Saturday, July 12, 2014

The return of the gods

VAs tacky as all those hotels called Artemis, Zeus and Apollo might seem, after spending a childhood spent reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology again and again, or later the erotic tales of Achilles and Patrocles for those interested in this manly, romantic subtext, I just can't help feeling surrounded by the gods when in Greece. 


For indeed I've actually been here more than once on holiday now, apparently not so very shocking when I discuss with my European friends used to long summer holidays. 

the much more complete (and poetic) reading of this return can be found in Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy.  So then let me affirm in this style the chance to be here again in the throw of the cosmic dice

(Note - this last comment is not to suggest that I've understood anything else ever written by this author).  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Urban gardening, or how to become a curiosity in your Swiss neighhborhood

Putting the final touches on the six square meter gardens with a big splash of wood-chips certainly puts a big smile on my face. But what about the neighbors?  What about your SWISS neighbors, burning with curiosity to ask about it all and maybe share a little conseil?  Anyway the engagement has been generally friendly thus far, the Portuguese neighbor with a giant well kept traditional garden and a French like shock waves to the ears notwithstanding.

Just a quick update on this blog - The desire to write something serious, something complete, on this blog still gnaws a bit. But the time, the time!  



For the square meter gardening bit, well I'm a fan--as the substantial initial investment proves. Everyone snickers of course and the neighbors declare themselves bien curieux at the potential to nourish an entire household with four boxes (to note- my better half has claimed two boxes for flowers, not that I'm entirely dissatisfied by the idea).  I will report back on the "return on investment" side of things come winter but we're landing at about 1300 francs including a good few year supply of organic heritage seeds from a Swiss seed farm. 


Then the path of chunked wood chips was laid down today, certainly the biggest draw for the neighborly gaze thus far, but I am glad about the results. A physical path to represent and more importantly call one back to the paths of practice, ethics, generosity, compassion, engagement, one of those paths we are on, whatever its specificity.  It doesn't hurt to recognize the symbolic dimension of our gestures at times.

So one could be reminded in speaking of paths, of Thich Nhat Hanh saying, "There is no way to the path; the path is the way".  While I can't claim perfect mindfulness, a life long effort, in all activities in the new garden, all of the conditions--from the soft woodchip path to the new space for the house's children to the regular double chime, about 15 seconds apart, of two nearby church bells.

So there's a quick report on preparing the conditions for a bountiful summer ahead of vegetables and flowers, a simile between practice and path.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reading "Twitter: The Medium of the Moment" from The New Yorker

Twitter: The Medium of the Moment : The New Yorker

This article seems to confirm the casual lunch discussion with my digitally-minded colleagues over the various uses of Social Media.  General consensus points to Facebook as the social platform for sharing events from real life and Twitter for its gathering of news information on one side but not divulging personal information.  The two are mutually exclusive and are ultimately about two speeds of information sharing.

As The New Yorker Matt Buchanan states, "Twitter’s intrinsic, relentless driving of the new makes it the quintessential medium of breaking news, particularly combined with its capacity for spreading that news with breathtaking ease".   Twitter, the ultimately up to date news source and dashboard of the present.

I am indeed interested in the way that people are willing to have multiple social presences and the energy dispensed for maintenance.  But further still, a distinction we have spoken about before between Immediacy and the Present becomes apparent in Buchanan's article as he continues,
For all of the ways in which Twitter has evolved since its creation, in 2006, when it was known as “twttr,” what has not changed is how profoundly Twitter relies on nowness. Nowness is not simply newness, or the new: the question Twitter used to ask of users when they went to compose a tweet, “What’s happening?” is a direct inquiry about the state of now.
We'll certainly permit the author his philosophical moment as he touches on a larger choice--how we want to live our life.  Do we want to infuse the Now with a constant wave of Newness or rather settle into the present as it arises?   Again we assert that Immediacy, the state of hurried experience, is not the same as the Present Moment which is simply there.  I suppose both produce a "Wow!" but about different content. 

My experience of taking the bus home from work at the same time countless teenagers return from the pool across the street attests to an entire generation attached to fresh information and constant contact with others.  It would seem for some it won't even be about a choice but rather a custom and a habit.  We will see what this generation ultimately ends up doing with their Now. 

Like all trends, we could expect some backlash to occur, maybe a return to things more tranquil, more present.  I feel for myself, for instance, that this rendering public over a blog carries with it a desire to render my life more private, and the effort to maintain it and Facebook is questionable.  In the end, we are speaking about living life at one, not multiple, speeds, which is, by the way, certainly my own "challenge". 

