Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

How to be a Hero

March 25th, 2011 No comments

In 1995, Psychology Today came up with a list of the characteristics of a hero. At the time, I found the article interesting, but I was in search of some inspiration. As usual. To that end, I thought I’d rephrase the characteristics in the imperative, to make them more of a set of affirmations. I printed up little cards with these imperatives, but only gave them to people who asked. Don’t want to be pushy, you know.

They’re rather lofty, but hey, aim for the stars and hit the moon.

  • Be courageous and strong
  • Be honest
  • Be kind, loving and generous
  • Use skill, expertise and intelligence
  • Take (reasonable) risks
  • Be charismatic

The risky part should be qualified, don’t you think? I wouldn’t advise anyone to risk harm to themselves or anyone else, but often we avoid risking damage to our self-image through embarrassment, for example. Naturally, there’s no need to be complete here, as a fine and honorable life can be lived through observance of only the first three of these. If the meaning of the list isn’t clear, do read the article.

By the way, this post came about because something popped into my head recently — another pearl of wisdom from Dr. Dave, who said “there can be no refinement without repetition”. Dave defined integrity as saying and doing the same thing. In other words, what you say and what you do match, they integrate, therefore you are integrated. You have integrity.

Hm. How about adding “thinking” to make it a trinity of enlightenment?

Happy mind, happy body

March 3rd, 2011 No comments

Here’s an article that says that positivity helps longevity.

I think this is the secret, simplistic though it may be: if we want to be healthy, we should take care of the body and take care of the mind as well. The dualists thought that the two were separate, which I interpret as seeing the mind as the driver and the body as the car, but now I hope we see that the two are intertwined — we are the driver and the car. Hey, if thoughts can lead to stress, pain and ulcers, then happiness and calmness can lead to health … and this has been found.

Mind and body. Body and mind.

But here’s the weird thing, on which I shall opine further in the future: we spend so much time trying to protect the self, we forget about protecting the mind, the brain and thus the body. Do chew on that, if you will.

A little martial philosophy

July 8th, 2010 No comments

Occasionally, I come across some martial philosophy that applies to more situations than an impending blow to the privates. For example, here’s a quote from Bruce Lee, who created the martial art Jeet Kune Do:

“Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back.”

This next quote came from Bruce, Krishnamurti, the universal ether or was paraphrased from (or to) Twelve-Step programs:

“Research your experience, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless; add what is specifically your own.”

Finally, this comes from The Healing Art of Tai Chi:

“Relax, breathe, feel the ground, do nothing extra.”

The first quote was new to me, and I shall reflect upon it. The second quote has worked for me given my desire to learn from many sources and determine the elements common to those sources. As for the third quote, although I think it’s one of the best to recall while practicing Tai Chi, it often requires some reflection to determine what is … “extra”. However, after some practice, what is “extra” becomes easier to separate from what is essential, or of the essence.

Categories: philosophy, Tai Chi, Zen-like stuff Tags:

A manifesto?

May 10th, 2010 No comments

My high school English teacher attempted to drill into us the importance of clarifying meaning whenever a disagreement popped up. Clarifying our meaning and intent can often lead us to realize we’re actually in agreement, and if not, hopefully we can agree to disagree, possibly until some new information comes to light. To that end, here’s what could be called my “small “m” manifesto”, which you may or may not find interesting in light of your own point of view:

Goals: when describing them or using the phrase “my goal is”, I’m not usually describing the traditional Cartesian (as I see it) goal-setting approach of “I’m here now, and I want to be there later”, where “here” is a specific point or state, and “there” is another specific point or state. Even if it seems that I’ve done that in the past, as was the case with my desire to learn to squat, the intention was to reach a door and open it to a new beginning, not reach a terminus and wonder what to do next. No, my usual approach is more like a Euclidean vector, where I choose to apply a certain amount of energy in a particular direction and see what happens along the way. It’s intention-focused, not destination-focused. This approach allows for variation in the magnitude (energy) and direction of the intention, rendering the eventual destination uncertain.

