co-opted into complacencies of belief, into dogmas that are mere salves or bypass. We can commit to both learning from traditions and a relentless contrariety that refuses to believe or just follow. We aren't all alone in creating our path, we can't make it all up for ourselves---that is folly, self-importance, and lead you to believe that wearing tie-dyed clown pants to a black tie wedding is somehow being yourself.

Rajanaka is the contrariety he collected with that small group of fellow seekers. Its beauty lies in its willingness to see the value of traditions---ideas, questions, practices, customs---and also embrace its own otherness. Appa was adamant in his refusal to capitulate to dogmas or claims that were only fake umbrellas raised between you and the storm---"When I was liberated from liberation, I was at last free to be human."

But he knew he needed, that we all need, shelters from the storm, that it's wise to carry umbrellas in the rain. He could draw deep inspiration from the many languages of tradition, the symbols, forms, and practices but he was just as determined to speak in his own dialect that might become yet another kind of language. His was a dialect that began as something like Srividya and Natarajar's Shaivism but it became another language, one rooted in an understanding so different from its source that it warranted that new designation---it was a new language that had emerged from the old ones. Rajanaka is that method and that language, grounded in the principles of contrariety, of critical thinking and humanism. 

He once said that we gain advantage because we humans have the power to use language but that when we understand that we are formulating with rules (whether we know it or not), then breaking rules and making new rules becomes part of our growing awareness; then with love of a reformulating grammar we can reshape our experiences, we can move matters along into other kinds of expression. We need to know that we bind to rules to make sense of a world that we cannot control but we are not more bound to rules that control us than we are. 

Let me try that again. He was saying we need to come into our own voices to hear ourselves and communicate more deeply with others so that we can share a shared humanity. He was saying we cannot allow that process of personal growth and communication to abandon what we share and what we have learned from the past, from the corporations of tradition---and yet we must try to become our own voice too. That strange need to be part of something more (because we are) and come to our own critical processes, that is the great commingling, that is what we call sammelana. Another meaning of the word "sammelana" is to a gathering for celebration. What Rajanaka celebrates is our ability to make something more once we shatter the mirror and dare to look for the broken, missing, and extra pieces that we piece together to see more.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rage On, Calmly or Not, But Do Rage On

Charles Blow in today's NYTimes makes an important case for "insatiable rage." He explains why the passion, the rage and indeed the outrage we see in the streets, continuing and expanding into the greater causes of civil rights and the failures of American Experiment, cuts so deeply. This isn't about merely about "winning" or persuading or effecting reform or law---it is about deep, abiding collective feelings that must find expression.

The collective hopes, dreams, frustrations, indignities, violations, and abuses of Black Americans will be heard and must be acted upon. There is no appointed moment for this to cease, and I mean for protest somehow to end.

Among the important features of this movement, the courage and determination of peoples' oppressed to be heard and to provide inspiration and witness to this criminal history and neglect. Personally, I hope there is enough endurance and perseverance to extend all the way to November. We must not underestimate the opposition. They will do everything they can to thwart progress including lie, steal, and cheat---because they always have. If too quickly we may return to diffidence and timidity then the cause will once again fail. This is Mitch McConnell's answer to every bit of progress: wait it out, the liberals don't have the votes and more importantly don't have the commitment. He must be wrong this time.

Everything about future depends on it. Justice denied must rage on so that it becomes justice served as our daily faire. I am heartened truly by the sensibilities of sympathy and empathy that have arisen too in support for those so long oppressed and denied. There are White Americans out there protesting and I hope they learn, listen, and show up on November 3rd too. We who have lavished in unearned privilege must act to make real amends, and have the decency to be stalwart in support and actions.

"Rage" is not something that Americans value or appreciate as a virtue. It can be a hard sell even around here. What I mean by that is Rajanaka's teaching about Rudra and Kali and the Sammelana characters whose rage is a key feature of their identity. Rage means a relentless passion for values, for what's -worth- the fight and knowing when it's going to be a fight.

Rage also entails living to fight another day when you won't win the day. Rage means living with yourself when you have failed or disappointed or _are_ disappointed. Rage takes it a step further because you have to live with trauma for the sake of the rage ahead. I have argued elsewhere that the utter outrage we feel about symbols of hate is wholly warranted. That freedom of speech protects the symbols' use privately or on private property is a price we should pay. Does that cause us more rage? Does that cause us more rage? Does it cause harm and trauma? Of course it does. No one is spared, never, expect it. Don't acquiesce. Don't give in. Rage on.

