Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chaos Zen and the Luxury of Honesty

First, a disclaimer:  As Manuel used to say in Fawlty Towers, "I know nothing."  OK, now I can proceed with a clear conscience.

Now, I'm no buddhist (and I do want to thank the President for mentioning the "unbelievers" in his inauguration speech, yesterday), but the downside to non-attachment is twofold, I think:  

  1. Attachment to the idea of non-attachment:  Striving for simplicity and a responsible lifestyle can be a sort of acquisitive grasping, in itself.  
  2. We live surrounded and interconnected by complexity: The monk may be in his monastery, away from it all, but most of us are "out in the world."  The "real" world, as it is quaintly known.  It's hard to maintain non-attachment, materially or in thought, amidst all the chaos.  

If "chaos zen" is the ability to surf the chaos, while maintaining our equilibrium, then the "luxury of honesty" refers to the rarified skill of being able to face-off with our faults and do something about them.  Personally, I wouldn't know a balanced, non-judgmental mind if it slapped me in the face, unless it was someone else's.  I'm told that equanimity and the light touch are available to those who meditate and have a disciplined daily practice.  Oh, for such consistency.

So, taking into account the combined challenges of a chaotic world and a chaotic mind, what's a poor non-believer to do?

  1. Keep it simple, materially I mean.  Given the baroqueness of the human mind, rearranging the furniture, and maybe getting rid of some of it, is sometimes the best we can do.  Let's say it's a start.  Tiny houses and minimalist art can also help.  
  2. Keep things clean and tidy.  There's an old saying, "A tidy house is a tidy mind."  I'd say a clean car's right up there, too, shedding dogs notwithstanding.
  3. Take care of yourself.  If staying up late hurts you the next day, don't do it.  The same goes for drinking too much.  The same goes for a lot of things.  
  4. Less thinking, more doing.  Make physical objects (like paintings and Plywood Chateaux), not thoughts.  A huge part of our reality is what we make it.  We actually do manufacture thoughts.  It helps to slow down the production line and also make improvements to the product over time, until you like what you see coming off the conveyor belt.  
  5. At the risk of creating even more chaos in the world with all these mixed metaphors, don't bite off too much at once – "Not building a wall; making a brick," as it says on one of Brian Eno's and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards.  Or, in the words of a famous country and western singer from India, "One day at a time, sweet Buddha.  ...One day at a time."

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