Here’s a running example: Cartesian: “I’m training so I can run and finish the ScotiaBank marathon in under 3 hours.” Euclidean: “I’m increasing my running mileage a little bit each week.”  (up to 10 percent, of course) One is close-ended with the goal being the marathon, the other is open-ended with the intention being increasing the cardio. If it turns out to be too much, I’ll back off. This differs from the mindset of “keep your eyes on the prize”.

Also, I generally avoid the Cartesian goal-setting approach because at the outset, my impression of the end state is an illusion. Since I haven’t been there yet, I don’t know what that state looks like or feels like, so mapping it as a destination is imprecise. Once I get there, I’ll be different, and it will be different from what I thought. So it’s a mug’s game, a fool’s errand and so on. I also believe that the real goal isn’t the stated goal in many cases. In the case of the marathon, the real goal is often “to feel good about myself”. Isn’t it?

Of course, life has deadlines, so the Cartesian approach is useful on occasion.

My intention: After doing the stuff that I’ve done over the last ten years or so, my current intention is to move toward “natural action”, or “natural being”. By that, I mean that I want to continue to discover a more efficient or natural way of standing, moving and living. This way would be in accordance with the laws of physics and how the structure of my body interacts with those laws. When I imagine natural action, I imagine a jungle cat stalking its prey with no concern over how it’s balancing its weight, whether it’s keeping its shoulders down or whether it’s landing on it’s forepaws or mid-paws when it runs. It studies its prey, senses the reactions of its prey, senses the reaction of nature to the cat’s approach (snap!), then when it feels the time is right, moves: “go”.

Natural does not mean habitual, by the way.

How to achieve this: I am taking a roughly four-step process, which is cyclical or spiral if you add some sort of improvement measure as a third axis. 1) observe an issue with the body. 2) relax the body at the point of notice 3) align the body to distribute the forces (e.g. gravity) to another part of the body until I notice nothing special any more and 4) listen some more. Maybe 5) get back to whatever I was doing, this time more naturally. For example, if my lower back feels a bit funny, I’ll listen to it, align myself and usually transfer my weight to my lower body. Keep in mind that I’ve been doing this for years, and expect to do so for a while longer. Actually, the lower back is no longer a problem, probably due to the way I’ve changed how I stand and sit.

I expect to keep doing this for a long time, but I don’t expect to keep doing it in the same place for a long time. I expect to fix most things and move on, but for other things, I suppose I’ll accept them.

Correction and maintenance: I believe that these sort of actions and techniques are corrective, to restore natural being when it has been upset by outside events or by reversion to unnatural habits. I don’t believe that it will be necessary to constantly apply these techniques (as I’ve applied them) for the rest of my life. In some cases, I’ve applied the technique, and I’ve eventually “gotten it”, so I no longer need to apply the technique … as long as I don’t go back to old habits. If I’ve instilled good habits and avoid injury, I’ll never need to apply the technique again in that way. After all, we can learn, we do grow, we do change and we do move on. For example, my left arm/shoulder no longer hurts because I no longer “wing out” as a matter of habit,  so I no longer need to consciously apply a technique to change that habit (thanks, Caprice!). If, I happen to revert under stress, I’ll correct it again, but it’s not a given that I’ll revert. Herein lies the importance of sensitivity, awareness, and stress management.

As for maintenance, it’s a series of minor corrections in my opinion, necessary to correct what could be called minor injuries, or minor lapses in healthy behavior. Improvement is another story, but I also believe that restoring to a natural state is “improvement”.

Habits: habits can be changed. If they couldn’t be changed, we’d still be acting as children do. I believe that part of natural action is acting through good habits. Now I sense that mindfulness advocates might be getting their backs up, and that’s fine, but maybe they should be mindful of why they’re gotten their backs up before we go on. …….. Mindfulness is great and necessary, but I believe that it should be applied to that which is most important at the time: to that which can be corrected through mindfulness, or to that which is nourishing, such as mindful eating. We can be mindful of the nourishing things as long as we live, but I expect that once something (which needs correcting) of which we are mindful is corrected (such as posture) to a more natural state then we can let it slip away, so we can be mindful of the nourishing things, such as how nice a day it is.

