Insight

Insight arrives – it cannot be sought after.
Seeking out insight, it cannot be found.
Readiness learns to nourish the middle.

Granted, it may require a good deal of preparation, practice, and a certain commitment to practice to become open to insight; and it might even happen that the will to acquire insight is in the beginning a motivating or guiding reason for pursuing meditation (though this certainly needn’t be necessary), to help one adopt a disposition toward experience in which insight is allowed to arrive in consciousness freely – unhindered and pregnant with observable revelations. However, from an early stage and in the core of one’s practice, one must keep a certain sort of distance from the actual or perceived benefits of an existing or nascent meditation practice.

‘What’s that? Of course!’

It’s true that, speaking plainly, meditation must almost necessarily bear insight: to meditate is, in a sense, to understand how to simply be open to the possibility of becoming insightful about who and what you are as a person, as a child, and as a becoming-with-the-earth. In that way, there’s a strong sense in which insight is very likely to be a product of meditation practice. But forbid yourself from indulging in that possibility: for it’s best to see this possibility instead from a distance – else you might miss the moment when she shows up on your doorstep.

Wise are those who know well their mountain caves.

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Practice Makes Practice

Do you remember that old saying – you’ve probably heard it a million times, in one context or another – that “practice makes perfect?” Sure you do. It’s an old platitude that, though we might have heard it most often as children, still comes up here and there in adulthood (maybe you even say it to your kids!). The idea is that the more we work at something, the better we’re going to get at it, whatever it is. Or, to take it even a step further, that if we thoroughly dedicate ourselves to practicing a certain skill or technique, then over time, we may well come close to mastery or flawless execution of the technique in question, resembling perfection. A lofty ideal indeed! Recently, however, I’ve come to wonder what happens if perfection is no longer an ideal we hold in high regard – what happens if we ‘abandon perfection’? Or, in terms a little less idealistic, what happens if we forsake the idea that to practice (at) something is to act toward the end of achieving a defined goal? Does practice become obsolete without a goal to work toward; conceived in such terms, does practice lose its meaning and its value?

Take yoga practice for example. At least as it’s conceived within the Moksha/Modo yoga community, yoga is a practice that does not necessarily aim toward a strictly defined goal or end. Undoubtedly, there are a handful of well documented personal benefits that can result as a byproduct of yoga practice. Looking at it from a strictly philosophical perspective, however, there is no one purpose we’re setting out to achieve in practicing Moksha/Modo yoga (not even the freedom or liberation from which our style gets its name). That’s because our practice is not presented in strictly linear terms, where the idea would be to go from point A to point B to point C, etc., in order to finally achieve mastery or perfection of asana (yoga posture) technique, or its purported spiritual benefits (enlightenment, awakening, peace). Instead, the practice is thought of in circular terms – an attitude motivated by Zen mindfulness practice – where instead of delivering us to a goal, practice inevitably returns us to the beginning: to the humility of not knowing, the limits of perspective, and the inherent folly of attempting to escape the conditions of existence through the pursuit of any ideal (freedom, perfection, Nirvana, enlightenment, health, wealth, etc.).

So to come back to the point, in these terms yoga practice does not make perfect, because the underlying assumption is that there is no perfect form or result of yoga practice that we should be attempting to achieve in the first place. As a form of mindfulness yoga, much like mindfulness meditation, the Moksha/Modo practice is not interested in goals or perfection as such, but rather in the awakening to life – and its myriad wonders – that habitual practice of awareness techniques (like yoga and meditation) can bring in to sharper focus. For us, as Stephen Batchelor so aptly puts it in Buddhism Without Beliefs, “[awakening] is no longer seen as something to attain in a distant future, for it is not a thing but a process – and this process is the path itself.” (Batchelor, 39)*

