Second Mind

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020. I’m back to the closing shift for two days, then off for two, then a closing shift, then three days off, and so on. I was at twenty-nine or so hours per week forever, it seemed, and now, perhaps because we’re approaching the end of the busy season (when I was seasonal part-time I was told the job ended in August unless I got hired on permanently) or perhaps because the end of the busy season has come early – who knows, who cares? – my hours are decreasing. A good thing. Because the grind is affecting my editing. I’m not whining, it’s just not possible for me to maintain a commitment to a job for thirty hours, learn what has to be learned there, devote myself to it enough to do a respectably good job and then manage the marketing of the novel and find the energy to devote to proper, very time consuming editing. Besides the reading and journaling which fuel the fiction. And my other vocations suffer: the walking and cooking especially. It’s just the way things are, we’re slave to our genetics, to our talents and lack thereof. And we’re slaves to time, in a way, too. There is only so much of it available. That I wasted so much of it in my youth is, well, also part of life.

Meanwhile, yes, skills can be learned, including those required for the bettering one’s time management, but it’s a talent, indeed, to be capable of engineering a reliably efficient, productive life that gets you from where you are to where you want to be. While leaving room for the spontaneity required for authentic creativity. Somebody else might manage everything with elegance and flair, even working full time and getting TC2 edited and in shape for publishing all by the end of the year, no sweat. I wish. Surrendering to one’s process weaknesses is part of what separates the men from the boys, as they say, because the alternative is giving up. “Money isn’t everything,” sings Ian Hunter, “when you’re turning your back on a dream.”[1]

Don’t give up, then. Take your lumps. Forge ahead. Fight and surrender at the same time. Be who you are and don’t grasp at things. Abandon ambition, which is something that takes, in favor of aspiration, which gives. Krishna had to explain this to Arjuna, who was trapped within the illusion of his autonomy, believing he had a choice on the battlefield. Well, he had a choice but it wasn’t the choice he thought it was. Namely, his only choice was whether or not to be who he was, and only that, not taking on things, responsibilities for example, that weren’t his to assume. The pending war that troubled him was beyond his control to stop, he could only choose to act in it or not, to apply his influence according to his so-called dharma as a warrior.

In the West we interpret dharma without the idea of caste, regarding it as an expression of our veritelos, our true nature, our personal mythology (as I describe it). , avatar of Vishnu, the sustainer of the cosmos, Let it go and see what comes back. Tap all the wisdom of the ages, as best you can, and try to enjoy the ride. It’s your only one, after all.

Anyway, can you tell that I’m still reading my way through my copy of The Illustrated Mahabharata? The above image is not in the book and I can’t immediately ascertain the attribution, otherwise I would properly cite it. So be it, if anyone can identify the artist and copyright owner, I will be grateful. Meanwhile, I’m leaning upon the idea of fair use. And of all the images out there that interpret this scene, this one strikes me as mythologically robust and erudite, emphasizing the unsettling yet grounding quality of the divinity, of the eternal, of myth at its most affecting, effective and functional. Here is awe, cosmology, sociology and pedagogically supportive psychology.

Hinduism does well, I think, to provide a particularly valuable aspect of the fourth function of mythology, that of pedagogically supportive psychology. That is to say, Hinduism acknowledges the predicament of our psychological nature in very human terms. Versus Christianity, for example, in which Jesus, as an avatar of God and a compassionate teacher can be seen to resemble Krishna but only insofar as Jesus rather symbolizes sacrifice and the psychological schism induced by our sense of guilt or original sin, an otherwise uniquely Occidental perspective. In Hinduism we are not guilty in spite of ourselves, there is no original sin but merely our personal sin, our karmic mistakes. The world naturally balances itself by way of the play of opposites. Within Christianity, the world, as created by God, ironically enough, is flawed and we ourselves, as creations of God, are flawed along with it. Yet somehow we are tasked with both correcting this personal schism which is not of our own doing and awaiting the coming of salvation, the day of judgement in which there will be heaven on earth, if only for the faithful. The common ground between the mythologies nevertheless remains the ideas of compassion and surrender to the Divinity.

[1] Ian Hunter, “Death of a Nation,” Rant, Fuel 2000, April 2001.

***

DOP1 (2012) Vintage Post:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012. With five-thousand years of thought behind it, yoga and Indian philosophy is so rich with history, elaborate metaphysics (for lack of a better word), competing ideas – even conflicting ideas – that it’s a challenge to try to digest and appreciate it all. The “impulse toward transcendence” is something that captured me, especially after reading so much of Campbell, but at this point in my thinking, I’ve become skeptical again, more agnostic again, and I’m doubting the advantage or even validity of all the psychological rigor. Feuerstein compares the material technology of the West with the “psycho spiritual technology” of the East:

Material technology has changed human life and the face of our home planet more than any other cultural force, but its gifts to humanity have not always proven to be benign…. A different attitude prevails in the counter-technology of India, which is essentially a matter of wisdom and personal growth. It has evolved over millennia on the rich humus of hard-won inner experience, psycho spiritual maturation, and nonordinary states of consciousness, and the supreme condition of Self-realization itself.[1]

I’m not at all sure that I can buy into Feuerstein’s commitment to “the discoveries and accomplishments of the Indian spiritual virtuosos” as evidence of yoga’s truth.[2] Rather, what appeals to me is the undeniable validity of Yoga’s insight and it’s faith in self-work – the very attitude that sees a solution to our “grief” in this world, our struggle to be who we are and to feel at home – as something that originates within us instead of outside of us. For me, the war has always been within and I’m sure it’s that way for most of us. But I’m going to read this book, stay open to the ideas and let them work on me. As I’ve said, I’m not looking for a religion; I’m looking to be who I am.

