About

 

People have long asked themselves, how should we live, to be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise? Should we seek to create a utopia, an ideal that we know in our hearts can never be realised? Or should we capitulate to a realisation, within the coordinates of what is possible, that we are reactionary beings, urged purely by survival to grasp and grab the nearest opiate?

The way of Yoga offers a manner of interaction with experience that requires an attitude of compassion, humility and forgiveness. These urges are not evil: they are simply the combined threads of our interwoven past and present, distant and immediate, bringing us into our current relationship. None of us set out to harm ourselves or others, or if we do, it is because we have managed to succumb to the delusions that there is an elsewhere, where all things are different, and all will be forgiven. There is not. And the only one to ask forgiveness of is yourself: can you forgive yourself for that mean act, that deliberate ignoring, that manipulation? You must both learn to, and be determined to learn how to open the space between reaction and response so that you don’t have to ask yourself forgiveness again, and again (although, inevitably, you will have to keep asking yourself for forgiveness, as you become more and more sensitive to your involvement in relationships that are detrimental, that create and recreate suffering).

I practice realisation – not well. I am not in a state of permanent enlightenment. I have a moment, here and there, of deep appreciation when it seems that the attitude I find most helpful, the attitude of complete compassion, swells to encompass all the relationships I’m in and then it is effortless to act in ways that allow all activity and information to flow freely. However, I am also liable to falter, sneer, argue, scream and rage against the conditions I find myself in. I’m no guru.

Nevertheless, I’m much more liable to extricate myself from the self-satisfaction of deep disgust with myself and the world that used to hold me in its thrall, not least during nearly thirty years of bulimia. I’ve overcome that prison, and the prison of guilt and shame associated with childhood abuse at a boarding school. And the practice of Yoga and, for me, its heart, which is meditation (that I now practice in the Zen style as zazen) has been the gate, the path, and the moment by moment awakening into radical acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion.

In all, therefore, I’m like most people, although my experience of my life has been of somewhat extreme dips and precipices. Keeping open and alert to the shifts and interchanges of everyday existence feeds my need for drama: there is plenty going on, still. Yet, it is less repetitive now. The unique nature of each interaction keeps surprising me with its unexpectedness. The way of Yoga is definitely not for the fainthearted. But it is most certainly a way for those who seek to understand their experience and develop healthier relationships through that understanding.

Before I lived here, I was a researcher in a refugee camp in Kenya; before that, I was a researcher in Oxford, and a therapeutic practitioner, a volunteer in various countries of the global South, and a long time before that, a ‘monitrice de ski’!

11 Responses to About

  1. gamanrad says:

    why, thank you, Patrick. I wish you well in your coming to terms with what sounds like a very painful and traumatic life. But then, not many of us get off too lightly. I always refer back to ‘If this is a Man’. Great book. You think you’ve solved something. You find the problem lies elsewhere. And so it goes on until you realise that the problem is attitude, where you’re looking from, not what you’re looking at. Which is not to say other people can be shits. They absolutely can. Anyhow, Shanti.

  2. gamanrad says:

    Thanks, Ken. I’m new to this but will attempt to keep it simple but effective to get points across.

  3. ozarkbear says:

    Have you read The Way of Zen by Alan Watts? I think you’d really enjoy it. Another good one is Not Always So, a collection of Shunryu Suzuki’s teachings. It’s one of those books you can open up and just start reading. Anyway, what have you been reading? I’m curious. =3

    • gamanrad says:

      The only Alan Watts I’ve read, and it was a long time ago, is ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’. I was a Philosophy undergrad and very, very insecure, existentially, emotionally, financially, and politically. It was interesting how I used it to justify some outrageous acts, but there you go. It probably allowed me to believe that the road I took – to work as a volunteer and deliberately, thereby, impoverish myself, leading to burn-out, and other effects, both useful and less useful, that have led to where I am – was worth exploring. And it has been, though it’s been very painful!
      I’d love to read The Way of Zen but I’m attempting to screw my courage to the sticking post, as Shakespeare would have it, and settle down to a long and arduous battle with writing a thesis. For the record, I’ve just read ‘Fair Play’ by Tove Jansson (as light relief), Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Findings’ and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres. but my thesis demands that I read the Shobogenzo. To that end, I’ve read Mystical Realist by Hee-Jin Kim, as well as going through two editions, the one edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and the one that you can get online from Shambala. On the other side of my research, I’ve read a lot of papers critiquing various anthropocentric perspectives, and I’ve studied Paul Taylor’s, Respect for Nature, in detail. I’ve also read lots of works by Callicott and Ames who write about Comparative Philosophies of Nature, East and West. Another huge influence has been Stephen Jay Gould. Since I’m looking at things from an atheistic perspective, I’ve read a lot of critiques of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett. Daniel Ariely has been influential in my thinking, as have philosophers in the tradition of animal behaviour from Stephen J. Clarke to Mary Midgley, and beyond. And then I’ve read a lot about evolutionary morality and primate morality, so from Frans de Waal to Richard Joyce. I also read Yoga texts (because I teach yoga but am interested in incorporating the ideas into the philosophy, which is an attempt at an integrated, Philosophy as Practice). James Mallinson has written some excellent papers about the origins of Yoga and the notion that it is not a religion, but a practice. Thanks for your interest. I will read those other books when I can!

  4. Ben Ryding says:

    I enjoyed reading this about page. I had one question: It is my understanding that materialistic nihilism is not opposed to Zen Buddhism. They are unrelated categories of thought — one can hold both views simultaneously. Could you say a little more about what you mean here?

