Tag Archives: buddhism

Sunday writing 20150607: The Love Lecture

“Love is a state of balance,” I say to the nearly empty lecture hall. “A person can hate a thing he loves; there’s no contradiction in both loving and hating a thing. Man was made, I think, to experience both pleasure and pain, fear and amusement, intense like and intense dislike. Without a balancing of polarities, nothing would ever be known.

“I think the whole of human experience fits inside a perfect circle, and all emotions are its diameters. The two points at the outside of the circle are the two possible extremes, and the center is nothing–zen-like, right?–but we’re never there, neither filling to the edge nor fully balanced in the center. Our selves are each some blob made out of the measures of our placements for each category, mapping our experience of the infinite possibilities of our emotions.

“I can’t accept the notion that humans only have several basic emotions and that all non-basic emotions are just mixes of the basics. We experience life in polarities, not in vectors, and saying all rage is “anger” is like saying morose just means sad: the statement itself may be technically true, but some technical truths abuse the Truth.

“That’s why the semantics here are important. It matters that love is not an emotion. Love is a state, and it weathers emotions, or it bears them. In fact, love is the circle and contains within it all the polar possibilities of our experience. The more capacity we have for love, the larger our circle grows, the more extreme our emotional possibilities. The absence of emotion is death; curtailment of emotion is to live like the dead. That’s why I can’t accept Buddhism.”

“What do you mean,” she called out from the peanut gallery, “that you can’t accept Buddhism?”

“I mean–” I started. I paused and took a breath, pacing behind the podium before reapproaching.

“I mean: If Buddhism were about experiencing all that life has to offer and realizing the emotions are just emotions and there’s a greater existence we can have separate from them, then great. I mean, that’s life, and that’s live, to participate in everything life has to offer and still maintain a balance, that from minute to minute life just happens, and there’s nothing particularly binding about any of it but us and our narratives and our dreams.

“But that’s not the Buddhism we’re studying in class. Buddhism is about minimizing suffering, and I can’t accept that. Suffering is part of the human experience, and we can’t just dismiss it and say that all we want is pleasure. If we live without suffering, we live without pleasure, too, and that’s not balance, that’s nothing. To live life without active participation, to passively wait for all interference to leave and to call the void balance is to turn our back on part of life. And, and maybe even to reject God himself.

“I mean that there is no pleasure without pain. There are no smiles without tears. We have no peace without strife. To minimize suffering is to minimize all, and to minimize all is to reject life even to the point of death.”

She called out: “You’re a dualist!” I think she was smirking, but I was too busy formulating to see.

“I–no,” I stammered, hesitating, considering. Augustine was a dualist. Fantasy writers are dualists. I believe in more than light and dark, good and evil, life versus death. “There are twos and threes to this thing: There is what you can be and what you are, and what you can be has poles and what you are is a point between them. In the ideal, there’s two. In practicality, there’s three.”

“Dualism,” she answered.

“All numbers can be reduced to multiplications of twos and threes. When you break the world down to its most basic parts, it reflects this basic truth. It is divided into multiplications of two and three.”

“But you said all things are three!”

“We don’t experience all that life has to offer all at once. There are factors that we’re missing in every day.”

Now I know she was smirking: “Are we denying God in all the thing we miss?”

“I–” I started again, but stopped, considering. “I believe so. Life requires both balance and participation.”

“Yes,” she answered.

“We must pursue both all that life has to offer and a balance.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Negation and suppression are rejections of life and God.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Balance and participation are worship of God.”

Yes, I felt her agreement. She stood and began shuffling out of her aisle seat and moved towards the stage.

I continued: “All that matters in life is that we’re on the circle and that we exist as averages on each line. We can’t help but do that except through avoidance and rejection. To participate in one’s own life is to live in worship. To avoid aspects of one’s own life is to live outside of God’s promise, which is to live without the act of worship.

“The more we grow in God, the more capable of participating in our own experiences we become, the larger our circle grows, the more effort required but the more experienced we must are at finding balance, at finding God’s peace.”

Face to face on the stage, she said, “Yes,” and cupped my cheek in her hand. She led me from the room, and we continued our adventure.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

An essay on disquiet

I’ve received some excellent submissions for guest posts this past week from several authors. However, the time crunch from the New York trip barred me from properly editing any of them for use tonight. Look for a post from @DMSolis next week and perhaps Mani Afsari after that. (all others TBA)

In the meantime, here’s a response to those who say that they can’t focus on reading a book these days. Submit your writing to this week’s Theme Thursday (the pitch is nice and easy this week!), and contact me if you’re interested in writing for NQOKD! On with the show!

