New Holidays

I’ve written before about my inability to connect with a lot of popular holidays. In Canada, we’ve just had two of these in Valentine’s Day and Family Day, a statutory holiday inaugurated in Ontario in 2007. While I respect, for the most part, the emotions these holidays are meant to evoke, I find these celebrations arbitrary and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily take the day off.

Holidays motivate the economy in dependable ways and give people an emotional framework to relate to one another, but the attendant values promulgated for each are not usually values that I hold. I have trouble getting into the spirit of many holidays and find myself feeling like I’m basically just along for the ride.

In case the ruling Illuminati ask me what holidays I’d prefer, I have a few ready.

Reading Day

There is already such a thing as Canada Book Day (April 23rd) and the intentions behind it are similar to what I would propose, but on a larger scale. People remind themselves of the importance of books and more importantly, of reading, arguably the most important activity in the development of human intelligence. But I want a day off. A whole day to read, talk about books, and remind ourselves as a society that we can connect with each other across cultures and generations through words. The economical benefits of a day devoted to books could compete with the economical benefits of Valentine’s Day. A book costs $20, a Valentine’s Day card costs $5, and chocolates go equally well with either.

Day of Silence

In the interest of global sanity, I’d like to see everybody take a vow of silence for one day a year. Such a thing already exists in the GLBT community as a protest against discrimination, but what I’m after is silence for the sake of silence. One can learn a lot about oneself doing this practice; the habits we unconsciously carry out through language come into the spotlight when they are not an option. When we stop worrying about filling the awkward silences between us, we start to observe the emotions that drive us to inane chatter. Besides, with so much noise in our society, wouldn’t it just be nice? Again, here, I want a day off.

Day of Debate

Get together with friends and enemies and have a civil conversation with the goal of analyzing your own beliefs. It’s so easy to feel complacent in our beliefs and we spend a lot of time finding arguments for beliefs we already have. That’s why debates are important; our opposition, if they’ve done their homework, are bound to point out something we hadn’t considered. A day like this might help our myopic, partisan culture to share ideas in a productive way. Granted, most debates don’t solve anything on the spot, but sometimes when we hear an argument against our position, it takes root and develops over time. And naturally, one cannot be expected to work on the Day of Debate.

Yoga Day

This would be a day to cultivate yoga practice around the world. The physical and mental health benefits of yoga are undeniable, but the practice turns off a lot of people because of a maelstrom of misconceptions. I currently know of no particular day dedicated solely to yoga (the closest I found was World Healing Day), but one day per year devoted to serious education and practice would help dissolve these misconceptions and turn people on to this gentle, invigorating, ancient art.

Fast Day

Corporations would try to kibosh this before it got off the ground, but the health benefits of one day of fasting per year would probably have such a dramatic trickle-down effect on healthcare that it might be worth considering even from a purely economic standpoint. Unless you’re working a demanding physical job where you need calories, you can survive one day of fasting. It flushes out the system, gives the digestive tract a break, and points out all those instances during an average day where we reach for food simply out of habit.

Weekend of Absolute Hilarity

I joked about this previously but I do think it’s a good idea. I try to have a few of these per year. Just do what it takes to laugh your stress away. It’s a cliché, but who doubts that laughter eases our emotional tensions and leads to better health?

A Short Case for Yoga

THE FALSE BINARY

We all have moments where we’re ‘in our heads’, oblivious to the world around us. And we all have moments where we’re fully so fully engaged in a physical task that we’re not consciously thinking. Our language has separate words for both mind and body, and so we perceive them as two distinct items. But they are connected by yet another remarkable structure: the central nervous system (CNS). As essential to a square as four sides, the body, mind, and action of the CNS are integrated parts of a whole, living being.

So what are they?

1) I am a mind. I perceive the world and think. I can think conceptually and abstractly, I can think about specific sense impressions, and I can imagine new things. I practice induction and deduction and can grasp universal concepts such as mathematics and Euclidean geometry, and I can apply these ideas to the physical world around me through the medium of my body.

2) I am a body. I have mass and physical extension in dimensions perceivable by my mind. I am a collection of organs and fluids. I am a skeleton. I can operate machinery, apply force to objects, and use my own physical geometry to accomplish an innumerable amount of physical tasks.

3) I am a central nervous system. The word spirit is put here often and that’s fine because it represents the breath of action between body and mind. At any rate, the CNS mediates between the mind and body in continuous feedback loops, sending out actions and taking in impressions. Electricity runs our brains and fires through synapses. This interaction is somewhat mysteriously represented as our consciousness.

