Haiku Tribute to Robert Pirsig

With My Honda 90cc Sport
Trinidad, 1966

In the gears of a cycle
Buddha is revealed
Easily, as in a brook.

Inspired by Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, near the end of Chapter One.

Unlike yours truly who recklessly delegated my cycle maintenance, Pirsig worked on his own bike with devotion and found great peace of mind in doing it. Unlike many in his time, he did not shun technology per se, though he knew it was being misused. For him, Buddha resides everywhere for those who pay attention and paying attention to doing a good job of anything requires an enlightened peace of mind.

Persig’s book has been called “the most read philosophy book ever.” Perhaps this is true if we insist on a cover-to-cover read. I enjoyed it very much when I read it for the first time in 2015, studying it intensely. Touching and engaging (as is Persig’s life story) Zen is a work of genius when one considers the dryness and difficulty of traditional philosophy texts.

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An Apology for Absence

This precious distraction from my canvassing is 423 km away...
This precious distraction from my canvassing is 423 km away…

I must apologize for not being very present on my blog lately. Been wrapped up in working in two ridings in two different roles to replace Stephen Harper’s corrupt, dictatorial, majority government with a minority government of Everybody But Harper.

Just back from a Monday to Friday trip to see the above damsel, I watched the debate on TVA Montreal en français hier soir.

Gilles Duceppe of the separatist Bloc Québecois is the real spoiler in this one. I am wishing with fingers crossed and eyes/ears wide open for a coalition government that brings in proportional representation. This will be the parliament in which Canadians will show whether we have the potential to mature as a real democracy. During the campaign, which ends on October 19, with the Canadian federal election, Harper will use the Bloc to scare the bejesus out of voters about coalition government like he did in 08. Hope Justin Trudeau steps up and goes for a truly proportional system. I trust Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May to support Proportional Representation, but if Trudeau sniffs a majority in 201? he may not cooperate.

Even more scared that Harper will somehow get a majority (not likely, but possible…) or, with a weaker plurality, avoid recalling parliament for a few months while he finishes dismantling “my Canada” in the true dictatorial style to which we’ve become accustomed.

Anyway, I’ll be back blogging on October 20, if not before. Meanwhile thanks for visiting, following and liking.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

From Robert M. Pirsig’s wonderful 1974 book, the most read book on philosophy ever, this quote on how Aristotle, who had little respect for the great Sophists, started us on our sad path to alienation from the natural world, via the awesome engine of technology:

And the bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall and Macedonia through its decline and fall. Through the decline and death of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and the modern states – buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done….

Pirsig, born in 1928, is still alive. Listening to this CBC podcast led me, belatedly, to him. His book is about how he challenged the university system on its perverted rationality in a single-minded, fanatical battle that drove him into isolation from his work and family. He was eventually committed to a mental institution where he was subjected to severe electroshock “therapy.” He eventually faked his “reform” in order to be released from the institution and later, in 1968, took a motorcycle trip with his teenage son, Chris, and two of his adult friends. The therapy had destroyed many of his memories. Calling his former, insane, self Phaedrus, he rebuilt Phaedrus’ thinking through these and other fragments: his notes, the memories of former friends and colleagues and his interaction on this trip with his alienated, troubled son, Chris.  He also read and reread philosophers, Greek mythology and history in the rebuilding process. This book is helping me in many ways. It adds new dimension and personal insight into how we got into the dangerous political/technological/moral/philosophical place in which we now, tenuously, live. It offers a process by which we just might get out of it. It helps to clarify, support, grow and even, perhaps, mellow my thinking on human issues and philosophical perspective. It may turn out to be the most important book I have ever read. I don’t think I’m giving too much away in giving you one more, very short, quote:

The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.

Below is a concept diagram that I have done that is my way of working on understanding and remembering Pirsig’s book. I have written many more notes. Simply reading something like this book doesn’t work for me.

A concept diagram to help my understanding
A concept diagram to help my understanding

Love of Home and Books With Stained Pages

This is daydreaming and not really a book review, but I’m now reading Helen Oyeyemi and scanning Naomi Klein’s latest tome now and I just listened to a podcast interview of the Peruvian-born novelist, Daniel Alarcon, in which there was considerable discussion of the violence and corruption in Peru between the early 1980’s and early 1990’s (Shining Path and repressive regimes being the major killers). His parents are physicians who sought opportunity in the US early on before the “troubles.” Alarcon writes (in English) figuratively about Peru – and the US also comes under the umbrella of his allegory.

