Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

By William Martin

Book Review

Sixteen Short NovelsSixteen Short Novels by Wilfrid Sheed

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Death is a personal matter, arousing sorrow, despair, fervor, or dry-hearted philosophy. Funerals, on the other hand, are social functions. Imagine going to a funeral without first polishing the automobile. Imagine standing at a graveside not dressed in your best dark suit and your best black shoes, polished delightfully. Imagine sending flowers to a funeral with no attached card to prove you had done the correct thing. In no social institution is the codified ritual of behavior more rigid than in funerals. Imagine the indignation if the minister altered his sermon or experimented with facial expression. Consider the shock if, at the funeral parlors, any chairs were used but those little folding yellow torture chairs with the hard seats. No, dying, a man may be loved, hated, mourned, missed; but once dead he becomes the chief ornament at a complicated and formal social celebration.” - John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat.

"When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there--in sunny weather--stretched at full length, asleep and blissful, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose." - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

"He was a fairly humane man towards slaves and other animals; he was an exceedingly humane man toward the erring of his own race." - Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

"He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages." - Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

" Possibly, I even regret, myself, that I have given so few slaps in the face during my life." - Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground

“Above all, don't believe your friends when they ask you to be sincere with them. They merely hope you will encourage them in the good opinion they have of themselves by providing them with the additional assurance they will find in your promise of sincerity.” - The Fall, Albert Camus

"Now was acutely itself: yesterday and tomorrow became the myths." - John Fowles, The Ebony Tower

This is the first book from my friend Mary I've finished and I loved it. I found I love short novels(20,000 - 30,000 words) in general. Longer than short stories, the author can go into more depth and detail and the reader has more to get ahold of. Being shorter than a full length novel the author is forced to be economical and write a tight story. No detracting filler in a novella. And collections of short novels like this one give the reader a variety of writers to experience between one pair of covers.

This volume offers a wide variety of well respected authors. The editor chose excellent examples of the short novel while avoiding selections over-represented elsewhere. I only out-right disliked one(Fowles' The Ebony Tower) and most of the rest make me want to explore more.

I've avoided Faulkner since high school, too thick, but I found Old Man like a delicious Southern gumbo. Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat is light and fun. Ward No. 6 gives us Chekov at the height of his short story powers before he switched to plays. O'Hara's Andrea gives us an interesting study in point of view. The main character is enjoying his unencumbered life and his long-running affair, but suddenly the ending makes it clear it was very different for her. And I discovered a love for Joseph Conrad and Willa Cather.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Be Like Water: The Philosophy and Origin of Bruce Lee’s Famous Metaphor for Resilience

“In order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”

With his singular blend of physical prowess and metaphysical wisdom, coupled with his tragic untimely death, legendary Chinese-American martial artist, philosopher, and filmmaker Bruce Lee(November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973) is one of those rare cultural icons whose ethos and appeal remain timeless, attracting generation after generation of devotees. Inspired by the core principles of Wing Chun, the ancient Chinese conceptual martial art, which he learned from his only formal martial arts teacher, Yip Man, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. When he left Hong Kong in 1959, Lee adapted Wing Chun into his own version, Jun Fan Gung Fu — literal translation: Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu — and popularized it in America.
In 1971, at the peak of his career, Lee starred in four episodes of the short-lived TV series Longstreet. In one of them, he delivered his most oft-cited metaphor for the philosophy of Gung Fu, based on the Chinese concept of wu wei:

