The Text is Life

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being I believe. Maybe a state of purity or pureness? There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow around me. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for an separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

Journaling and Blogging: What Should Their Content Be?

There is a substantial difference between journaling and blogging. Some may disagree and say that the only difference between the two is the medium. One opens a notebook or lovely bound blank text created for the very purpose of personal record keeping or one signs on and types into an electronic template of semi-personal design such as WordPress offers. I’ll accept that argument on the surface; but, what blogging offers, is the chance to Immediately share what you are most passionate about and in a form that acknowledges the presence of a reader.

Journaling, as I see it, is very personal and rather random at times. There is no need to worry about physical presentation or proofing because you are the only audience that must interact with the text. Perhaps your descendants may inherit these books and care to read them, but they are not the same audience as the online and blogging community who do not know you and may very well not find your idiosyncratic shorthand or random punctuation endearing. Leave that to those who want a personal connection to you or scholars studying your method of constructing narratives. I am thinking of the Alcotts (as in Louis May, author of Little Women) and the family’s regular discipline of journaling. These journals, their letters, their early works, etc. all serve to enlighten us as to how someone like Louis May developed her skills and her interests. We find out that the need for income as well as artistic output sat on each of her shoulders driving her on.

Now, does the average reader want to read these entries and letters every day? Not really. These are supporting material rather than primary areas of interest for many people. Do we want to read formally presented works that are as ponderous, belabored, and stylized as the works of her often-ridiculed father, Amos Bronson Alcott?  No. I’m not saying their private writings or public failures don’t have importance in American history or literary studies. In this family’s case, they also have a substantial place in the study of Transcendentalism. But not all of the family’s writings are of themselves enticing reads for the casual observer.

So, I stand for blogging as a form that is conscious of an audience and responsible for producing well-planned work ready for interaction, while journaling is the private process of drafting ideas or pouring forth observations and reactions or plans that have no need of a formula or obligation to an audience.

If you are interested in reading about Louisa May Alcott and her family, I recommend Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. While it often belies the author’s bias in favor of A.B. Alcott, the text is an excellent introduction to the family and the American embrasure of Transcendentalism. For scholarly essays on the subject, I recommend searching JSTOR. Check with your library to see if they have a subscription to this database. As always, avoid treating Wikipedia as anything other than a starting point offering tertiary materials that my not be accurate at all times. Primary and secondary sources are what you want.

The Community Story: Globally Written Narratives

Please Note: There are apparently technical issues at WordPress right now because I can’t seem to edit my post for spacing and unwanted bold font in some places. Please excuse the occasional layout glitch.

I have been remiss in posting these days. Not for lack of ideas. In fact, there are a number of hand-written notes next to me. I think the more the pile grows, the more I buck at the “have to” of the posting. Spontaneity works better for me. Probably a lot of people. It’s not a dislike of deadlines or assignments though. I just should not let the pile build up. Important things fall to the bottom and newer things to avoid layer and layer themselves.

Do I think blogging is a burden? No. I love this medium and I love to read other people’s work when I sign in. Again, it’s the procrastination that makes what could be an inspiring and fulfilling practice seem mountainous and cumbersome.

So, what does this all mean? How does the above work with this post’s title? It fits perfectly actually. For the many who do not know what it is, The Community Story was first an idea that I had to offer writing prompts for short stories (later to become larger works if appropriate and in different genres) and let other people work together to complete the story. No one person should complete the tale (although one of the contributing posts was so perfectly formed by one of my friends that I can only see minor edits and leaving it as is). My goal is to have many people contribute to, discuss, and edit the story up until the deadline I set. Then, I do the final edits and post the story with the proper acknowledgements to all contributors. The Community Story holds the copyright, but all contributors can of course refer to the story they contributed to as co-editor or co-writer since the proof of participation is online. I take no profit and charge no fees, unless a time comes that it  becomes a large enough online publication that I need to charge for expenses.

The Community Story has a Facebook page and a group, but until I find a better collaborative medium for everyone to work on, the page will have to do. I’m working with a Web designer to create a page on my website for this purpose. Any IT advice?

Below is the inaugural prompt I offered via Facebook and some of the responses:

Here is the prompt for the first community short story. All members have until September 1 to contribute and discuss the project. Remember, no one should complete the whole story. Contribute a number of paragraphs, or even just a sentence. The is no right or wrong, just what you see as the next stage of the tale:

As I opened my car door, my legs felt the draft of early autumn whisk in. I knew I should not have worn such light slacks, but I just could not let go of summer yet. Stepping lightly out into the dusk of early evening, I felt the gravel of the driveway crunch under my shoes adding to the reminders of the changing seasons. Soon, it would be dried, dead leaves and then ice and snow crackling under my weight.

A lovely contribution from Mairead M.:

I sighed longingly for the long summer months drenched in heat, light, and sun lotion. However, there was too much to do to linger on these thoughts for long.

The absolutely hilarious digression of focus from Bill J. and John V.:

Bill J.: I pause to inhale the moment. Geese are honking their way to their retirement communities in the south. As they shrink towards the horizon I hear the gravel crunching under my feet again. But wait! I’m standing still. Oh my God! I forgot to set the parking brake!
John V.: I can’t believe I did it again! What is it about this place that gets me so fuddled that I can’t remember to set the brake! This is the third time this has happened to me here and I’m still paying for the new fender that is currently folding into itself as the car bounces off the stone wall at the edge of the drive.
Bill J.: How am I going to tell Mikey that my car backed over his pet turtle? It darted out behind the car just before it bounced off that stone retaining wall. God, I hope the car stops before it gets to the highway. i don’t know why it would, it didn’t stop the last time. At least none of the nuns in the bus had children.
Wow, I still laugh out loud reading that exchange between those two. Great comedic minds. Of course other prompts follow more sedate or folkloric paths. It all depends on the mood I’m in when I create the prompt and the people who choose to participate.
If you would like to become a part of this go to: http://www.facebook.com/TheCommunityStory
I’ll be periodically posting commentary related to The Community Story on its own WordPress Blog: http://thecommunitystory.wordpress.com/
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