Saturday, June 24, 2017

Waxing into the Sacred Feminine

     With the summer solstice past, we now enter the time when the nights gradually get longer and longer until the time of the winter solstice.  In ancient cultures, this is the time when the sacred feminine, as represented by the night and the moon, increases in strength.  Let us welcome that sacred feminine -- her receptivity, her nurturing, her profound wisdom -- into our lives.

(illustration courtesy of

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Mind-Expanding Book, Part 2

     Last week I was extolling the wonders of Edward Slingerland's book Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity.  Here are some quotes that might give you a taste:
I've argued in this book that the phenomena of wu-wei [effortlessness, flow, spontaneity] and de [the charismatic power that comes from being in that state] are central to human flourishing and cooperation.  The only reason we need to be told that is that recent Western thought has been so obsessed with disembodied rationality that embodied spontaneity -- along with the unique tensions it presents -- has fallen off the radar.  Thinking of moral perfection as a matter of following rules or calculating utility certainly simplifies things.  Reason carefully, throw in a bit of willpower, and you're done.  The problem is that this model is deeply wrong.  It's psychologically unworkable, given what we know about the way the human body-mind operates.  Moreover, it completely fails to reflect how we actually experience our lives.
. . . .
[Scientists] are coming to recognize that the sort of knowledge that we rely on most heavily is hot, emotionally grounded "knowing how" rather than cold, dispassionate "knowing that."  We're made for doing, not thinking.  This has significant implications for everything from how we educate people to how we conduct public debates, make public policy decisions, and think about our personal relationships.
. . . .
Our modern conception of human excellence is too often impoverished, cold, and bloodless.  Success does not always come from thinking more rigorously or striving harder.  In a world increasingly dominated by cram schools, treadmills (literal or otherwise), 24/7 connectivity, and punishing amounts of stress, seeing the world in terms of the power and grace of spontaneity can help us to make better sense of our work, our goals, and our relationships.
This is an important book.  Get it.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Mind-Expanding Book

     Every once in a while comes a book which puts everything into a new perspective.  Edward Slingerland's Trying Not to Try: The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity is just that book, at least for me. 

     Dr. Slingerland, professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, walks the fine line between presenting the potentially dry philosophical history of Asian thought and irreverent humor.  I believe he widely succeeds.

     Slingerland discusses how we can achieve that feeling of flow -- the feeling that things are effortless, without too much thought, that results in bliss and satisfaction.  He then details how the ancient Chinese philosophers sought to achieve that effortlessness -- either by training the self through strict adherence to the Way as in Confucianism, by throwing off societal expectations and following the natural self as in Taoism, by reorganizing society along rational lines as the Mohists advocated, or to escape the domination of the conscious mind by listening to the qi as Zhuangzi taught. 

     In addition to explaining these lines of thought, Slingerland brings in relevant findings from the field of cognitive science and neurology, and peppers it with pithy stories from the ancients.

     This book helped explain why I've long been drawn to the simplicity of Taoism and had trouble with the five-this and eight-that of Confucianism and its relative, Buddhism (not to criticize -- it's just how my brain works, I guess).  Put into practice, this book is potentially life-changing.  Run, do not walk, and get this book.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Wonderful Book, Part 2

     Last week I was describing the scope of Thich Nhat Hanh's book For a Future to be Possible.  While he details the five mindfulness trainings as ethics codes of the highest ideals but realizes that we are human.  Here are a couple of quotes:
The direction of the Five Mindfulness Trainings is the direction of beauty, goodness, and truth.  To transform our collective consciousness into beauty, goodness, and truth, we move in that direction, as we would go in the direction of the sun.  We cannot climb onto the sun, and we don't need to.  To move in that direction is good enough.
And . . .
The situation of the world today is so violent and confused that for a future to be possible, not only individuals, but even nations need to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
     A highly recommended book.