In Rabindranath Tagore’s delightful work Gitanjali, there is a line that sums up our modern attitude, which is one of dilemma: Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.[3]

I’m compelled by Feuerstein’s confidence in “psycho spiritual technology;” that it “…can, if applied wisely, free us from the psychic proclivity of living as self-encapsulated beings at odds with ourselves and the world.”[4] That the “philosophy of integration between spiritual concerns and material existence” is not unique to Yoga is obvious – it’s fundamental to Shinto for example – but what is unique, at least from my own experience, is how the practice of meditation and physical postures so effectively help initiate and strengthen our ability to change, grow and evolve. I think it’s the structure and mind-body integration (or cooperation) that empowers Yoga.

The phrase “change, grow and evolve” is taken from Kundalini Yoga – A Complete Course for Beginners Vol.1 a DVD by yoga instructor Nirvair Singh Khalsa. This video was my first formal exposure to Yoga, introduced to me by my wife Angie, and it remains part of my Yoga practice.

Part of the practice of Yoga and the beauty of Yoga is bringing you into these higher states of awareness; to really be able to figure yourself out for your own growth and evolution. Yoga not only makes you more flexible, it improves your digestion, your elimination; the circulation, the nervous system; the glandular system; it improves your general sense of well-being, your inner sense of calm, centeredness and peacefulness. It also allows you and helps you to change, grow and evolve.[5]

Nirvair says this while coaching students through what he calls the “life-nerve stretch” – a hamstring stretch accomplished from a sitting position by bending forward over your extended leg. One is to hold this stretch for an extended time:

[I]nhaling and exhaling through the nose. Slow the breath down and help yourself to relax into this position. Really the best way of doing this that I’ve found is first of all, you set yourself right at that spot where you are challenged a little bit, where you can feel the dynamic tension in the stretch; you hold that position and then you tune into your breath – the breath is very important; you slow the breath down, and you’re consciously aware of taking breath in and letting breath out. Then bring your mind to where you’re feeling the stretch – it may be the back of the knee, the lower back, the shoulders; wherever it is – and then consciously, mentally, help that part of the body, or those parts of the body to relax. You bring your mind back to the breath again, take a few breaths, and then after you take a few breaths then review; go back to those places where you feel the tension in the stretch, and if at that time you feel more comfortable where you are, it’s at that point when you stretch a bit more – stretch one more plateau, go one more level in that direction of forward and then down.[6]

I’ve spent much of my life engaged in athletic activities and stretching is nothing new to me. But to mindfully engage in it for an extended period – to spend time focusing on a body part and at the same time on the activity of your mind (and heart) – was different. It’s a very simple thing but I find it effective at sort of lubricating the self-work I’m engaged in. I’m convinced that who we are is necessarily connected to what we are – we are our bodies – our body chemistry, our biology, is the source of ourselves, at least to some extent. Whether or not a part of us exists beyond our biology will, I’m almost convinced, remain a mystery to us (that’s both my agnostic and Shinto bent). I’m equally dubious of the existence of Self and our ability to transcend self – our “ego-self.”[7] According to Feuerstein:

Yoga, then, is the technology of ecstasy, or self-transcendence. How this ecstatic condition is interpreted and what means are employed for its realization differ, as we will see, from school to school.[8]

One day I find the idea compelling and worth pursuing and the next it seems as absurd as any other form of religious enlightenment. Priests, shamans, mystics, prophets, saviors, and gurus all sometimes seem just too concerned and committed to finding answers beyond or otherwise outside of this world – the world we find ourselves in despite any effort at transcending it. There may just be only this world and our biology as a part of it. Wondrous awe and mystery; the sense of everyday connectedness are obviously part of life too. If comprehension of Death, as Campbell speculates, is the awakening of our sense of awe, does it necessitate the creation of a philosophy to attempt to explain it?[9] Even Shinto, which so beautifully treasures the mystery of life – it lets it be – fails on the subject of death, allowing fear and custom to obfuscate a compelling contemplation of it.

Juicy

Wednesday, December 12, 2012. I saw my name on Zingerman’s Camp Bacon 2013 list of presenters.

I’m sticking this in the DOP to make it real and to make sure I give myself every opportunity to be prepared. I got a little anxious when I saw this. But I can put on a good presentation when I’m into the material. Stage fright and anxiety has only brought me down when I’m being forced to talk about shit I’m not interested in or in a way that I’m not comfortable with.

[1] Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, (Prescott: Hohm Press, 2008), xxviii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., xxvii.

[4] Ibid., xxviii.

[5] Nirvair Singh Khalsa, Kundalini Yoga: A Complete Course for Beginners: With Kundalini Yoga Instructor Nirvair Singh Khalsa. Directed by Chuck Bradlee, (University of Alaska, 1995), DVD.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga…, 3.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Joseph Campbell, The Way of the Animal Powers…, 25. Campbell writes, “However, it is not until the period of Neanderthal Man in Europe, toward the close of the great Ice Ages, during the Riss-Würm interglacial, that the first indubitable signs appear anywhere – namely, in burials of the dead and in reliquary shrines to the animals slain – of that recognition of the mysterium which marks the waking of the mythologically inspired second mind.”