To return to the question I posed above then, without a goal – without the perfect – does our practice lose its value, or meaning? Suffice it to say that I hardly think so. What our understanding of practice entails is a revaluation of the point or meaning of practice, where engaging in any practice needn’t be confined by the will to achieve perfection in that domain. Though that goal may be contemplated in the early stages of our engagement with practice, in fact perhaps the greatest sign of mastery over time is the full-fledged abandonment of any such idea. Perfection or mastery, once among the ideals of practice, become subsumed by a commitment to practice itself, to the point where a distinction between practice and goals fades to black. In much the same way that a great musician or a great craftsman appears to display mastery even in moments of their least structured improvisation – literally playing in the moment – under this conception, the skilled yoga practitioner is no longer bound by the rigid confines of an idealized achievement, and is therefore free to play, both in yoga and in life: this play amounting to the highest virtue of practical engagement with the world (“flawless execution”, as I put it above). And there, in the special freedom of accident, arbitrariness and experimentation, the practitioner is consumed by the greater play, the dice throw of existence itself. At once gay, fluid, tenuous, integral, wise – our model has found the special freedom so often only ascribed to ancient sages and wise people: the kind of state that is a reflection of the very freedom and flow so well displayed by nature in all its most prominent, and its most minute manifestations.

Practice makes perfect? No: practice makes practice. Why don’t you go give it a try?

*Batchelor, Stephen. Buddhism Without Beliefs. Riverhead Books. New York. 1997.

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Nighttime Walk In Charlottetown

Dark Night,
quiet,
winter.
Canadian Atlantic city.

First day of spring, March 20th:
!
“You wouldn’t know it.”

No complaints; grateful, in fact:
not bitter –
cold,
brisk,
fresh.

New.

Alive
virtual,
becoming.

Breathing.
Breath.

Deep breath in:
light as a feather;
moist,
invigorating.

City?
Small,
quaint,
silent.

Prince’s houses in the dark
seem lofty and fair.

Architecture:
old-fashioned,
distinct,
idiosyncratic.
It’s the east coast of Canada, after all.

Colourful!
A bounty of colours paints the streets,
the houses the paint that animates them.
Even at night!

Keep walking.
Steady pace.
Fluent in stroll.

Heart beat,
hold breath –
thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.

A school,
a playground,
a court.
Decaying.

People, yes two:
harmless. Pass by.
Traffic light.
Stop.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Still here,
now walking.

Mindful,
observant,
aware.

Meditative,
contemplative,
pensive.

Awake,
aflame,
free.

Floating,
dancing,
waltzing?

Rhythm,
harmony,
concert.

Relation,
flow,
flux.

Step in, and move.

Move in step.

Walk

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Attachment-detachment-attachment: same same.

You might hear a lot of chatter about detachment – what to do?

You might reasonably wonder why you should want to detach from something – what could that even really mean?

My old professor from McMaster, Barry Allen, has written a really great book on Chinese philosophy, and in particular the role of knowledge in the Chinese conception of what it means to be a ‘sage’, or a wise person.* Here’s a telling quote regarding our relationship to the self, and the value of working on overcoming it:

“The ‘self’ to get over is selfish desire, meaning desire driven by the fond belief that you are different from others, that you have your own likes and dislikes, that some changes are preferable to others, that there are things you would rather die than go along with. To overcome this self is to blend with others, abandon right and wrong, commingle anywhere, meld with anything, swing like a pivot, flavourless in speech, vanishing into things.

Selfish desires are always self-defeating. They leave us exhausted with contention and confirm that we do not know how to take care of ourselves. To nourish our vitality we should work on our capacity to evolve. The great mistake in life is to get stuck, anywhere; immobilized in a position, captured by cupidity, limited to a perspective.”

Building on this line of thought, here’s my answer to the questions I just posed about detachment: practice a sense of detachment, but don’t really worry about detaching yourself from the things you’re actually attached to. Again, what could the latter even mean? What’s it asking us to do? The take I’d like to offer is that what we need to be practicing is detachment from the ideas (“selfish desires”, as Barry calls them) that cause the things we’re attached too to be obstructions to peace and joy, rather than its most abundant sources.