Now some may say that it is natural for the body to correct a habit (such as compensating for a dropped shoulder by tightening somewhere else), but I believe that the original shoulder-dropping is not natural. It could be said that everything is natural since it is made up of components from nature, but not everything is healthy. So then, to me, natural means “healthy”.

Mindful and no-mind: By “no-mind”, I do not mean “mindless”, I mean 1) a state of natural action, and 2) a state of high, but relaxed awareness, not hooked or attached to any one thing. I also do not mean “free of intention”. If we imagine an elite athlete “in the Zone”, that athlete surely has an intention, yet is not hooked on or attached to an external outcome while in the Zone. To do so would distract the athlete with thoughts, words, and so on. The intention is simple, and as I can only extrapolate based on my moments in the Zone (not being an elite athlete), the intention is explainable in simple terms such as “smooth”, “there”, “go”, “connect” or whatever works for the athlete. The details have been taken care of by practice and the cultivation of good habits and natural action. If the athlete were mindful of every detail, he would be lost. In the example of martial arts, the saying is “the best technique is no-technique”, meaning that in the heat of a contest, the fighter must be in a state of no-mind, acting on practiced habits and trained instinct, not  carefully considering every possible response to a given attack. Of course, the fighter must study, practice and learn techniques in a state of mindfulness, but the preferred state in a contest is the fully-aware, yet unhooked, unattached no-mind state. Mindful in training, no-mind in execution.

Internal vs. External direction: As an example of external direction, one might say “touch your toes”, with the internal direction being “stretch your back — how does that feel?”. In physical matters, I believe a balance is necessary, but the instructor must know which is which and when to apply one or the other. It seems that most of the time, to get in the ballpark, external directions are needed, since our chronic uncorrected habits may have led us to perceive our bodies inaccurately, believing that we may be standing straight when we are leaning to one side, for example. The Alexander Technique seems to be based on correcting such perceptions, assuming (correctly) that in most cases, our body image isn’t very accurate when it comes to balance, alignment and positioning. However, I believe that once a student has successfully used an external source such as a mirror or instructor for feedback, it’s time to look inward, for the student to use proprioception to determine his or her level of balance and alignment at a very fine level. This requires sensitivity, developed over time. Refine and Repeat. My concerns are that many instructors have not been able to direct their students to this point, or that instructors do not want to teach the students to take charge of their own health, because that would make the instructor redundant. I’ve had two chiropractors in my time: one who wants me to keep coming back for regular maintenance regardless of how I feel, and one who gives me exercises and trusts me to do them. One is right for one kind of patient, and one is right for another, I suppose. However, I believe that we are all responsible for our own health, and that the path probably lies in the external directions first, then internal directions for refinement.

This is how I feel at this time. Any questions?

It’s easier than you think

March 29th, 2010 No comments

Just about every physical-sport-discipline direction I’ve gotten involves some kind of relaxation, letting go, or exhortation to some kind of natural absence of effort. “Relax”, “be soft”, “chill”, “let it drop”, “it’s easy”.

But the thing is, they’re right. It is easy. Once you get it.

Let me elaborate. Each time I’ve “found” something, my reaction has been “oh, is that it?” It feels easy to “get it”. It makes sense. It’s often surprisingly easy, so much so that I feel a temptation to believe it isn’t the right method. Where’s the stress and strain? Where’s the effort?

Do not doubt this: there is effort, but not where we expect it: it lies in the repetition of the simple act. It lies in seeking the extraneous, that which must be removed. The effort also lies in challenging our assumptions and doing the things that we don’t want to do …

… such as “let go”.

