Tag Archives: zen

Dialectical Zenosity

The Interpenetration of Opposites

My philosophy of life has been informed by two people, both of whom I was first introduced to (not personally, but via their writings) in my early twenties. They helped me understand the meaning of the dialectic of life; the yin yang of our corporeal (and intellectual) existence.

The former brought me an understanding of spirituality that did not require the existence of a supreme “being,” while the latter helped me to see how our thinking is shaped by the material world we live in, and how our thinking can then help us act to change that world for the better.

The former brought me “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and taught me to accept the tenuousness of existence and the need to slow down and enjoy life absent regret for the past or anxiety for the future (not that I am proficient at it always,) while the latter gave me a much clearer understanding of both biological evolution and the evolution of human society.

These two people are: Alan Watts, who many considered the western world’s foremost authority on Zen, a philosophy I believe reflects our place in the universe; and Karl Marx who, along with Friedrich Engels, developed and promulgated the philosophy of dialectical materialism, which I believe accurately reflects how the physical world informs our existence and how our ability to understand that physical world gives us the ability to significantly alter it.

It’s been over fifty years since I first encountered these two aspects of what I consider to be a somewhat “unified” theory of existence. Nothing in the interim has dissuaded me from following their teachings. I find the physical universe to be infinitely more beautiful and mystical than any of the Gods humans have worshiped over millennia.


More Softiness!

Yesterday I posted my thoughts about empathy and kind of wondered aloud why I find it easy to get so deeply immersed in a fictional drama that I can be moved to tears; sometimes to really distressful levels of sadness and grief. At the end of that post I wrote:

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


You Can’t Hold on to Anything

Beauty and Death

Coveting Kills

I was reminded by a post from one of my Facebook friends that we lose many things in our lives by trying too hard to hold on to them. Many years ago I  had a girlfriend who had been a high-fashion model, working runways and some of the glitzier magazines of the day, including Cosmopolitan, Town & Country, etc. I met her through our mutual activity in the anti-war movement, including our work with the Vietnam Veterans Against The War. She had gone to Vietnam several times as a USO entertainer.

She was, as she put it, getting a little “long in the tooth’ and her modeling days were pretty much over (she was seven years older than me and I was approaching 30). She was constantly worrying about how old she looked, spending what I thought was an inordinate amount of time on her makeup and hair, especially if we were going out. One day it dawned on me just how much the constant worry was causing her to accelerate the aging process. Through the act of worrying she was actually making herself look older. I told her that and, frankly, I don’t think it made much of a difference to her. She was caught up in a “death spiral” of concern for losing something it’s impossible to hang on to.

It – as so many things do – also reminds me of the lessons I learned from reading Alan Watts‘ Book “The Wisdom of Insecurity“, the most important of which is that there is no such thing as security and absolutely anything can be snatched from you at any time; including your health, life, etc. Alan points out the futility and self-destructiveness of trying to hang on to things and the paradoxical value of “letting go”. He bases his teachings on those of Zen Buddhism. Currently, I’ve read the book three times over the years . . . and each time it has either drastically changed how I saw things or comforted me in my acceptance of things I couldn’t change. I recommend it highly.


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