Back to the books:

First: The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi. With interruptions. It has been slow to get into. It is a library borrowing that has evidence of more than one spill of brownish liquid. Notes are helpful because I do not retain character names and details easily. Never have, but it gets worse as I approach my 70th birthday. It is about two related characters:

1. A young woman living in London named Maja whose father, a university prof,  left Cuba under Fidel Castro, having apparently (it’s complex, and I’m not finished) become tired of the thought police looking over his shoulder. Her mother, a Santero born also in Cuba with a long ancestral lineage from Nigeria’s  Yoruba-centred Santeria religion, frustrates her husband with her altar and devotions that he considers superstitious. Maja likes to sing and her observations are becoming quite wonderful.

2. The second character is a Yoruban goddess, Yemaya (Aya) who lives in a magical “Opposite House” that has one door in Lagos and one in London. I’m currently two thirds through this book and loving it. I can understand the stained pages – evidence of a book that cannot be put down even while eating…  or a cookbook… in both cases loved. Maybe I will seek out similarly abused books deliberately in the future. I’m reminded of a fabulous song that made #1 in 1944 called You Always Hurt The One You Love by the Mills Brothers.

Second: This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. This 2014 book I’ve just begun. I’m familiar with many issues in it, so I’m just scanning quickly and highlighting names and key words here and there. Klein’s conscientious footnotes cover almost 60 pages. A great reference for any activist. Continue reading “Love of Home and Books With Stained Pages”

Conflict Near and Far

Cai Be floating market - Mekong Delta - 2008
From my heart to yours… Cai Bé floating market – 2008

I can’t let this lie.

Two tragedies (out of the myriad people on our planet suffer regularly) stand out in my mind and grieve my heart:

Gaza and Malaysia Flight MH17.

Many others exist, but these two are the worst for me because they involve unimaginable grief and they fuel the fires of long-standing hatreds. An earthquake or flood can bring people together. These two drive people apart.

Both involve bad political decisions made in the 20th century and both are being used in the 21st century to fan the flames across these two centuries.

I cannot bear to watch coverage of these events because I am acutely aware of the way all mainstream media, including my once-preciously-impartial-and-fairly accurate CBC, are being used and/or intimidated to further the goals of the new set of global conflicts in which Our Side are always the good guys and Their Side are invariably wearing the feathered headdresses or black cowboy hats.

So I write what I consider to be the brutal, unvarnished “truth.” After five decades of travel (In September 1965 at 20 I began a two-year volunteer teaching assignment in the West Indies),  observing world politics  and studying alternative and mainstream news sources I can fool myself into fervently believing that I “get it” – not all of it, but the “broad strokes” at least.

The process of writing my “truth” is cathartic for me. I’m a mess after simply glancing at the present media circus.

Then I reconsider what effect my blunt, certain-to-be-misunderstood-by-many “truth-telling” will have on my ability to continue to do the other things I love that make a real differences to a limited number of very important people.

And I take the post down and pick up the guitar.

Crocus

 

Crocus Cries, "Spring!"
Crocus

Crocus laconique, saillant

Montre nous, les hommes

Comment passer sans rancoeur

 

Reflecting on this photo this morning (now Tuesday, two days after I posted this photo on Sunday) I realized that the tiny plant that had made me think so carefully since then deserved a poem. I wrote it in French mainly because the French “sans” saved me a syllable and thereby satisfied the rigor of the Haiku, but discovered that I liked the sound, lucidity and subtlety of what I could say in French much better than what I had produced in English. After posting this photo on Sunday, I have reflected long upon the flower’s shockingly short life in bloom and realized that little brother Crocus was rewarding me for my attention by teaching me a surprising lesson. The lessons for me were several (cyclicity, fleetingness, acceptance, grace, opportunity, attention, action, brilliance…) but I will highlight this one:

The beauty of the crocus bloom is made more precious by its very fleetingness.

Still more learning: Writing a poem with strict parameters is a process of discovery in any language. One is forced to forage around for the right word and the searching often reveals better words that don’t quickly come to mind. Continue reading “Crocus”

A Way With Words

“The days of the moneylender have arrived, and the days of the swaggering privateer; banker sits down with banker, and kings are their waiting boys.”

The above insight from the reflection of Thomas Cromwell on the new type of power in 16th C. Europe. Another surprise from the Booker Prize winning Hilary Mantel. I laughed out loud when I saw this on page 142 of Bring Up The Bodies. Cromwell is thinking that, despite his low birth and the repeated, jealous insults of the nobility in Henry’s court, he is the second most powerful man in England next to the king, and, perhaps, the most influential.
That from December, 1536.

Has the dominion of the banks over all types of planetary power, at its apex in this scary 21st Century, been growing ever since then?

Mantel won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, Volume I of her planned trilogy on the life and times of the powerful Cromwell. She won a second Booker for this one, Volume II, in 2012. Will her last in this series, due in 2015, win an incredible hat trick?

A long-time writer of immense taste, imagination and skill, her sprinkling of erudite LOL moments of pithy surprise throughout these works only compounds this reader’s delight.