When it comes down to it, detachment in any other, much stronger sense can only be so good as attachment makes it. There’s no point in detaching completely from something – that would be to end life. Necessarily, we are in a sense always attached to something in this world and universe: we are animals, creatures constituted by our environment, and nothing more. The point of the practice of detachment shouldn’t be about actually detaching from things; the goal shouldn’t be to take us away and detach us from our experience and the features of experience that make life interesting and worth wanting to live – namely the things we’re attached to! What it should be about is detaching ourselves from the ideas and concepts that we employ which tend to make the things that we’re attached to the kinds of things that we want to cling to: in other words, we need to practice detachment from ideas that promote an unhealthy kind of attachment, attachment to the selfish kind of desires (of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t have any desires – that would be equally absurd) that lead to immobilization, cupidity, contention and exhaustion. Detachment practice as it ought to be then, is merely a mental sort of detachment: it’s a detachment of the mind, it’s a detachment from ideas, from concepts that bog us down and make life seem foggy. What it’s not is full-fledged detachment – a retreat, a stepping away, a nihilism, a no-valuation – from that same life, the life that we’re in. My suggestion is that what detachment ought to amount to instead is training the mind to be able to make attachments the real fruit of life, by understanding our attachments and the objects of our attachment as fluid, corporeal, impermanent, malleable, mutable and transient; training the mind (the case of mental illness notwithstanding) in other words, to be able to think of our attachments as what gives life it’s special character – it’s spirit, or ‘dao’ so to speak.

And so next time you hear about detachment, think not so much about actually detaching yourself so much as you think about the extent to which attachment and detachment are simply two sides of the same coin. In truth you’re fated to both attachment and detachment, to the extent that you can be attached to anything – indeed, it’s a damn good thing that people are attached – look at what we can achieve! Practicing ‘true’, ‘absolute’, ‘complete’ detachment, is just as impossible as practicing true attachment, and shouldn’t be wanted anyway: you can never hold on to anything forever – life restricts it; but neither will you ever be able to let anything go completely, by virtue of the fact that you were one time attached to it – life demands it. Consequently, to make detachment practice a fruitful endeavour at all, we need to be aware of how the ‘attachment-detachment’ binary – just as any other – is nothing more than the mere play of words.

Thus the notion of the practice of detachment should not be about completely and absolutely letting go of things, as we might for many reasons justifiably believe – from what we’re told – it should. Instead, it should be about furnishing a state of mind that is conducive to being healthily attached to things, and promotes such a state as one to be cherished, rather than evaded.

*Barry Allen, Vanishing Into Things: Knowledge in Chinese Tradition’ – pg. 80

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Delineating yoga practice, and finding a reason to practice Moksha/Modo Yoga.

The rise of yoga in the west in the modern era, especially in the last 10-20 years as it has risen in popularity across the board in North America, is allowing the discourse on the topic of yoga in the west to become an ever more intriguing point of conversation. From personal, physical and mental health, to social benefits; to vacations, trainings, teachers, students, injuries, anatomy, scandal, philosophy, history, gender, race, sexuality, orientation, colonization, victimization, tradition, and truth, in our time there are a number of angles you can take in approaching, or perhaps broaching, the subject of yoga practice (did I mention practice?). Not to mention the shameless amount of photos it generates. Yes, those darn photos.

I have a bone to pick with those photos. But not because I think people taking photos of themselves or others in yoga postures, or sharing any such photos, is in itself bad. I don’t see why there can’t be both a time and a place for taking a photograph every now and again, to really capture a moment – hopefully one you can look back upon fondly. Rather, it’s because of what I think these photos tend to do to the way we think about how and why we do, or should want to, practice yoga.

Please don’t take this message as me telling you to stop taking photos. If that’s your thing then you may have a good reason to stick with it. What I would like to advocate though is mitigating this behaviour if it looks like it’s influencing your reasons for taking part in the practice of yoga. That is to say that if you practice for any sort of yoga image (I’m sure at some point, if not to this day, I’ve been guilty of doing just that), then from my vantage point anyway, you’re practicing for the wrong reasons – even if that’s not something entirely within your control, which very likely is the case.

A discussion that it increasingly seems to me we ought to add to the discourse on yoga, is a discussion on the extent to which the notion of a ‘yoga image’, per se, can influence the way we tend to think about our practice. In particular, I want to defend the idea that practicing yoga under the guise of pursuing any form of yoga image is one way we might come to think about yoga in a potentially nocuous, or at the very least suboptimal, manner. This follows because the pursuit of a yoga image is tantamount to pursuing a linear approach to one’s practice, which obscures so much of the wisdom that yoga has the ability to help impart.

In short, I’d like to do my part to champion the ‘delineation’ of yoga practice: and I’m not going to ask you to pardon the pun because I fully intend it. On one hand, it means we all need to do a better job cleaning up the way we use language to describe yoga practice and benefits; on the other, I think we need to bring to the fore the question of promoting a non-linear, or if you like “circular” yoga practice, rather than what it seems to be most often promoted for when it’s championed in countless forums, and what a yoga image has us focusing on almost monolithically: namely, linearity.