    • gamanrad says:

      Hi, Ben. Thanks for your kind comment. I’m very new to this and I’m in the throes of reformulating the hypotheses upon which I’ll built the writing of my thesis, covering the vast and controversial area of the response to the ecological crisis, from the point of view of philosophy as a practice (rather than a theory), so I’ve been attempting to use wordpress as a way to help concentrate the mind and focus on the main threads. During my research, I came across (as I’ve just commented on your ‘about’ – I told you I’m new to this, and very awkward, like a skater on ice for the first time!) the idea of materialistic nihilism in, I think, David Chapman’s blog on the subject (at http://www.meaningness.com) and you’re right, it’s not opposed to Zen Buddhism, but it’s often mistaken for it – in the sense that there’s a temptation amongst those interpreting Zen in the global North to understand the ‘nothingness’ at its heart as a reductionist position, throwing them back on an acceptance that the material is all that exists, even though the material is, of course, temporary (and, in that sense, illusory). Of course, Zen Buddhism itself as a term covers a massive swathe of possible positions and that’s why I wanted to triangulate my own. The other interpretation of Zen has been that which treats the emptiness as a potentiality, or that imbues something mysterious behind the entire material realm in a move that echoes panpsychism. I’m more of the emergent view – consciousness is emergent, materialism is emergent – but not in the sense that this therefore means it is imbued with god, or chi, or even with nothingness. Nothingness, or emptiness, is the condition within which everything rests. In a sense, it is of course a condition of potential, but I’m not sure it ‘knows’ that in any meaningful way. And this is the challenge. To resist anthropomorphising ‘it’ or saying that the existence I have has a purpose according to ‘it’. Instead, the very poignancy of the situation, when it is realised in both senses, becomes a means of exercising compassion. Qualitative engagement – love, compassion, patience, understanding – can come about through this realisation. I’m working through some material about the dissapation of energy through systems and how observation, reflection, and an ability to contain attachment (through recognition), or detach from those points at which we tend to want to hold energy, is a facilitation of the flow of energy. Of course, this takes me perilously close to the account of Tao, a mortal sin under Dogen’s stern warnings about mixing faiths. Still, I’m happily irreverent, and keen to look at how edges and margins blur, depending on the focus. Happy reading!

      • Ben Ryding says:

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I, admittedly, have very little knowledge of Zen Buddhism, and I am always interested in hearing new and thoughtful perspectives about reality!

      • gamanrad says:

        I have very little knowledge about Zen either, Ben! I have, however, consciously lived out in practice what philosophy, or a love of knowledge, has shown me to be the case, and this (apart from all the times I have stumbled and fallen, often!) has led me to consciously clear away the attachments I had to beliefs and expectations from family and friends that I had found to be lacking in good sense. I became atheistic (agnostic, really, since one can never be sure, but as close to atheism as it’s reasonably possible to be!) not because I didn’t want to believe in God, but because there was no sense in it, once the arguments had all been examined. I became convinced that the quest for happiness through accumulating wealth was equally in vain. And from a young age, I became convinced that it was impossible to be at peace with oneself and the world if one worked in an industry that involved needless consumerism, that relied on questionable business practices or the adverse use of human, animal or environmental materials. This, naturally enough, has resulted in my own impoverishment (along with working for long periods as a volunteer in developing countries, and being in academia for just as long). But none of it means I’m a saint, by any standards. I’ve taken jobs I thought were relatively harmless – working with people with emotional and behavioural difficulties, or on back-to-education schemes – but I’ve been very depressed with the lack of financial security. I’ve also allowed myself and my son to buy (second hand) iPhones at various stages. The kids insisted on a tv. We even have Sky. I don’t watch it but it’s cheaper than the alternative in Ireland right now. So lots of my decisions are pragmatic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t judge anyone (OK, I judge people all the time, but I’m aware it’s not helpful). And I’m utterly averse to the idea of fame or notoriety (not that it would come my way, even if I did court it!). What I do think is that there needs to be more awareness and realisation of the calm way that is possible through Zen, the way of peace that is effortful, but not impossibly over-demanding. I’m seeing if I can steer a course between ‘Zen lite’ and fundamentalism. I think this echoes the Buddha, but updates the practical relevance of the philosophy. Firstly, I don’t think we need take anything on trust, as it were. Questioning is what we do, as a species. It’s the first step in the problem-solving game of which we are so fond. Secondly, though, I think that we can attain tremendous calm and steadiness by watching ourselves watching, by seeing ourselves in the process of steadily untangling the chain of thoughts so that we become more and more open to the possibility that we can shift the dynamic and do things that are less kneejerk cause and effect responses and more observant, listening responses to as much information we can garner from what’s going on, right now. I’d agree with anyone that this is a phenomenally ambitious task, but I’d also say that it’s worth every bead of sweat, every tear. Sorry for the length of the response: I didn’t have time to write something more succinct, to paraphrase Twain!

  5. D_D says:

    Hello,

    Didn’t know you had a new (now not new at all) blog. But you did say you were writing like a mad woman :) LinkedIn notified me for some reason! I can understand the ‘most beautiful’ nomination, what with the basic design and then the photographs. I have not sampled the content at all though (looks interesting at a glance, even to this materialist mind), and want to get your OK before delving into what seems to be fairly personal, if public.

    • gamanrad says:

      No worries, D! I’m trying to put together a bit of a portfolio so I can tout my services as a copywriter. I’d done a blog before but it was a bit angry so I thought I’d put together a more serene, if slightly disturbed, collection of thoughts, with a link to thesis work and research and so on.
      Enjoy!
      x

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