The brain, which is the base of the central nervous system, is part of the body. Scientists look at the brain and see correlations between activities in the brain and activities in behavior and consciousness. In Western philosophy, this proves that the brain causes consciousness. But the fact that a neuron fires in my brain doesn’t explain the phenomena of consciousness. Why should, and more importantly, how does a neuron firing represent itself as the smell of coffee or the sight of another person?

In Eastern religious philosophy, consciousness is primary, and dictates to the brain what action to take. But this argument has no empirical evidence to support it, unless you consider the Radical Empiricism of William James, a favorite of mine. Either way, there is nothing objectively measurable to confirm the hypothesis.

Modern Western thought doesn’t think the mind/body connection very mysterious these days. The central nervous system mediates between the mind and the body, so what? But how it operates is more magical than anything dreamt up in fantasy fiction. Think about it: I simply will the synapses to fire in my brain, tell them to send a signal through my nervous system, into my shoulder, arm, wrist and hand, to lift a glass of Laphroaig single malt scotch to my mouth. The scotch is smokey and beautiful. And I don’t even have to will my stomach to digest it or my liver to siphon out all that lovely alcohol. Now that is a spirit I can believe in. Ahhhh..Digression.

If you look around though, it’s obvious that not everyone has figured the whole mind/body thing out. This is because the issue is not as simple as naming it. When you see people carrying around a lot of extra weight, or slouching with bad posture, what is to blame? Does their mind will their body to slouch? Are they effectively slouching mentally? Or are they physically unable to walk tall? Or is their central nervous system not controlling things properly? Something isn’t right. In order to have our mind/body/spirit in best working order, we need some way to integrate them all into a unified whole, with all parts complimentary to each other.

If there was some way to plug into the mind and draw it down to invigorate the CNS to exalt the body to it’s optimal working order, then obviously we would be as healthy and effective as possible for our circumstances. Well it turns out that technology has been around for over five thousand years.

SOFT TECHNOLOGIES

When we think of the word ‘technology’ we often think of physical things. A phone and a car are examples of technology, but technology has other forms. At some point in ancient history, something like a man or woman realized it could use physical objects as tools. Soon everyone was doing it and it made things easier. The use of hand tools is arguably the first soft technology.

When they realized they were more effective in groups and they wanted a way to communicate with each other, language was laboured into existence. Now they could use their brains together like never before; they were on the fast track to technological advancement. Communicating with each other would only improve their effectiveness as a group and further accelerate their advance as a species.

At some point before 3000 B.C., a soft technology was developed to synergize the individual. It aimed to unify the mind and body into a whole, so they called it “unity”. Today we call it “yoga”.

YOGA

Here is the deal: there is no mystery about it. Yoga is a series of exercises that systematically integrate your mind and body while fine-tuning your central nervous system. Using breath, you train your mind to will energy and consciousness through your nervous system which you extend and stretch and hold in a series of postures. Breath is the physical vehicle whereby attention and energy is brought to every part of the body, all of which require regular use to maintain optimal health. And as they say on television: exercise is important.

But at the same time, the experience of actually doing yoga can be as mysterious and magical or rational and logical as you want it to be. The rational arguments for yoga make perfect sense. The mystical arguments for yoga…well, dissolve yourself into the process and see for yourself. Keep in mind that you’ll be using your body, mind, and spirit in new integrated ways to produce new, enhanced types of experience.

There are different kinds of yoga, from pure, still meditation, to vigorous physical activity, and obviously doing a range of these things is best. Some people find satisfaction in physical yogas, and do only those, but that is only half the battle. On the other hand some people are satisfied with raj yoga or meditation and don’t bother with the physical. Remember, the key is integration and unity, so the practice should become ongoing in different ways. After all, the mind and body are two parts of a whole. As I work down into the body and up into the mind, I become more attuned to each, and more aware of the connection between the two.

Maybe most importantly, yoga brings about self-awareness. You become more conscious of breathing well, and more conscious of energy flow. You start to pay attention to what you eating, and how much, and how you’re digesting everything. You raise your physical and mental capacities by integrating them and become more aware of cause and effect between them.

There are probably millions of pages on yoga out there, but like anything practical, the proof is in the experience. If being a more integrated and effective person is something worth working for, yoga just might be for you.