It would be a mistake to conclude from this critique of yoga practice in the West that I don’t appreciate linearity. I think as a means of human intelligence, and a clear and proud display of it, the ability that has come to us now almost as second nature – to think in terms of linear progressions, and to cognize our experience of the world and our lives in terms of linearity – has few rivals in terms of one of the really cool features of human social and existential cognition. Of course, I think that I clearly and happily put my own ability to reason in a linear fashion to use on much more than a regular basis, and I’m quite pleased that I do, and am fairly grateful I even can (this post being a good example). More and more, however, strictly linear thinking appears to be now steeped in our culture to an unhealthy extent, and this comes out in – yes, a rather ugly way – the way we pursue yoga practice.

Where the fixation on the yoga image can do so much to hamper and misalign potential or actual yoga practitioners, is in the extent to which it gets us thinking about yoga practice in terms of a strictly linear progression, from some sort of point ‘A’ to some sort of point ‘B’ (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.), which very much betrays the wisdom that lies at the heart of the philosophical traditions from which yoga practice has arisen. What I would consider to be one of the more fearful consequences of the overlapping of postural yoga practice in the west, and typical and popular modern western discourse, is the confusion such an overlap has created, of talking and thinking about yoga in linear terms, and practicing in such a way as to match that approach. What such a confusion prevents us from seeing is that yoga might best be conceived as a circular practice, and we that we should indeed take it up using a nonlinear approach.

What makes practicing yoga such a potentially rewarding endeavour, for anyone, is the extent to which it might help us to nurture and savour our lives: yoga is at its core a deeply philosophical practice – a practice of life, you might say. My impression (or, perhaps more strongly, my conviction) is that it should do so, however, in large part by means of its little known, or at least under-discussed, knack for helping to reveal circularity, circular patterns, and cycles. The phenomenon of circularity, or nonlinearity, can help be revealed by a keen and dedicated yoga practice, and it’s a phenomenon that constituted the core of the worldview embedded in some of the most famous Eastern wisdom traditions, like Daoism and Buddhism ‘proper’ (Siddhartha Gautama’s, Buddhism). The idea is that nature, and thus our lives as we experience them in the first-person, is constantly displaying cycles and circularity, and actually very rarely manifests itself in linear progressions. Tuning into this reality of cycles and circularity, becoming aware of it, can alone border on the incredible and simply awe-inspiring. It can even help us make sense of a world that so often appears out of order (i.e., not linear), but it’s a reality we tend to fail to appreciate because of our obsession with, and our culturally embedded practices of strict linearity. Awakening us to, and helping us to appreciate the apparent circularity, and cyclical nature of so many things in this world, including human life, is one of the core philosophical lessons yoga practice has to offer us, but this lesson is easily obscured when we concentrate solely, or primarily, on our yoga image or fall prey to a manifestation of yoga practice as a practice of linearity (taking up yoga to get us from point A to point B). And so I urge you: discard the idea of using yoga to achieve an image, in any way that might mean. If anything, shamelessly use yoga as a means to helping you perceive circularity, and get used to what that feels like in your body, mind, and life. I hope this approach will help you get in a bit better touch with life in a meaningful and deeply engaging way.

Much of my own love affair with Moksha/Modo yoga has to do with the fact that I believe our practice does an excellent job, if given the requisite attention, of helping us understand what it feels like to be part of a cycle, and to help us see the ways cycles occur everyday, on an exceptionally regular basis, in the very world in front of our eyes. In offering a beginner’s practice, we offer seasoned yogis and prospective students a practice of accessibility, health, integrity and depth. In offering a beginner’s practice, we support, express and embody a commitment to circularity, by suggesting and practicing a return to the beginning, and to a beginner’s mind. That’s Moksha/Modo yoga. And so I offer you a reason to pursue our practice – like anything you see or hear in the world, take it for what it’s worth.

Coming closer to an understanding and a practice of the necessary link between linearity and circularity is perhaps one of the best ways to find that old path to awareness, awakening, and a true sense of union with things (‘yoga’). Maybe that doesn’t mean a thing to you, and that’s just fine. Maybe it inspires you – that’s equally fine. Just don’t try to take a picture of yourself in a perfect circle, for you’re sure to get yourself hurt.