**

Obvious errors exist in popular thought. The problem with general opinion therefore is not that errors are hard to spot but rather that they are hard to fix. The reasons an observer wouldn’t see the flaws are obvious: either the person is not looking, or the person is caught in the illusion of perspective. However, the internet amplifies the multifaceted voices of complaint in our society by providing easily accessible communities; errors are seen and noted. The reasons a person doesn’t fix the flaws (beyond simply not seeing them) are also obvious: enmeshed as an observer is in the populace, the effort to affect popular opinion is either cloaked by the myriad other flaws or seems sisyphean, impossible and hellish.

My Google reader (which I love) often asks me, “Where do Arianna Huffington and Thomas Friedman go to get different perspectives on the news?” But if you follow that rabbit hole, you will quickly discover that the difference between you and Thomas Friedman is not the information at your disposal but what is done with the information that exists. If any disparity in material exists at all, chock it up to experience, which can only be an accidental difference, remedied by effort and fortune.

The difference between genius and banality is not new with our electronic age. The only newness is the democratization of education, which impacts the ability of genius to make itself known, not the existence of genius itself. That is, education does not make a genius, but a genius does with education what others do not; a genius does something novel with the information at his disposal. The happy happenstance of his education is just as accidental as Euripides and Homer imply war is to the brave or as I’ve said trial is to the lover.

The definition of brilliance applies when discussing an article @namenick linked the other day that discusses an author finding reading more difficult as he ages. The first half reads like a Bing.com commercial, discussing how our hyperconnected culture has drawn and quartered our attention spans, the second half like an English major’s journal who has bumped up against philosophy by the mere chance of his course of study rather than steeped himself in its purging scald.

Objects of mystic adoration across cultures and history all share an ability to focus. Meditation is as central to Christianity as to Buddhism, tied necessarily to all forms of prayer across primitive and advanced religions. Heroes of the Chinese tradition share their remembered aura of stillness with the monks of the West, and the diverse pool of flawed folk heroes from Monkey to Agamemnon and even as far back as Gilgamesh share an inability to reach stasis, to stay still even for a moment.

I, for one, share this inability. I remember distinctly as a sophomore in high school cursing my brain for moving as quickly as it did along connections only sensible to me, for never shutting up even for a moment. I remember loud music and screamed lyrics drowning out finicky thoughts and rumors and wonder. I remember many addled nights where my disquiet hindered oncoming sleep, nights I apologized to various lovers because I just had to get out of bed and write down what was on my mind. I remember nights before I kept a journal where I just lay in bed and stared at the dark ceiling, attempting to will my mind into stillness; I also remember failing at many, most, or even all confrontations.

But the community with which I share this trait keeps me company on the seemingly lonely and interminable road: humanity in general suffers a deep and resounding disquiet. The phenomenon itself may even be pandemonium, but more often than not the noise is as null as good or evil, as gray as white or black. The strength of discovering it lies not in assigning it any value but in recognizing its universality.

Popular opinion would have us blame an external force for the disquiet in our minds, but educated readers should notice that generation after generation toils under the same mental noise. Technology does not tempt us further into disquiet than we would naturally go but rather empowers several methods of engaging in noisiness that would not exist otherwise. Humans found means of distracting themselves before technology, and even with it, many of the age-old tricks to manufacture distractions exist. To take a lesson from several sources, we must turn inward and silence ourselves to find peace rather than impose quietude on others hoping to one day silence all the world; we must because one of these paths is attainable, but the other is not.

Reading, however, does not require a mystic silence. While Proust searches for lost time, his reader dreams along through a lifetime of adulterated memories, watching lesbians fondle each other through an open window or hanging on the edge of a suspended love. While I could make some quip about how you quote an author quoting an author talking about dreams and how far distanced from reality your reader is by the time all those disconnects are added together, I will merely say that the inclusiveness of the writing experience heightens the entertainment value of reading and obscures exactly that which one is meant to learn from the narrative.

Reading only requires that during our endless hours of sedentary time we pick up a book rather than any type of computer, or maybe even open an ebook rather than a web browser. We make choices about how to spend our time, and surprise surprise, we tend to focus on entertainment rather than sustenance. So the next time you, Mr. Ulin, sit down to read, ask yourself about your priorities. If you fail to pick up a book, ask yourself whether engagement is as high on your list as entertainment, realize that it is not, and keep your grumbling to yourself that you’re not who you wish you were.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Philosophy/Theology