That is one of the things that Rudra, Kali, and company are showing us: that there is no world in which we escape the hurt or the trauma that might well be demon-inflicted. We can manage the demons and must but we can't rid ourselves of them nor of all the damage that they will do. We live with the damage, with mitigate it and try to relieve the pain, but every cause of goodness and every form of freedom has its price. What we gain from censorship we may well lose in freedom. I'm not suggesting that this is in any way a settled matter.

THAT is a feature of the rage too. The rage refers to the complexity, the irresolvable, the ambiguities, the compromise, the impurity and inauspiciousness that we WILL have to live with. Life doesn't have a cure for what's wrong. Life give us the rage to feel and express and address our rage. Rage keeps good company and that means rage should never be left in isolation or separated from other qualities we will also need: like patience, fortitude, sympathy, compassion, and care. Rage on, calmly.

Here is the reference to the piece by Charles Blow: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/14/opinion/us-protests-racism.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Great Game, the Art of Making Trouble, Rajanaka's Game of Rudra and Śrī

The Art of Making Trouble, Revisited The Great Game or How to Play Rajanaka's Game of Rudra and Śrī

I asked Appa once what we actually share with the Tantrikas and other philosophers since his views were so unlike the mainstream. To say the least. His answer was "the art of making trouble." This warrants a bit more explanation.

We can call this by all sorts of names and descriptors.  We can call it Rudra's Game, because of all of the gods of the Veda,  Rudra is the most respected, the most loved, and the most feared.  Rudra is ghostbusters, both sweeter than honey and more fierce than fire.  This Game also means Kālī Śrī's game with Śiva.  She plays to win, never any other way.  It's fun and it's often frustrating and difficult and it can hurt.  It is a game of intimacy and respect that will succeed and also fail but always aims for greatness, mahā.  Greatness means a game worth playing because it is has value past the immediate or apparent.

It is the Great Game.  We might liken it to the Magic Theatre.   It is not for everyone and the price of admission is your mind, your heart, maybe your soul. It is a game of soulfulness, not a war for the soul. It is for living, not for the feint of heart, and it is the learning (vidyā) of auspiciousness, that is, radical affirmation. If it doesn't bring you to health, you are playing too hard or have made mistakes. Revise. 

Appa always first described Rajanaka as having the values of the Old World and the Old Gods, that is, the Vedic gods and the Tamil Mother. Simply put, this means"give to me, I give", what we might just call "live long and prosper," and dismisses (or refutes) the foundational model of bondage/liberation that characterizes Hindu, Buddhist, and other later Indian worldviews. This also eliminates or ignores "achievements" like enlightenment, supernaturalism, supernormal powers, and most of what we associate with "religious" claims.

We turn towards the world, pravritti, rather than away from it (nivritti) and as for what others claim, that is for their consolation. Next, he said we share content with the later traditions---myths, rituals like puja, practices like darshan, and other methodologies that don't arrive until the Tantra puts down its markers. This is where we arrive at the Śrīvidyā with all of its imagery, narrative, and symbology---and with that a comprehensive interest in everything that enters Indian worlds through it, like poetry, music, literature, and "temple worlds."

But if we Rajanaka so deeply disavow and disagree with the philosophical and interpretive understandings, why do we still engage and are we any longer "Hindus"? Or to put it another way, why do we argue with them and what do we call ourselves if we are so unlike them?

Appa smiled and said, "Heretics?" But I pressed on, "Why do we engage them at all anymore? Is it because we share in their images, stories, and practices?" Of course this was an important consideration, he said, but the crux of the matter is _how_ we learn.  Rajanaka is built on how we learn, not merely what we learn.  We aren't told what to think.  We are taught how to think.  So how do we learn to think?

Tantra, like other philosophical discourse in India, is built on evolving a method of "argument." This doesn't seem "very yogic" to people who have no idea what these traditions are actually like, especially in philosophical Sanskrit. So let's explain why this isn't merely meanness or prattling sophistry.

The heart of the matter is simple: you only really learn _more_ when you never stop making trouble, either for the other guy or for yourself. You honor the goddess, to put it metaphorically, when you confront your dice-game accuser with another kind of skillful game. What you must learn to do is create a productive and progressive experience that challenges, that pushes you forward to explain, defend, argue, revise, reconsider, evolve your views. The paradox needs to be in place: take the stance that you think you are "right" or that you understand and then do everything you can to undermine your own position. 