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A Shoveller’s Dao

St. John's Snow

 

So it’s finally started to snow a little bit out here.

 

As a result, I’ve just had one of the hardest, most rigorous shovelling experiences of my life here in St. John’s, in the midst of this spirited winter storm. For 2 hours straight I took on the build up of roughly 2 feet of snow, on our 60ish foot., single lane driveway. It was heavy work, and there were a few times I didn’t think I’d make it to the end. But of course I had to – what kind of Canadian would I be if I didn’t?

 

But in all honesty, something a little different helped drive me today. It being a snow day here, I’d just watched my first Bruce Lee film this afternoon (Enter The Dragon), which I was inspired to yesterday after watching this excellent video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl1sS1kVAvA). What strikes me about Bruce’s thinking, as much as his martial arts skill, is that he speaks a language I love to hear, philosophically. When he spins those Daoist rhymes, baby – ohhh, I feel the heat! And I was really pleased to read – after watching Enter The Dragon – that his book, Dao of Jeet Kune Do, begins with the following poem of Daoist origin:

 

Into a soul absolutely free

From thoughts and emotion

Even the tiger finds no room

To inserts its fierce claws.

 

One and the same breeze passes

Over the pines on the mountain

And the oak trees in the valley;

And why do they give different notes?

 

No thinking, no reflecting,

Perfect emptiness;

Yet therein something moves,

Following its own course

 

The eye sees it,

But no hands can take hold of it –

The moon in the stream.

 

Clouds and mists,

They are midair transformations

Above them eternally shine the sun and the moon.

 

Victory is for the one,

Even before the combat,

Who has no thought of himself.

Abiding in the no-mind-ness of Great origin.

 

And when I went to shovel tonight, there was an incredible sense for me that even though that act of shovelling constituted a great trial of will and fortitude, I am not that challenge. I am not I, at all. Rather, what I am is simply a part of the process of the storm, looked upon from the human perspective. All my frustration, my cursing, and my exertion, were simply manifestations of this winter storm: a storm that is no less different from me than my thoughts, my concept of self, and my mind. With this insight as motivation, and with a lingering, though considerably diminished sense of Canadian pride, I felt compelled to finish the job in spite of the rigour it demanded.

 

What more is the shovelling, but an opportunity for meditation? What more is it, I ask, than an opportunity to flow?

 

Shovelling without shovelling,

I become the shovelling.

To be a storm without storm,

I become the storm.

 

 

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Being Green: On Walking, And The Special Way Darwin & Nietzsche Continue To Influence My Life

20141229_145307(Oxen Pond Walk – St. John’s, NL)

I guess I’ve always thought of myself as something of a walker. I think this probably has a lot to do with the way my parents used, and talked about, walking respectively. When I was a teenager, my mother became a real treadmill walker for the span of 4-5 years as part of an effort to lose weight (which she did – over 1-2 years, roughly 50 pounds in total) and was always the first to endorse walking as a great form of exercise, especially for women in their mid-forties. My Dad and I had a special relation to walking too, though. My bond with my father as one of my best friends was in large part generated in our outings to downtown Toronto to watch professional sports events, something a lot of my friends only got to do on a very rare occasion (if ever – I was very fortunate to have my father choose to pass time with me in this way). Dad really knew his way around Toronto – as a former TTC employee and Toronto resident, he understood where to park in Toronto for free, rather than pay exorbitant downtown parking prices. But of course, that meant that we didn’t park close to the stadium or arena all that often – we would usually have a good 10-15 minute walk to and from the game, on account of where he wanted to park. Looking back now, more than the games themselves, what I remember most about going to those games is the walks with my Dad that helped get me there. I’ll always remember Dad talking about his walking the streets of Europe in the late 70’s, and the way he approached it – as something to really embrace. And he carried that attitude about walking whenever we had to do it: an opportunity for movement, one where we could share our thoughts to one another in a lively and engaging manner, and feel the pulse of a city and culture – that’s a good thing and always will be. And so I always valued walking as a young guy, and still do, because it always had positive association for me (on a number of occasions in high school, I would even bike 20 minutes to a friend’s so I could walk with him and my other friends another 40 minutes to school!). Now, I carry something of a similar perspective regarding the value of walking, in large part due to these influences – though I think my way of looking at it now is best explained in philosophical terms.