But the famed snippet belies the full dimensionality of the metaphor and says nothing about how Lee arrived at it. Luckily, in Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (public library) — a compendium of his never-before-published private letters, notes, and poems, offering unprecedented insight into his philosophy on life and his convictions about martial arts, love, and parenthood — Lee traces the thinking that originated his famous metaphor, which came after a period of frustration with his inability to master “the art of detachment” that Yip Man was trying to impart on him. Lee writes:
When my acute self-consciousness grew to what the psychologists refer to as the “double-bind” type, my instructor would again approach me and say, “Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week: Go home and think about it.”
And so he did, spending the following week at home:
After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then — at that moment — a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn’t this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might — yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.
Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached — not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.
Bruce Lee (right) with his only formal martial art instructor, Yip Man
Quoting from Lao Tzu’s famous teachings, Lee writes:
The natural phenomenon which the gung fu man sees as being the closest resemblance to wu wei [the principle of spontaneous action governed by the mind and not the senses] is water:
Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.
The above passages from the Tao Te Ching illustrate to us the nature of water: Water is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded; sever it, yet it is not divided. It has no shape of its own but molds itself to the receptacle that contains it. When heated to the state of steam it is invisible but has enough power to split the earth itself. When frozen it crystallizes into a mighty rock. First it is turbulent like Niagara Falls, and then calm like a still pond, fearful like a torrent, and refreshing like a spring on a hot summer’s day. So is the principle of wu wei:
The rivers and seas are lords of a hundred valleys. This is because their strength is in lowliness; they are kings of them all. So it is that the perfect master wishing to lead them, he follows. Thus, though he is above them, he follows. Thus, though he is above them, men do not feel him to be an injury. And since he will not strive, none strive with him.
Bruce Lee: Artist of Life is fantastic in its entirety.

Bruce Lee on the Power of Repose and the Strength of Yielding

“One should be in harmony with, and not rebellion against, the strength of the opponent.”

When he emigrated from Hong Kong to America in 1959, Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973) adapted the ancient Chinese conceptual martial art Wing Chun into his own version, Jun Fan Gung Fu, literally translated as “Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu,” and popularized it in America. Over the course of his short life, he became not only a trailblazing martial artist but a modern philosopher whose ideas on personal development and the cultivation of character have continued to inspire generations.
On his ascent to superstardom, Lee was too poor to afford long-distance phone calls. Instead, he turned to letters not only as a medium for keeping in touch with his loved ones and collaborators but also as a creative sandbox for fleshing out the ideas that informed his philosophy. Those letters are now collected in Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon (public library) — the most direct record of the views, beliefs, and ideals that shaped Lee’s enduring legacy.
In a 1964 letter to Taky Kumura, his first student and one of his dearest friends, 24-year-old Lee outlines the learning process of gung fu. Under the heading “Self-cultivation,” he considers the essential purpose of leisure in spiritual development and writes:
The point where [one is] to rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and, that being determined, a calm unperturbedness may be attained too. To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be careful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end.
Wishing to cultivate oneself, one first rectifies his heart.
Wishing to rectify his heart, one seeks to be sincere in his thoughts.
Wishing to be sincere in his thoughts, one first extends to the utmost of his knowledge — such extension of knowledge lies in the investigation of things.
Only in repose, Lee points out, can the mind begin to investigate the nature of things, empty itself of interferences, and learn not to let external triggers induce internal states of fear, anger, sorrow, and anxiety. He writes of this contemplative space:
A gung fu man rests therein, and because he rests, he is at peace. Because he is at peace, he is quiet. One who is at peace and is quiet, no sorrow or harm can enter; therefore his inner power remains whole and his spirit intact.
Illustration by Maurice Sendak from ‘Open House for Butterflies’ by Ruth Krauss. Click image for more.
Under the captions “NO MIND” and “NO THOUGHT,” Lee adds:
Discard all thoughts of reward, all hopes of praise and fears of blame, all awareness of one’s bodily self. And, finally, [close] the avenues of sense perception and let the spirit out, as it will.
The highest skill operates on an unconscious level.
Sincere thought means thought of concentration (quiet awareness). The thought of a distracted mind cannot be sincere. Man’s mind and his behavior are one, his inner thought and outer expression cannot contradict each other. Therefore a man should set up his right principle and this right mind (principle) will influence his action.
Under the heading “Yielding,” he writes:
Yielding will overcome anything superior to itself; its strength is boundless.
The yielding will has a reposeful ease, soft as downy feathers — a quietude, a shrinking from action, an appearance of inability to do (the heart is humble, but the work is forceful). Placidly free from anxiety one acts in harmony with the opponent’s strength. One does not move ahead but responds to the fitting influence.
In a sentiment he would later hone into his famous metaphor for resilience, Lee adds:
Nothing in the world is more yielding and softer than water; yet it penetrates the hardest. Insubstantial, it enters where no room is. It is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded.
Illustration by Shaun Tan for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Click image for more.
Under the heading “Law of Non-Interfering,” Lee elaborates on this philosophy of yielding as an act of strength:
One should be in harmony with, and not rebellion against, the strength of the opponent.
The strongest is he that makes use of his opponent’s strength — be the bamboo tree which bends toward the wind; and when the wind ceases, it springs back stronger than before.
Writing to his editor at Black Belt magazine on September 2 of that year, Lee draws a graphic representation of this idea and elaborates on the notion of strength and suppleness as complementary rather than contradictory forces:
Just as an object needs a subject, the person in attack is not taking an independent position but is acting as an assistant. After all, you need your opponent to complete the other half of a whole.
The gentleness/firmness is one inseparable force of one unceasing interplay of movement. If a person riding a bicycle wishes to go somewhere, he cannot pump on both [of] the pedals at the same time or not pump on them at all. In order to move forward he has to pump on one pedal and release the other. So the movement of going forward requires this “oneness” of pumping and releasing, and vice versa, each being the cause of the other.
Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon is a trove of timeless wisdom in its entirety. 