You can explain this succinctly to civilians but they likely won't understand what you mean when you say, "read closely, think critically, write argumentatively."  So let's unwrap that present and tie with a bow.  Then rip it open like a puppy playing with something that she shouldn't be destroying.  Hehe...

Here, more basics:
*Take no quarter, give no quarter: be relentless, unremitting, rigorous, dogged, even ferocious. It's Rudra unleashed.
*You argue without end, without final conclusions. You argue to defend your best argument knowing that you must try to undermine yourself.
*No harm is meant, no ill will. You are permitted nothing petty or vindictive. Invective and accusation are wholly prohibited.
*Indian writers don't like sarcasm nor are they particularly funny, and that's a damn shame. So if you want to tease or self-immolate, feel free but be nice about it.
*You must represent the other's point of view with _more_ generosity and an even better, more gracious benefit of the doubt. You make _their_ case sympathetically and as powerfully as you can. Your opponent comes out smarter and better for your efforts to defend them. Then you rip it all to shreds.
*In the process you learn that your own arguments wobble, they have pitch and yaw, they are not airtight or perfect because nothing is. You can be wrong and you need to know that that is your advantage. You can learn from mistakes because you will make them.
*The goal is to wobble but not waffle. No careening from idea to idea. No floundering, oscillating, or lurching. Do not allow the ship to breach just because you are determine to skid the waves of this storm. You must learn how to sway and stumble and recover and keep going.
*Evolving means moving little by little, no big breakthroughs because if those happen then your argument wasn't very good to begin with. So, check that, change large if you are largely wrong. Change some every single time. Never be stuck, you are not permitted to be haughty, recalcitrant, fractious, obstinate, or contumelious.
*You can be wild, feral, and defiant but not at the price of being dangerous, willful, or undisciplined. Think risk, think more risk, then think if that is prudent at all. Never be so imprudent that you put at risk things that really matter.
*You can only do these things with others who are in the game. The game is Rudra meets a dissonant world in which recursive and order are always giving way to mutation and chaos.
*When you meet people who don't know how to play, teach them if they want to learn. If they can't learn for whatever reasons---they are sensitive, they are too imprinted or old, they just don't want to---don't try to make them. Just be nice, let them have their world. Not everyone needs to play Rudra's Game.
*Never forget that the point of this Game is to become Śrī and Śiva. That means, auspicious in every way possible and that means "always more", trying to be healthy and better for it to yourself and others. Never forget that Śrī is always Kālī and Shiva is always Rudra Nataraja. Never less fierce, or aghora in Sanskrit.
*If the Game gets easy, make it harder. Take up something more challenging, never get complacent, never too assured. You are either on the throttle or you are hitting the brakes. No coasting.
*Be Vyāghrapāda. That means, Have Tiger Paws. Never fail to use them. Know you can hurt yourself because you have tiger paws and use them as deftly, as soft hands.
*In other words, rage on, calmly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Hikikomori 引きこもり

Hikikomori 引きこもり
Or Where We're Going and Not Going Anytime Soon

First, I could be entirely mistaken about this but I was reading Dogen today and one thing led to another. I'm not exactly in my comfort zone here but, really, who is right now?
I confess I come by my asocial misanthropy without much effort. It can be hard for people to really love day after day of solitude with little or so contact with the world---but in written words. Our current situation puts many people in peril of that kind of life, unchosen in their case. Isolation can feel, well, isolating and I'm rooting for your mental health. We live "way out here" and usually quite alone, just the two of us. (There is a new puppy incoming! Hopefully. IF we can travel to get her.)

So today I was reading Dogen, the masterful Zen philosopher. His principal work is entitled the Shōbōgenzō (正法眼蔵), which means "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" and it raises all sorts of issues about what it means to be alone and to find wonder in quietude. Shōbōgenzō is actually a compiliation of essays and notes largely strung together.

Anyways, Dogen is the most renown proponent of the Soto Zen school and its principal teaching, zazen or "just sitting." Zazen is the thoughtless meditation in which there is no achievement or goal but to sit. Thus, the achievement is called "sudden" inasmuch as there is nothing to "get" but the serenity itself, an awareness of things _merely_ as they are.