You see, there have been a number of influences on the way I understand nature. Part of doing two degrees in philosophy means that you get to learn about nature, for nature is one of philosophy’s greatest concerns (interestingly enough, prior to the Renaissance & Enlightenment, most scientists were simply called, ‘natural philosophers’). There are a number of thinkers who have influenced the way I tend to look at things on the whole, but in one way or another, few are more important than the classical Chinese Daoist, Zhuangzi (sometimes, Chuang-Tsu), Charles Darwin, and Friedrich Nietzsche. For now I’ll focus on the last two, because to me, they are prime examples of men who not only provided thorough insight about nature in their own distinct ways, but also had a keen interest in their own personal connection to nature, and understood the fruits of such a connection. What’s interesting to me above all, however, is that it seems fair to say that the way both men did this, was to go for a good walk.

At my convocation ceremony last November, one of the speakers gave a speech on the way Darwin used to make use of his time at his house at Downhome in his mature years. What was interesting about that talk is that the speaker really emphasized the extent to which, for Darwin, going for a walk as part of his daily routine, was much more than mere exercise. This was an opportunity for Darwin to connect with nature – to take in its beauty, examine its intricacies, and learn from its wonders. Even if only in his backyard (which, admittedly, was probably rather extensive and lush), Darwin never ceased to be intrigued by nature, nor did he cease to analyze it in order to verify his theory of the evolution of species. For Darwin, going for a walk seems generally to have involved active thoughtful engagement with his surroundings – and in this way, we might even say that for him it became a kind of meditation: an opportunity to be in nature, and concentrate singularly on its apparent machinations and function – an opportunity without which Darwin may never have been able to analyze primary natural phenomena to the very full extent that he did. And so it seems that Darwin understood something about nature, that doesn’t necessarily come out in any of his theories on that subject: namely, that walking is not only one of the primary means according to which we can physically connect with nature, but that among a host of other things, it’s also one of the best ways to generate fruitful thought, and enjoy fruitful contemplation, generally – both during, and in between walks. And needless to say, for his time, what Darwin proposed in theory on the topic of nature has few rivals, and his influence on the modern western scientific outlook is only further testament to that fact. Like his (roughly) contemporary counterpart, Nietzsche, Darwin lived out his connection to nature in walking – and that very much paid dividends to the general efficacy of Darwin’s work ethic as a scholar; and to his penetrating perception, and description, of the world from the point of view of a human being.

When I heard this speech given at convocation, I was struck by the extent to which Darwin’s walking hobby, and the way it undoubtedly facilitated his thinking, reflection, and contemplation, seemed a natural parallel to Nietzsche’s. One of Nietzsche’s great works is Thus Spoke Zarathustra: a book written in lyrics, telling the tale of the life of Zarathustra – a wandering prophet who gave voice to the ideas of ‘the death of God’ and ‘self-overcoming’; the ‘Overman’, and saying ‘Yes!’ One of the less popularly known concepts that Zarathustra discusses in this work though, is that of nature – and I think this emphasis reflects Nietzsche’s interest, as the author, in that topic. It is (and hopefully will be) a subject for another day to write about what all Zarathustra and Nietzsche say respectively about nature (NB: though Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s character, he is not necessarily Nietzsche’s mouthpiece for relaying what Nietzsche himself believed, so it’s fair to actually analyze what they say about nature separately). For now, I’ll have to let you read more on that on your own. But what’s worth emphasizing for the purpose of this piece is simply the fact that throughout TSZ, Zarathustra is prone to wandering in nature – he really is a walker; and he even often refers to walking in his metaphors and similes. That Nietzsche conceives Zarathustra as his most important contribution to the world as a writer and a thinker, might tell us something about the way Nietzsche viewed the value of walking – in that his most important literary construction himself was a great walker and wanderer. Or, at least, I think it does because we have a pretty good idea that Nietzsche himself was a walker, and a bit of a wanderer. Since Nietzsche decided to quit his job as a university professor at a very young age (before he was thirty), and not being from a wealthy family, Nietzsche was not particularly well to do. I’m not sure you’d call him poor, but the man certainly didn’t share in the sort of relative wealth that most academics of his calibre would have been able to at the time. From my understanding, he was something of a nomad as a result. He lived in a number of countries, among which Germany, Italy and Switzerland stand out in my mind as relevant. So, there’s an aspect of wandering and getting around in the world that is alive in Nietzsche’s life, and in his thought. And where he went, he would also spend a good deal of time walking. He is known to have walked in the hills of southern Italy, and traversed footpaths in the mountain forests of the Swiss Alps. For Nietzsche, who was also chronically ill for most of his life, it stands to reason that walking was not only an opportunity to clarify his thoughts and sharpen his insight, which itself provides mental relief from stress and anxiety; in fact, exercise, fresh air, and movement in nature probably offered Nietzsche some form of therapy from his physical ailments, ailments like nausea and severe migraines. And this relief found in walking, was a means for Nietzsche to articulating his ideas and thoughts, which he largely expressed in aphorisms (part of some 10,000 pages of literary work Nietzsche produced in his 45 sane years on earth) – pithy, concise thoughts that likely often developed from his meditations while walking. In sum Nietzsche, who from my view ended up insightfully contributing to a reasonable and viable, non-metaphysical or supernatural philosophical understanding of nature (one that I think is, given the appropriate qualifications, perfectly compatible by the way with the theory of evolution, and the understanding of the Dao posited by the ancient Daoists), had a very intimate connection to nature himself, in that he, like Darwin, was a routine walker. My suggestion, for now, is that the movement Nietzsche found in walking is representative of the way he lived his life, and provided a primary means according to which he could engage with the way of nature, and elucidate how he understood its function – much like it did, I think, for Darwin.

