Thursday, January 31, 2013

Postmodern Hymn: Time out of Mind

via SCA German Renaissance

This groovy tune promises some very exciting transformations, if we would only keep our eyes on the sky and recognize the light in our eyes. 

"Tonight when I chase the dragon
The water will change to cherry wine
And the silver will turn to gold
Time out of mind"

The phrase "chasing the dragon" can refer to using heroine, but  I choose to see a much lovelier meaning, which has nothing to do with chemically-enhanced states of being. For this song, I'm happy to do some creative misreading.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Putting an End to Anger

by H. J. Ford for the story "The Comb and the Collar"

I want to share a sutra with you. It is the Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger, and I'm sharing it because it describes a process I have watched in myself. Maybe you will also find that you are practicing this already, or maybe you will be encouraged by what you hear. 

The full sutra is here, and it is relatively short. I think you will enjoy the story-like quality of the sutra. But if you want the short version, here is the fourth method:

"This is the fourth method, my friends. If there is someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind, and in whose heart there is nothing that can be called kindness, if you are angry with that person and you are wise, you need to find a way to meditate in order to put an end to your anger.

"My friends, suppose there is someone on a long journey who falls sick. He is alone and completely exhausted, and not near any village. He falls into despair, knowing that he will die before completing his journey. If at that point, someone comes along and sees this man’s situation, he immediately takes the man’s hand and leads him onward to the next village, where he takes care of him, treats his illness, and makes sure he has everything he needs by way of clothes, medicine, and food. Because of this compassion and loving kindness, the man’s life is saved. Just so, my friends, when you see someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind, and in whose heart there is nothing that can be called kindness, give rise to this thought: Someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind and in whose heart is nothing that can be called kindness, is someone who is undergoing great suffering. Unless they meet a good spiritual friend, there will be no chance for them to transform and go to realms of happiness. Thinking like this, you will be able to open your heart with love and compassion toward that person. You will be able to put an end to your anger and help that person. Someone who is wise should practice like this."
    —Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Admiring: French Chef

Laura Calder
(picture from Chez LaFleur in Manhattan)

In case my last post sounded a little too Calvinist, let's get to know another hero of mine, Laura Calder. She is known for her cooking show French Food at Home, where she teaches viewers about the joys of eating good food.

What makes me admire her is her wild career arc: linguistics, public relations, cooking... And her rather interdisciplinary explanation of food:

"I'm interested in stories, what food does for you, it’s almost a language in its own right."
   —Laura Calder, interview for York University

"I really love studying languages even just to keep my brain going, but I think it’s an obsession with my mouth, I love everything that goes in and I love what comes out and I love listening to different ways people speak. I love poetry, I love literature, I love accents, but writing was my first love and I wanted to write about food."
   —Laura Calder, interview in FrenchRevolution

Also, I love her playful, relaxed approach to food. She has her opinions on how to serve water (see French Taste), but she also knows that very few people want to master a cuisine to be able make a good chocolate mousse.

So, cook a good, happy, lovely meal and enjoy it, if you feel like it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Resolution, Part 2: Don't Seek Happiness

Summer volume of the Breviary of Renaud/Marguerite de Bar, Metz ca. 1302-1305.
Verdun, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 107, fol. 105r
via medieval

I'm not saying we should not enjoy and value happiness. But I find the hype of constant happiness exhausting. Perhaps I should distinguish between bubbly, consumptive happiness between deep and abiding peace, or even joy. The former can't seem to survive in the face of reality, while the latter is more stable. 

I remember reading Aquinas's Summa Theologica in college, and our professor telling us that Aquinas believed that God's plan for humans was happiness. I still like that idea, but the key is understanding what Aquinas meant by happiness, and taking from it what you will. I think it's so easy to fall into a search for enjoyment (which of course has its place) in our current times, rather to search for something greater:

"Man’s ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of truth, for this operation is specific to man and is shared with no other animals. Also it is not directed to any other end since the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake. In addition, in this operation man is united to higher beings (substances) since this is the only human operation that is carried out both by God and by the separate substances (angels)."
    —Summa Contra Gentiles, book 3, chapter 37

If you're not a fan of this version of psychology, you might take a look at Slavoj Zizek's critique of the superego's mandate of enjoyment


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