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Love is not Outside of Us

The real object of our love is not outside of us, the real object of our love is ourselves. We have to know how to love ourselves, know how to return to our true nature, to see the wholesome, the good, the true and the beautiful within us. Then we will be able to see that in others.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Web of Life

This we know: all things are connected
Like the blood that unites us.
We did not weave the web of life,
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

- Chief Seattle

Mama's Kitchen

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to be honored by Mama's Kitchen as one of their Volunteers of the Year. And my Friday Crew went an extra step and bought me a bouquet of flowers. I was embarrassed to be the center of attention and I ended up taking the most awkward picture I've taken since 1976, but I owed it to all of those good people to accept it graciously.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Only One Thing is Certain

"There’s only one thing certain. That is one’s own inadequacy. One must start from that." - Franz Kafka

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How to Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

By Chris Dessi

1. Start.

2. Don't quit.

3. Push yourself past your comfort zone.

4. Embrace "the suck."

5. Be around like-minded people.

6. Recognize your improvements.

7. Rinse. Repeat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Beauty in a Parking Lot

I love this photograph by my friend Troy Davidson. Lots of interesting textures, great foreground, middle ground and background, great light and shadow. And it's an ordinary location. Finding beauty in the everyday is a true gift.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Food is Love

This is the new Food is Love mural along the stairwell at Mama's Kitchen. This morning I'm worried about Mama's clients. Healthcare is love, too.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Master Yourself

Knowing others is intelligence;knowing yourself is true wisdom.Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.

~ L. Tzu

Eloquence is Not Wisdom

Don’t think eloquence reveals wisdom. Listening is better than speaking.

~ Rumi
Image: M. Ilhan

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

—Rumi; translation by Coleman Barks

Creativity is...

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Danny Elfman's Music from the Movies of Tim Burton

This was a great concert! The music by itself as played by the San Diego Symphony was exciting and complex, truly thrilling. It was an expanded orchestra with saxophone, piano, harp, and lots of percussion. The large audience was very much into it, many of them arriving in costume. It was a great evening.

Book Review

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes, #1)A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the novel that introduces Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world. There's an unexpected jump in the middle from London's foggy dampness to the blazing desert of the American Southwest which is really well done. I found this much more engaging than the shorter stories I've read so far.

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