Appa was deeply influenced by Zen, particularly the ways in which they find the ultimate in the ordinary. He took to heart that there is literally no goal but to revel in an effortless awareness of the everyday. Why would we aspire to something other than living fully in our humanness? Whether one is meditating or not, the constructs and inventions of our mental states may be nothing more than heuristic or imaginary aids. The sweetness of this deeply austere imperative to thoughtlessness is that one receives and accepts the world as such, what the earlier Sanskrit Mahayana called tathātā, "suchness," things such as they are.

Defeating the ultimate has a way of allowing the everyday to be more meaningful. It's much like being liberated from liberation so that we can get on with the business of being human. I'm pretty sure that Dogen didn't the world enough for that, preferring instead to be more deeply entranced by such insouciant disengagement. Dogen was aiming for very little worldly contact. I'm not sure we want that, not really.

Now all of this roundabout took me further in pursuit of the White Rabbit decidedly absent in the presence of Dogen's suchness. But I discovered a rather fascinating distinction in Japanese.

The word for hermit in Japanese is yamagomori. Yama (山) means mountain and the idea is sequestering yourself away for the _purpose_ of reclusion. The yamagomori is trying to get away, remain unseen, vanish from the world. Okay, that might be my plan if we re-elect Trump. I talk a lot leaving for the Falklands because they certainly have even worse weather than Bristol, New York. Is that even possible? But that would be deciding for yamagomori.

Enter hikikomori. This refers to something far more conventional and more like what we are about to be doing.

Hiku means to withdraw and komoru ( 籠る、こもる) means something like seclusion. It might be translated "social withdrawal," but really it is a ready-made term for the next step in "social distancing." We're being told to stay at least six feet from anyone but things are going a lot further and faster than that. Hikikomori is much more like deliberate seclusion---not six feet away, just away.


In sum, hikikomori is when you just cuddle up with yourself all day, don't leave home, just hang---pretty much alone. It's an almost perfectly acceptable thing to do, as far as I can tell, not really asceticism, not Dogen's hermit nor his awareness without things. It's more just going quiet, going it alone some without the rest of the world. When Japanese use this term it means people who just don't leave home---and sometimes not for a long time.

Please don't mistake me, I see all too vividly the perils of isolation and I really, really hope no one ends up lonely or sequestered in ways that are unhealthy or dangerous. I wrote yesterday quite a bit about not becoming isolated and it's important for us all to look after our mental health as we try to secure our physical health.

Hopefully too you aren't holed up all by your lonesome. I hope you're as lucky as I to share this current hikikomori with someone(s) you love. But as far as I can figure, we are headed to a kind of enforced hikikomori. We about to be told to STAY HOME and have as little contact as possible with ANYONE outside. And that would be pretty much the meaning of hikikomori. Wouldn't it be like the Japanese to have a word for it? Hikikomori. Just in time for America.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Living With Now, Planning for Tomorrow, Raging On, Calmly

In daunting times we need undaunted courage. That means we have to listen to our hearts because that is the seat of courage.

Before the liberation of the eastern bloc, Vaclav Havel wrote about living "as if." He would live "as if" he were free when in fact he had to be very careful about being free. In that case of course it was the oppressions of government but like Havel we have no idea really when we might move more "freely about the cabin."

So with all due precautions and mindful that everyone sits in the heart as they do---differently and respectfully---I mean to carry on. Or as we like to say around here: Rage On, Calmly. If my hosts choose to cancel or postpone seminars or events I understand that entirely. But I am going forward on the presumption that we're on.

I have no plans to cancel any already scheduled events. I have a remarkable faith in the decency and common sense of our community. We don't have "large" gatherings and while we are inclined to hug and even sweat together (who me? sweat?), I think we will benefit more from the conversation so long as our risks are well managed. Your mileage may vary, of course. I have no doubt that you will choose wisely.

Living in India as a very young man for long periods of time, even with all the love and support I received there and from home, taught me about isolation. India also has a way of sobering you and inviting you past your own excuses---there's always a reason not to do something if you want one. And there's the realism you need to keep safe and healthy.

When the Plague---yeah, _that_ plague---came, Isaac Newton was forced to go home for a year away from college and teachers and friends. You do know what he did: he wrote the Principia and changed the world forever. So while we may not possess his genius we can step into our own. We can still see one another with eyes open and distance safe. We can pour ourselves into our initiatives and create more than we might have imagined. We can stay informed---Newton didn't have the luxury---and we can do our best for each other. In Rajanaka it's a nitya-karma, best translated "a thing we always do," we rage on, calmly.