Saturday, March 28, 2009

61/86 More Self Study

Friday off.

I took the day off because it's Yanzi's first birthday.  It's a Chinese thing:  they get to have a birthday according to the lunar calendar, and then they get another one by ours.  And if she wants to celebrate twice, that's fine with me.

It turns out that self study, as I suspected, does not just concern itself with spiritual texts.  Basically it's any form of study that starts to turn inward.  Thus, to take the obvious example, asana practice is a form of self study.  

I think this is probably pretty obvious to anyone who has paid serious attention to how they are performing a posture.  You learn about your body, of course, but also about your edge.  You learn when you can push, and when to hold back.  And you might learn that you have deeper reserves than you ever thought possible.  And that its possible to get comfortable with conditions that are very uncomfortable, and eventually to find some peace there.  If asana practice did not invite this element of self study, the yoga would not lead to the revelations, and to the feelings of peacefulness, that many people get from it -- even people who are otherwise unfamiliar with the other paths within yoga.

Gates also says that it doesn't matter how large or small a thing you study.  And that seems clear from asana practice as well.  If you focus well on the tiniest detail, it can lead to a new appreciation of a pose, a part of the routine, your body, your overall attitude, etc...  As Gates puts it, there are no big insights or small insights, there is only insight.  

This reminds me of a passage from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Pirsig was talking about trying to get some students to do some writing on a topic, and when the assignment was to write on anything, many of the students came up blank.  He kept narrowing the topic, and narrowing the topic.  Finally, when he told them to pick a particular brick on a particular building and write about that, things just opened up and the students who were blocked finally made their breakthrough.  That seems silly, but I've tried it with students as well (using things other than the brick), and it works.  So I fully buy into this idea that focusing on the small can be as productive as looking at the big picture.

Gates also says that all objects of study are equally important.  That seems to flow from the idea that everything is interconnected.  It's a nice thought, but I'm not sure that I buy it.  Moreover, I'm not sure that Gates believes it either.  If he did, then why the emphasis on reading spiritual texts over trashy fiction.  

I'm actually very sympathetic to the idea that all objects of study have equal importance, at least in the sense that they can be equivalent gateways.  Things are interconnected, and while it may not be that big a deal to find the pathway from each thing to Kevin Bacon, I think exploring the way other things interrelate is usually worthwhile.  (In his brief lectures on Psychology, Wittgenstein somewhere makes a comment that you could find just as much about a person by psychoanalyzing his impressions of a detective movie, as psychoanalyzing his dreams.   And I think this is a very astute point, and not necessarily a criticism of psychoanalysis.  When it comes to studying the spirit, virtually anything could be used as a starting point.)


1 comment:

Ellen in Hawaii said...

I think that there is a lot to be learned from both spiritual works and others that might be deemed "trash" alike - but only if you approach each with a critical mind. If you take the approach f a student, even something like a tabloid TV show can have deeper connotations about a wide variety of issues. But there's a big difference between just absorbing and studying. Like the perception shift between watching a Disney movie like it was real actual events or watching it as a commentary on the culture the stories evolved from.