I’ve said to my students that Tai Chi is less about “making things happen” and more about “letting things happen”. We have so much baggage associated with making things happen. We want to be in control, we want to show the teacher that we’re making effort, and we want to balance the pleasure of success with the pain of effort, since success without effort just doesn’t feel right. Maybe we feel guilty about it. However, strangely enough, many of us want the success without effort — we want to be given the secret and find success right away. Without doing … what?

… without doing something we don’t want to do.

If you took someone who wanted the success that comes from natural, relaxed non-effort right away, theoretically you could tell them to relax, chill, and let it happen, and they would then achieve natural, non-doing, relaxed success right away. But they don’t, most of the time. Why not?

I think that if they want things right away, they want to be in control. They are afraid of delays that result from being patient. They are nervous and stressed. Impatient. Given that nature has its own pace, being impatient isn’t likely to invite natural results. So, paradoxically, the impatient person delays his own success, by attempting to control the pace of events, by attempting to make things happen.

Anyway, I’ll stick with the idea of “less making things happen, more letting things happen.”

Mind to no-mind

March 13th, 2010 No comments

After a month away from Sudoku, I thought I’d give it a try on Tuesday.

For some reason, my mind was clear, with no expectations of performance. Although I had my little Sudoku tricks and techniques, I thought I’d just dive into it. Interesting. There was no self-consciousness, no narrowing of focus to one particular technique, and most importantly, no stress. I scanned the puzzle, and as I saw each solution present itself through a recognition of a technique, I acted on it, then returned to non-prejudicial scanning, as it were. This was a departure from the previous method of thinking “now I will use this technique” and scanning the puzzle looking for places to apply the technique.

But of course, I had to learn the techniques first,  in order to apply them when opportunities presented themselves. It seems to be another example of “train with mind, execute with no-mind”.

(Of course, Tuesday’s Sudoku puzzles are the easy ones. Maybe I’ll try this on a Friday.)

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The most prized possession?

December 30th, 2009 No comments

daveroberts-rrshowOccasionally, the Globe and Mail runs little photo features consisting of sound bites (print bites?) and party shots of fascinating and glamorous people with whom I’m totally unfamiliar.

A recent one featured a gaggle of fashionistas who were asked the question “what is your most prized possession?” In the midst of declarations of love for various articles of clothing, one response, from a designer stood out:

“… my mind.”

Interesting fellow, at least for thinking differently. But he started me thinking. What is my most prized possession? How does that value affect my life? Is there a difference between what I value and what actually affects my life the most? And how do I define “possession”? Where do “I” stop and “my” possessions begin?

After some reflection and blogging, I came to a conclusion. If you’ve read this blog, you can probably guess what my most prized possession has become. But it was not always thus. In fact, after looking around, I’m starting to find that the most prized possession of most people is not their mind, their body, their car, house, photo of late father (that’s Dad on the left) or Franklin Delano Roosevelt action figure. (Yes, I have one of those, too.)

No, a person’s most prized possession influences his or her entire life. It creates the world. It predicts his or her actions. It can determine his or her lifespan.

It’s his or her world view.

Try it on for size: I’m fat. I’m weak. I’m not good at math. I’m shy. I’m a people pleaser. Look out for number one. Life is hard. Nobody’s interested in what I have to say. It’s my lot in life. Relationships don’t last. Marriage is a bad idea. I can never let my guard down. Don’t trust anybody. People are basically good. Science is always right. All politicians are crooks. I must protect myself from discomfort. It’s really important for me to believe I’m right. I deserve happiness. I don’t deserve happiness.

We all have beliefs and attachments that we cling to as if they were our most prized possession, as if we would cease to exist if we lost those beliefs. Our world would cease to exist.

Or so we think.

What’s your most prized possession?

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Quote of the day

November 30th, 2009 No comments

“There’s no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there’s no excuse for boredom, ever.”

– Viggo Mortensen

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Fun with the sun

November 2nd, 2009 1 comment

This looks interesting. Stick a pole in the ground, measure the length of its shadow over the year, and plot it on a chart. Fun.