Being present is a life-long struggle so I only question instruments that pull us away from it, creates a habit of immediate demand and result.  On the burgeoning psychological outcomes, we have spoken before

How can one get tired of the Now?  Easily as you realize there really is nothing New in it at all.  Nothing that isn't just as easily learned through the news or a morning perusal of a news website or two, a quick round of Facebook.  But this is my choice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Horse meat


For any die-hard vegetarians, born and raised, the horse-meat scandal, still going on in Europe, comes off a scandal of a different order.  We ask ourselves, what is the real difference between eating a cow we consider to be bred for meat and eating a horse (firstly because my canteen in Switzerland, where I live, serves horse "on the grill" everyday at 10.50 a plate)? 

Most urgently, the difference between our companion animals we don't eat and those we do has always seemed a bit hard to hold up.  The UK-based Vegetarian Society has a brilliant campaign to highlight the tenuous connections especially for a culture, as our Swiss news reports, views the horse on the same companion animal level as the dog or cat..


Lately my more militant attitude towards vegetarianism has waned to allow for people who have a different upbringing eating and even appreciating meat.  I do count on things like horse meat scandals to shake these faiths in preference for more a life-style more favorable to body and planet.  Each thing in their time but better sooner than later.

On the note of a signs of a change afoot, the Guardian notes an increase in sales of meat substitutes.  At the same time I do kindly warn you against the suspicious properties of "Quorn" highlighted in this article--it's the only substitute I've seen recalled for in my experience!   But this fungus aside, I let you consider substituting two or three of your meat portions with these delicious meals--curries, beans and rice, gratined or roasted vegetables, lasa... One need not eat horse nor Quorn every night.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In such a way


Listening to a podcast of the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh speaking in Vietnamese and translated directly by a gentle woman's voice into English I was struck by the repetition of the phrase "in such a way". 

Having taught English for a number of years, I suppose I'm somewhat sensitive to repetition by foreign speakers, what led the speaker to come to such a tournure, such a complex turn of phrase, curious what expression from the original language is coming across in translation in a little complex phrase in the target language.  It is true that "in such a way" is not the sort of expression we are using regularly in the English language.

To be honest the incessant repetition of in such a way made me a bit suspicious as the rest of the translation suggested only a basic grasp of English.  Listening then to Thay, the familiar way practitioners refer to the ven. Hanh in Plum Village, we could hear the phrase again   Several things mentioned could be thought "in such a way" as to reveal or suggest something.  Clearly we are on to a larger idea in which form and content seem to unite.

Expanding out a bit into other works on Buddhist thought and practice of late, I encountered just last night when reading the first few beautifully vibrant pages of  Exploring Karma and Rebirth. the following paragraph came to my attention:
Spiritual teachings evolve in particular circumstances in response to particular problems.  The form of the teaching will be expressed in such a way as to address a specific need.  Buddhist teachings are not mirrors of nature but more like carefully focused photographs:  important foreground details are carefully shown, while the background is often rather hazy.  A portrait photographer does not given everything within the field of vision equal value but selects according to the desired composition and effect.  In the same way, Buddhist teachings are best understood not as attempts to describe the world 'as it is' in some absolute sense but rather as vistas the enable us to experience our lives in more meaningful, joyful, and creative ways. 
It would seem then that the teaching itself must be given "in such a way" and the known adaptability of Buddhism is clearly due, in Nagapriya's view, because it succeeds in being taught still in such a way.

Having just discovered the phrase, its recurrences, in this burgeoning semiology of Buddhist speech, I have no doubt to encounter is everywhere and am bound then to explore its meaning. 

Here's a stab at it:  it would seem that do something in such a way leads to different consequences than doing it in another.  Here we draw attention to a beautiful idea that to have correct posture is already to be on the path of the Buddha.  We can sit in such a way that enlightenment is eventually attained.

We can sum this up as a responsibility for ones act--for doing something is one way or another is to recognize karma and to be mindful of it, living in right action when we can.  We can sit, or act, in such a way or not.

Moved as I am at times at this new found practice, I cannot help sharing my impressions of these first encounters.  While taking a little detour to an attention to words and their repetition here, I recognize that the transformation of doing things in such a way is, in the end, largely silent. 
 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A lifetime to read War and Peace


So today we pick up and read the first rich pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace.  Never before have we announced starting off a new novel here but this one, even after Anna Karenina and his collected stories, seems worthy for both the quality and depth if not pure weight!  The reading begins today but when it will be completed remains open for now.

