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Monthly Archives: February 2008

George Mallory is famously supposed to have responded “Because it is there” when asked “Why climb Everest?”. More recently some have criticized this as the essential colonial impulse to conquer and tame anything that appears enigmatic, challenging or out of reach. The question is at least as intriguing as the answer. Recently, I ask myself the question “Why write?”. This question belongs among a generic class of questions such as “Why run?”, “Why learn a new dance?”, “Why learn to ski?”, “Why live?” or “Why do anything at all?”. This classification reminds me of the concept of NP-completeness in complexity theory.

I attempt an allegorical answer. Suppose you have blue litmus, and a solution. You can either let the litmus stay blue, or you can attempt to learn something about the solution, i.e. its possible acidity. But not both. You already know that the litmus is blue, but when you risk the changing of its colour, that is when you learn something about the nature of something. Of course, you’ll astutely observe that this raises the question “Why learn something about something?”, and we are back in the realm of our above basket of questions.

Pegging as an impediment to learning.

Pegging, the way I use it here, is the active endeavour of the mind to hold on to old patterns and experiences while attempting to learn something new, be it an activity such as skiing, or a language such as Spanish. It is the neurotic drive to relate what we learn to something we already know – this manifests in “trying not to go down too fast” while attempting skiing (“too fast” is relative to our earlier experiences of walking/running etc.), and trying to discover parallels and similarities with English usages while attempting to pick up a new Spanish construct. This inner neurotic struggle continues as we try to further peg what we have already learnt in a field, and resist learning anything that violates a pre-established “rule” which represents our current state of knowledge. Thus, we are doomed to progress in a ladder-rung like climbing manner, where every bout of learning must be neurotically resisted, and then followed by pegging to establish patterns that can oppose further learning. The other option of choosing ungroundedness may offer opportunities for uncontrolled learning, but one runs the risk of skiing off the precipice of sanity.

Contrarianism during discussions.

Contrarianism is the proclivity to oppose a mainstream or prevalent idea. To swim against the current. For some, this comes naturally, or habitually. Habitual contrarians love argumentation, and hence like to take a position of maximum contrariness in a debate, are anti-establishment (rebellious), like the under-dog over the top-dog and so on. They attack stereotypes, and preferentially oppose qualitative assertions. Regarding the former, – almost anything nontrivial that is ever said to convey meaning is a generalization i.e. a stereotype. In fact, considering every stereotype evil is itself a generalization performed by such a contrarian. (This is a bit more meaningful and less self-serving than the speciously clever ‘The statement “Every rule has an exception” being a rule, must have an exception as well’.)

“… the imagination that things are real does not represent true reality. If you see golden globes, or something, several times, and they talk to you during your hallucination and tell you they are another intelligence, it doesn’t mean they are another intelligence; it just means that you have had this particular hallucination. So here I had this tremendous feeling of discovering how memories are stored, and it is surprising that it took forty-five minutes before I realized the error that I had been trying to explain to everyone else.”

The void is indescribable through language. An attempt to describe it defeats the purpose, for it subtracts from it’s meaning, or presents a schism, categorization of some sort where there isn’t any, or falls short by encapsulating a part of it.

“We constantly seek to find, in the Quality event, analogues to our previous experiences. If we didn’t we’d be unable to act. We build up our language in terms of these analogues. We build up our whole culture in terms of these analogues.” – Pirsig

“Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. ” – Miyamoto Musashi

“We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it “the Equable” We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it “the Inaudible.” We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it “the Subtle.” With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description” – Lao Tzu

The spin class is nearing the end. The metronomic beat that pervades the space in the room is starting to sound hypnotic. It conjures in my mind visions of congolese dancers and their sublime movements to the drum. The pulsation in the body seems to resonate with the beat, sometimes the sound of the heart is apparently akin to the sound of goodbye.

The tightness in the lungs annoys like an unmarinated idea, and it is getting very hard to keep with the beat. The mind wanders with abandon, as is its wont. It is now wondering about the numerous minefields that one has to watch for and carefully circumvent in order to arrive at disillusioned understandings of even relatively simple concepts.

Her voice punctuates my respite from reality. “For the next 30 seconds”, she says, “I want you to go all out. Harder than the hardest you guys have ever pushed”. I will be lying if I say I am out of energy, but I can feel the exothermic burn in the hamstring tissues.

The beat is now heavily syncopated. I feel like I am about to witness the opening of a gate to a sanctum sanctorum.
The song has reached a booming crescendo.

 

“Shivaya Shivasankaraya…

Shashishekaraya…

Parameshwaraya…

Namoh namaha…”

The congolese dancers collectively exult in ritualistic frenzy..

Buddhi-yukto jahatiha ubhe sukrta-duskrte
tasmad yogaya yujyasva yogah karmasu kausalam
The Bhagavadgita 2:50-51

Yoga is skill in action. It is the act of yoking to reality, an active engagement to the perception of reality. I have come across several variants of this precept, sometimes in surprising places and sources that are unlikely to have exposure to the motivation for these verses. The skilled practioner of a craft is actively engaging in a gauging or reading of a facet of reality, and in doing so has a brief albeit unadulterated perception of his/her relationship with his/her immediate reality. This state may be described as zen by the mahayana buddhists, dhyana in hinduism, or as being in the zone by an athlete.