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Up (or down) the yin-yang

October 6th, 2009 No comments

(content added at end, 10/20/09) Here’s some more to chew on regarding such an old Taoist cosmic concept: the taiji or yin/yang. Hopefully it makes sense, although it is my opinion.

taiji1. It’s a metaphor: a means of attempting to explain or find a pattern to what’s “out there” in the real world. 

2. The dot represents the presence of the opposite quality: a bit of yin within yang. The seeds of the opposite are contained within. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a natural, living system. The seeds of death are within life, but the seeds of life are within death. The exact same thing won’t spring up again, but something else will. Regarding tai chi, when you’re doing it, you should be relaxed, yet keeping a bit of alertness within your relaxation.

3. As far as I can tell, this model only applies to natural processes, not abstract concepts. Natural processes involve animals, weather, people, and so on. For example, the seeds of a civilization’s death are contained in its birth since it’s made up of people. Now, don’t worry: reinvention is a kind of death, and not that big a deal …

4. The yin/yang of something can occur at different scales. Many sub-processes within an system may be in or out of balance, and that system may be seen as in balance or out of balance in its entirety. For example, civilization can be seen to be out of balance because one component, its citizens’ health, may be out of balance. Can one component be too yang, while another is too yin, restoring balance? I don’t think so — the overall organism is still out of balance. 

5. In this context, qi (ch’i) can be viewed very generally, as the driving force behind any processes in a system. It can also be viewed as the force behind any changes in a system. Qi is like any force: intangible, though with tangible effects. I hope that makes sense.

6. In a system, things are always changing at some level. The diagram shows this if you imagine traveling around the circle. You change from yin to yang, with the yin diminishing and yang increasing. When Yang reaches its maximum, the dot of yin appears, beginning the increase of yin, which can be seen creeping around the corners of yang.

7. It’s not useful to attempt to categorize half the universe as yin, and half as yang. For example, grouping feminine, negative and down together doesn’t make any sense, since they do not relate to each other and have no effect on each other. Instead, each pair of qualities (e.g. masculine/feminine, or positive/negative) is only relevant in its own context. One is the opposite of the other, and bears no relation to any quality in another context.

8. Although … there are some common qualities to yin and yang forces as generally defined: yin is stop, contracting, inward, static, while yang is go, expanding, outward, dynamic. This is best applied in a Tai Chi context. For example, you need root (yin) to express force (yang).

9. This model is very useful in reducing stress, believe it or not. If we imagine that change is inevitable, we will avoid attaching ourselves too much to any outcome. Also, once we become aware of the patterns of change inherent in a system, we can better prepare ourselves for the upcoming changes. And if we are truly a student of change, we won’t attach ourselves too much to those patterns either, since they are likely to change at some point.

10. Change is hard-wired into living systems. All living things are born and die, but they’re also constantly changing at some level, even when standing still. Movement within stillness.

10. The diagram can be oriented as “rotating” clockwise or counter-clockwise. I don’t know if the concept of “clockwise as normal” was around when the symbol was created.

11. Nature seeks balance. So it’s possible that a system can move toward balance and remain there, without needing to satisfy this metaphor and change to a state of imbalance. 

12. Taoist cosmology states that this state of taiji (“grand opposites”) was born from the state of wuji: “no opposites”. The diagram for wuji is a plain circle. One of the goals of Taoism, as I understand it, is to restore a system to a state of complete balance, equanimity or equilibrium. This would be the wuji state, where there is no longer any need for changes to occur to restore balance. Maybe to return to wuji, if the practitioner keeps aiming for balance, the changes required (amplitude?) grow smaller and smaller until balance is achieved.

13. Now … sometimes these shifts from one state to another can be stimulating, especially to those who love drama, so I can see how achieving complete balance may not be very appealing to many. Although … maybe most of us might benefit from actually trying to determine what we are seeking: it may be balance, and we may not know it.

I hope that makes sense. Thoughts?

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