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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Head in the Heavens, Feet on the Earth

(Another post I expect to offer to Rambling Taoists, but you can read it here first.)

I've been thinking, yes, about a little remark Ta-Wan made earlier:

"I live life as it appears to be and I die. My life is full as no time was spent attempting to know what can't be known. I live. I don't think about living."

Which on the surface seems to be very Taoist, very spontaneous and in the moment.  I feel this way whenever I enjoy a maitai under the big banyan tree on the beach in Waikiki, gazing at Diamond Head, watching the surf, hearing the joy of children and laughter of lovers on the sand.  This is about as close to Paradise as I can imagine, but I don't get there as often as I would like.  (Getting to Waikiki is a nuisance.  I can do maitais on my own lanai.)

But in the context of our talk of "philosophical" Taoism, I wonder...philosophy is about asking questions (with no expectation of answers), but still the asking of questions, pondering arguments, seems like a worthwhile pursuit to me.  Or maybe I'm too Socratic.  My feet are on the ground, but my head is in the clouds.

Years ago, maybe 1967, I asked a friend, "Why are you experimenting with all these drugs?"  Experimenting was the term of the time; now people just "do" them, I guess.  Experimentation appealed to me.  It suggested research, discovery and proof. Hypotheses and their testing.  But his answer to my question was, perhaps the most honest thing anyone's ever said to me, "Because it's fun."

And now, I find, decades on, the drugs and alcohol are no longer fun, and if anything they were just fiddling with the fine tuning of the so-called cognitive shen--the sense faculties.  A useful exercise, but it's no wonder we talk about burn-out and flashbacks and distortion.  Like a little kid with a remote and a screwdriver, fool around with the controls too much and you may break the set. And in this case, you can't go to Best Buy and get a replacement.

But I'm not really talking about psychoactive substances here: I'm talking about thinking.  It's fun to think about living, doing logical exercises to test hypotheses about the meaning of life, causality, God, memory, consciousness.  Not expecting answers.  Just filling in some blanks, considering new possibilities.  One is never done.  You don't burn out from thinking. I think.

Which brings me to the real purpose of this post.  Trey asked us if we might suggest ideas for holiday giving, for those inclined to do so in spite of  materialism, the economy and the competitive shopping season, (an issue I leave to others to debate). As a big proponent of lifelong learning and thinking, I direct attention to The Great Courses, products of The Teaching Company.  I am in no way a rep for the organization, although I've certainly earned some frequent thinker miles on my account.  No matter what a person is interested in, there's a top quality lecture series just for them.  "Them" is probably a demographic of reasonably affluent, already well educated people who have been out of school for a long time and who might want to revisit that course, or pick up one that was never offered in their major. Anyone who is a commuter and a thinker, an explorer, would appreciate these on long freeway drives.  I don't like audio books, but lectures are meant to be listened to.  No need to spend the money for DVDs; the audio CDs are compelling, and you can always look up any visuals later on the web.  One caveat: don't spend the "full price"...eventually, everything goes on sale.

And if you don't want to spend that much money, here are some other ideas:  I often give Deng Ming-Dao's 365 Dao as a gift that can keep on giving, year after year, even. (To me, since 1992.)  But this year, a special recommendation: former NPR reporter Eric Weiner's Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, just out, about the author's exploration of several faith traditions, seeking something he can use.  I think it might appeal to readers of this blog. A self-described gastronomical Jew, he visits Sufis, Buddhists, Taoists, Franciscans, Kabbalahists, Wiccans, Shamanists and Raelians. It's funny, it's serious, it is even more entertaining and thought-provoking than his previous Geography of Bliss.  The fact that I have a minor speaking part in Chapter 5 might be enough to intrigue you.

So those are the under $100, and under $20 categories. If you don't want to spend money, give something from your hand, your  heart or your head.  Homemade jam. Knit a bookmark.  I'm making little brush paintings.

I think it's good to give.


sybil law said...

Oooh - you could make brush painting "Season's Greetings" cards! That would be awesome. (Or, just make one for everyone and have more printed out.)
I'm also a feet firmly on the ground and head in the clouds person. Totally.
Love the book recommendation, though.

sybil law said...

Oh, and I know YOU weren't looking for gift ideas, but I think it would be awesome to make cards out of your paintings. :)

baroness radon said...

Actually I am making little cards...I posted a photo of them to Facebook. I'll have to put them up here, too.

And do read the book...I think you'll like it.

ordinary malaysian said...

Sometimes, experimenting can lead to death /stupor. And that's not nice, although death is not bad. Have the dead ever complained about death? No, that's because they know better than us smart alecks. Only the living are cowards, because we all want to cling to "life". But give me a Christmas present, please.