it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

Book Report #21: Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery

The grandaddy of the Zen in books. A little uncomfortable in its Orientalism, but still fascinating nonetheless.

I cannot help, myself, to equate Zen philosophy with modern Western understandings of the mind. I am a synthesist: it's what I do. What follows is my own natterings and theory, sort of, of the mind, and as such is presented without warranty.

Except to say that it works for me.

And it seems to me that Zen is a series of techniques for detaching the conscious mind, the ego or I, and allowing the much more powerful, nonverbal subconscious mind to perform its magic. I think it's a flaw in our societal philosophy to privilege the conscious as much as we do.

The idea of a paired system of consciousness is older than the Appolonian/Dionysian divide, and its manifestations are as varied as humanity, and our temptation seems always to be to pick a side to root for. Which seems to me a little self-limiting, because consciousness is useful for a bunch of things (like breaking behavioral conditioning, for one thing), but to rely on that tip of the iceberg is a loss as well, because the "It" that shoots is as genuine a thing as the "I" that must get out of the way to let it shoot.

And the "It" is powerful. And healing.

It's probably weird to hear that from somebody who intellectualizes as relentlessly as I do, isn't it? But it's true. The "It" is much better at many things than the "I" is. It's one of the reasons I find exercise so inspirational--because the focus on the animal body, for me, helps get the I out of the way so the It can do its black magic.

One of the things I'm working on now, after years of "I" intellectualizing work on my art (and writing is a Practice, of sorts) is now learning to let the It carry much of that work. The I can explain it to the It, and the It can do it without actually needing to involve the I in the process at all.

We talk about the writing koans and how they unpack, and we talk--half-joking--about how to be an effective writer you must have suck and not suck at the same time. So yes, I can relentlessly intellectualize what I do. (Any number of people, including stwish, like to tell me how much I overthink things.)

But I also feel the shape of it in my head. I can sense its weight and curve and specific gravity, and when I spin it, I can feel how it wobbles or if it purrs around in a circle.

And in saying this, it sounds like the two sets are completely separate, and of course that's not true at all, because the It and the I are in constant communication. The It knows and can do amazing things. But it can't manipulate linear symbols, which is what the I is good at. The society I was raised in tends to train the I at the expense of the It--in fact, in some cases to train to I to ignore the It- (except in those cases where we glorify the It over the I ("go with your gut")) which limits us in unexpected ways. We perceive things in terms of categories rather than continuums:

Head/heart. Eye/hand. Left/right. Ego/id. I/it.

But in practice, what's effective is not either/or. It's and.

I had gotten to a point where I was doing everything consciousnessly, and now I am working on learning to do it all mindfully, which is different. And much more peaceful. And more likely to bring success. Because mindfullness is the synthesis, the meditation where the It and the I are working in harmony, rather than fighting.

The rider does not control the horse. The rider and the horse between them negotiate the world, and make each other stronger/braver/smarter/more nimble/more perceptive/less spooky in the process.

For added fun, I recommend reading this book in conjunction with Blindsight.
Tags: 100 book reports, hacking reality, hog-slopping, the writing koans, you must first understand recursion
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