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?

Reasoning Skills

I frequently see signs for something called the School of Philosophy. Usually the ads ask vague questions like, “Can philosophy make me happy?” or, “What is the meaning of life?”, and they’ll show a little person staring off into a bright white expanse. Though I never seriously studied philosophy in school I did take a class about reasoning skills. But philosophy has always interested me, so the advertisements usually catch my eye, though I always felt there might be something fishy going on here.

Then I saw this one:School of Philosophy ad“The Best Things In Life Are Not Things.” – School of Philosophy.

“Yes they are.” – Eric R. Schiller.

If I said, “The best doctors aren’t doctors,” someone should quickly respond, “then don’t call them doctors, idiot.” Using a word twice in the same sentence with two different meanings is very confusing. Maybe this doesn’t bother people, but it does bother people.

Language is our most fundamental tool for externalizing ideas. When language is used improperly it creates misunderstanding. This might be because language, improperly used, is a symptom of muddled thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is value in a snappy slogan. Corporations like McDonald’s use them all the time. But McDonald’s wants you to give them money and eat cow. I expect more from a “school of philosophy”.

If you read any of the big philosophers, the first part of their major works generally define the terms they will be working with. The language must be unequivocal. Even where there might be confusion, differences in meaning must be strictly delineated. Otherwise ambiguities build up as you read, compounding the confusion until you’re left with a bunch of ineffective ideas and a headache (but a really toned brow).

This seemed like the worst kind of ad for any School of Philosophy, assuming the school aims to promote clear thinking. So I looked at the website, which is very vague. There is no hint of any real lesson plan. I did see pithy quotes from philosophers on the site, then read that “Writings and sayings of great philosophers such as Plato, Ficino, Shakespeare and others, set the stage for enlivened discussions based on personal experience.”

I then read that the school was founded in 1976 and later, in the 60s, was influenced by Eastern philosophy. This is not the only mistake on the site. They inspire no confidence in their ability to teach me clarity and wisdom. Besides, in my opinion, real knowledge comes from self analysis, not slogans.

But lo and behold, they do teach meditation. I soon discovered a strong undercurrent of Hinduism on the site.  It seems like a secularized, modernized, and disguised school of Hindu philosophy and I doubt it takes any serious look at philosophy at large, but grabs pieces that fit and ignores piece that don’t. I’m not terribly surprised.

This isn’t all bad necessarily. There’s value in learning the language of philosophy so we can think about these things fluently. But I wonder if $185 per course is worthwhile. Anyone interested in philosophy can go to the library and discover at their own pace for free. So what does that $185 tuition buy me?

The School of Philosophy is not for profit. And according to their website, all their instructors volunteer their time. So where does the money go? With no diploma and no course text, it seems that the money goes into the pocket of the person hired to collect it. After paying, the registrant is allowed to sit in on discussions between other students and instructors. So what are the qualifications of the instructors? It appears they are all former students.

Curious, I clicked “Registration” button. The message I received was “Fatal Error”.

Touché. The site seemed to have collapsed under my piercing scrutiny.

I definitely agree with meditation and yoga as a road to knowledge and wisdom. You might point out that yoga came from the ancient Hindus. But that doesn’t make Hindu philosophy right. To believe that would be to make the philosophical error known as a syllogistic fallacy. “I believe yoga works (A). Yoga comes from the Hindu tradition (B). Therefore I believe the Hindu tradition (C).” This is false logic. Reasoning skills!

So if you’re interested in learning about philosophy, go to the library before you shell out $185. The internet is such a repository of knowledge we can learn almost anything on our own, even meditation techniques. Or better yet, just send me $100 and we’ll talk over coffee.

 

P.S.

If you’re interested in “living in the now” so the universe can rain gifts of bliss down on you, sit still and take notice. Last night was possibly the best meditation of my life. Today gifts of free music rained down all day. So full-screen these beauties, sit back, and open up to the mystical transmissions of Yo La Tengo, David Bowie and Roy Montgomery.

YO LA TENGO

 

DAVID BOWIE

 

ROY MONTGOMERY

 

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.

 

 

Interiority Complex

I grew up Roman Catholic but never felt anything “holy” when I went to church. It was something like school – something that had to be done. Maybe this is my own personality, or maybe it’s the religion itself. It was the Romans who killed Jesus, after all.

Watching Twin Peaks in high school I realized something mysterious existed just below the surface. That feeling of mystery eventually spread from the television to all parts of my life, but it wasn’t until late university that I took an interest in other religions and philosophies and became preoccupied with getting to know the unknown.

Middle Eastern and Asian religions appealed to me aesthetically. Spires and colourful mosaics, sitars and multi-armed deities seemed more appropriate to worship, but this is likely because those schema were culturally alien to me and therefore had a stronger connection to the unknown.

Discovering yoga, meditation, shamanism and other techniques in my spare time helped me augment my nervous system and take an active role in the development of my consciousness. Those self-disciplines used to seem socially unacceptable somehow, probably a result of the anhedonic attitude of Roman Catholicism. Oddly enough, now I can find that “holy” feeling just about anywhere quiet.

When I read The Varieties of Religious Experience by the American philosopher William James, I was impressed with how clearly he laid out my some of my convictions. Why should anyone be able to call into question the authenticity of my interior reality? Experience shows me what is true and false, especially in those tricky interior realms where language breaks down. The value of those experiences is personal, but it infuses everything I do.

At one point in my life I would have called myself an atheist. Fortunately, having had my mind blown by interior experiences, I realized that “God” was just a word, a tool used to describe the unification of everything, and I didn’t have to worry about believing or not believing because the name is not the thing named. What matters is cause and effect. If I can sit still and see the universe as a unified whole, it doesn’t matter to me what path brought me there. The personal sacred experience is what matters. I’ve been meditating twice every day without fail for many years because it’s worth it.

One of my favorite words is psychedelic, from the Greek psyche, as in “mind”, and delos, “manifesting”. Psychedelic = Mind Manifesting. Unfortunately the word psychedelic is all caught up with drugs, hippies, trippy colours, and other bullshit that take away from what the word could mean. I find the definition of this word in dictionaries to be lazy.

Psychedelia should be synonymous with art. I believe all art to be psychedelic. What you are reading right now is a written manifestation of my mind. I had an idea, I thought about it, and made it manifest. Tattoos are psychedelic too; a person finds meaning in a symbol and they alter their physical body to represent that idea. Music works similarly.

Art is a sensory creation that adds something unique, meaningful, and valuable to the mental landscape. That’s what real art is to me, anyway. The rest is just filler. Industries apply the word “artist” to anybody who writes a book, acts in a movie, plays a song, without questioning the value of what is made. An unfortunate amount of movies, music, and books are either meaningless, or their meaning has no value. Fortunately for the world some people take art seriously and give out in love what is taken in by contemplation.

Literature is telepathy. Music is empathy. Film is orchestrated hallucination. These are powerful tools we’ve developed. If you can find transcendent meaning in a piece of art, let that be an acceptable road to the sacred. Incidentally, Catholic and Jewish religions are already based on a book, aren’t they? Sometimes I get a kick imagining that the authors of the Bible were intentionally trying to write the weirdest novel ever.

What I’m trying to say is that you should all pay close attention to “In Your Mind” by Built to Spill.