Perhaps you can tell then, but I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to it these last few weeks, and I am prepared to say that I think this connection between Darwin and Nietzsche – though it is of course nothing more than my own analysis of the history, and is purely coincidental – is very much something worth paying attention to: especially if one is inclined to refine one’s relationship with nature, and to be able to engage with it critically at an elevated level of mindfulness. It’s of course not to say that ‘the reason’ these men were able to write, think, and live the way they did, was due to their walking – of course no one thing can be so responsible. It’s also not to suggest that simply by walking will we fall upon philosophical and scientific insights comparably novel and influential to those of Nietzsche and Darwin. But it is to point out that we stand to learn much from these two men whose insight about nature was so profound. It is to say, in other words, that we might do well to follow the footsteps (pardon the expression) of these thinkers, and take to walking: for there are few better ways to really be in nature and actively engage with it, and literally, ‘be green’. If we are so disposed, the result may not only be a greater connection to nature, but to the way it operates, functions, and how it can be thought of; and, – dare I say? – to our own natures. Indeed, this is the value of walking to me now. And though I think much of this is motivated by the way walking was approached and talked about by my parents when I was being raised as a youngster, much of it is motivated by my respect for, and gratitude for, key thinkers like Darwin and Nietzsche; and by how their thought has helped to shape my perspective on life and nature respectively.

Thus, I propose the following: to ‘Be Green’, I am going to walk. It’s already started actually. Having moved recently to St. John’s, I’ve been enjoying starting to walk on the city’s trails, of which there are plenty (indeed, this is one of the reasons I saw St. John’s, Newfoundland as a great place to live – because I knew this new found land was a place where there would be lots of land and sea to behold). And I am going to continue walking. I have a dog I’m now partly responsible for taking on walks for exercise, and I want to walk to help him stay healthy, but also (and frankly, more importantly) I want to get outside in nature (even when that means doing so in the blustery winter winds off the Atlantic in Mid-January…), and walking is how I’ll do it. Of course, by now it should be clear that I buy into the idea that walking is a way to get a better sense of one’s connection to nature, and to one’s understanding of it; I also happen to subscribe though, to the pretty sensible idea that walking is a great way of keeping the spine mobile and healthy, without putting a lot of pressure on it or putting it at risk of injury. In that way, I suggest walking as my way of really being green: of immersing myself in nature (not necessarily concentrating strictly on its preservation – on ‘keeping’ it green, so to speak) in a way supports my physical and mental wellbeing. My proposition is to walk outside a minimum of 20 hours (one hour each day for twenty days out of thirty, at least) between Dec. 25th 2014 and January 25th, 2015, and to continue that pursuit well into the future – and in fact make it part of my regular fitness and personal health routine. Today – Jan. 6th – I have already logged 8 hours. I’m certain that on a number of different fronts, I am already enjoying the fruits of my commitment to return to one of my oldest, and favourite, hobbies.

 

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