I would like to turn briefly to the often noted mystical transformation of Tolstoy, this radical shift in genius from exuberantly lush literature to the visionary on non-violent anarchism inspiring such thinkers as Mahatma Gandhi and  Dr. Martin Luther King in the 20th century.   Though later renouncing his earlier novels as not true to reality, I am nonetheless eager to read War and Peace from both the novelist Tolstoy was and visionary he would later become at the time of the writing. 

(As an aside, we know this gesture of renunciation performed again and again by great authors and we can think back to yet another example of Jean Genet who rejects later in his life, Edmund White's biography reports, of his earlier prison writings as "infantile" whereas we, the reader, already see the precious sensitivity to the flowers, the beautiful conversion of the proper to the common (see Glas), as necessary to his later political thinking engagement against colonialism and prison abuses).

Genet, Burroughs and Ginsburg at the 1968 Democratic Convention
It's certainly the privilege of the reader to reject the rejection brought forth by the author him or herself of the oeuvre.

We turn then to the last point which concludes with the novel War and Peace itself, the massive text on the table before us, and the time we will give over to reading it.   Here we are highlighting a kind of mystical turn in our own experience of the world.

We've been speaking a lot in this blog lately of the slowing-down of time, aiming for a kind of present moment aware of the impermanent phenomenology of the world.   No, this will not be the year of the master list of great books and essays read, but rather this one novel, a life-long mission, deserving of an author who dared be both great novelist and then give it all up.

In short, I'm really in no rush to finish this novel.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Walking like humans do.


To complete this series on Plum Village with its waking, walking, falling and all things gerondive, we were glad as can be to find this niftiest announcement over BBC about the seven-year walk of renowned journalist Paul Salopek through the history of human-kind's spread through the globe.   It's a lovely project, really.

I hadn't heard of Mr. Salopek before but from the various videos and statements on the project's intent, his renown and experience should bring a lot to the journey.  The engagement with local cultures down to the shoes he'll be wearing seems promising.

From the start, a fact calls out to us:
For 95% of human history, people walked on average 5,200km (3,200 miles) per year: "Like walking from Boston to Portland on the West Coast every single year of your adult life," says Salopek.
This fact alone speaks volumes about the past and present and we can only be envious of this precious time spent rediscovering humanity's journey at least metaphorically and, hopefully, himself.  We can only be envious of finding again this connection with distances and time as it has been lived and experienced for most of humanity's existence.  
















Salopek explains the project in detail over PBS, and while I had some worries when first seeing the dedicated, nicely, constructed National Geographic site on the project that we were in for a media sensation, full of tweeting, blogging and who know what to come in the next seven years, it seems the tools are rather simple:  
I'll be carrying an ultra-light laptop video cam, a GPS to locate myself (all of my stories will be GPS located, a digital reporter and basically the tools any correspondent uses but just the smallest ones possible.
So we might note that there seems to be a clear difference between in experience between what is being announced in Salopek's years long walk and Red Bull's successful domination of people's attention over Social Media with the Austrian Felix Baumgartner's mile an hour drop to the Earth in 2012.  No doubt the absence of "corporate sponsorship" has something to do with this, slowness, as slow as one footstep, on one side and on the other, driving speed and the desperate need for the consumer's attention. 

So it is with some hope that the journalist can appreciate, his GPS and video recordings on auto., more of the Here and Now and less of Immediacy as he moves across different parts of the world. 

In either case, its for each individual to decide their degree of participation over so-called social networks.   We will certainly take some time over this blog to explore these personal choices for participation or not, the question of how we render ourselves public today.  Yet another article à venir.

Finally it might be interesting to note that in the comments of the PBS interview above, a reader notes that Salopek will not be the first to embark on such an expedition, and a certain Karl Bushby, and maybe others, are already well into their walks.   If we view this through the lens of humanity, whether it's Salopek or Bushby came up with the idea to retrace the outspread of humanity--it's the fact that humans have and will continue to make this journey that matters and makes the story so compelling.  

We know anyway that for the trip to be scientific as it portends in its National Geographic guise, it must be repeated again and again,  its veracity re-confirmed, the nature itself of human experiment and experience, which so happens, by the way, to be the same word in French.