Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way–Transformation | Überwindung und Übergang

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I share many of the posts from that blog when I write them, as they fit in well here too. This one is about Nietzsche’s philosophy as an inspiration for an energetic/emotional stance towards life, for instance. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


Ich lehre euch den Übermenschen. Der Mensch ist Etwas, das überwunden werden soll. Was habt ihr gethan, ihn zu überwinden?

English: I teach you about the Overhuman. The human is something that should be overcome (Note: “überwunden” – post’s title, “Überwindung”, is the related noun). What have you done to overcome it?

Nietzsche, “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Erster Teil, Abschnitt 3 von Projekt Gutenberg, English my translation

Was gross ist am Menschen, das ist, dass er eine Brücke und kein Zweck ist: was geliebt werden kann am Menschen, das ist, dass er ein Übergang und ein Untergang ist.

Ich liebe Die, welche nicht zu leben wissen, es sei denn als Untergehende, denn es sind die Hinübergehenden.

English: What is great in the human is that it is a bridge and no goal. What can be loved in the human is that it is a going-over (Note: “Übergang” as in title) and a going-under.

I love those who only know to live as one who goes under, as they are those who go over.

Nietzsche, “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Erster Teil, Abschnitt 4 von Projekt Gutenberg, English my translation

As a precursor, I have to open this with a clarification of stance and intention. Russian Circles vies for the place of my favorite band. I’ve listened to them more than any other band for the last few years, and I’m thrilled that they will be touring through here next week. I’ve been waiting to see them live for years. I’ve written about them one time previously here, but I haven’t even touched on the depth of meaning and empowerment they inspire in me. This post will be a rough attempt at that, riffing on some ideas from Nietzsche and the Stoics that came to mind last night.

I was going down stairs last night with a weighted vest on, having pushed myself to climb up them multiple times with that extra weight. My legs ached. Such is the pain of pushing oneself to the limit through bearing extra heaviness. Perhaps Nietzsche’s own Spirit of Heaviness from Zarathustra echoed in the recesses of my nonconscious mind, as I flashed on the “Untergang” of going down the stairs in the darkness, the going-under. My mind jumped between Nietzsche’s own strong usage of the term (as above) and its connection to the overcoming and overgoing/going-over of the Overhuman (Übermensch) as well as a philosophical friend pointing out years ago that Plato’s Republic begins with Socrates going down out of the city to the manor for the festival and party where the dialogue takes place. That connection always feels both random and not accidental every time I think of it, somehow.

As I thought of these things, Russian Circles’ Memorial played in my ear buds. Even with their magnificent recent release, and despite the fact that I would say Guidance is their best album, Memorial is the album that I listen to the most with them. It’s haunting – literally and figuratively: literally because it’s an album that stays in your mind after listening; figuratively because it is about grieving and that ambience dominates throughout the album, so it is about the specters of the past.

I’ve wanted to write about this band and find a particular song to focus on for some time. In the past year, I’ve been obsessed with “Micah” from Enter, “Vorel” from Guidance, and “Harper Lewis” from Station among so many excellent songs. I could pick multiple songs from any of their albums to speak about, so it’s really difficult to pick one to summarize a message and a feeling that I sense carries across their albums, despite their very different tones and technical explorations in each.

Recently, I was on another walk, the first with that physical version of the Spirit of Heaviness, the weighted vest, and I was also listening to Memorial. When I hit “Ethel”, I felt so incredibly empowered in the way that I can only describe as a Nietzschean overcoming and overgoing, what I always associate with light feet. I wrote about this long ago in a grad school class where I wrote aphorismically about therapy and existentialism:

12) Healing thyself.  As Nietzsche said: “Everything good is instinctive – and consequently light, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, gods and heroes belong to different types (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity)”.  Light feet as divinity – a revelation!  Feeling the weight of heaviness keeps us from running, dancing, flying…  We encounter the suffering of others all the time, but we are more than just vessels for suffering.  Staying healthy requires a lightness of foot, mind, and soul, rather than the heaviness of disease; it requires a quick, easy readiness to laugh!  Remember that to heal oneself is a dance with the abundant radiance that is in oneself, in the Other – “You”, and in the world.  Light feet…  

Writing mine. Quote from Nietzsche: Nietzsche, F. (2002).  Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thinking of all these moments last night, the Nietzschean contrast of going-under and going-over, undergoing and overgoing, came to me as the dynamic pull to describe in Russian Circles’ music. All of their work feels like a facing difficulty and moving forward through it, a being destroyed and reborn, a Stoic resolve (a supposed Nietzschean influence, although I find him to be at the very least an early modern/existentialist reimagining of the attitude; Deleuze was right in emphasizing the dynamism of Nietzsche’s energetics affirmation and transformation: that’s precisely what’s at play with the transformation of destruction, going-under, into a positive creation and affirmation of the entire process, going-over). I remember doing a lot of research into Russian Circles’ message some time ago, and I swear that one of the band members said something very similar of Guidance, but returning to the search today, I can’t find it. I did, however, find this echo in a review of Guidance that summarizes this dynamic march of strength and resolve well: ” Guidance is another steady step in their journey, a record that bears the artwork of that photo packet that came into the band’s possession, trying to paint a portrait of strength and dignity even in the face of hell” (Meat Mead Metal Album Review, July 2016). That review is fantastic because it gives an explanation of the evocative album cover of Guidance. It’s an image of a man being marched to his execution: hence the portrait of strength and dignity even in the face of hell. Furthermore, nothing is more existentialist (think of Camus’ The Stranger or Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return). The thing is, that strength and dignity is what I get in every Russian Circles album albeit with different overtones and undertones, different supporting themes and feelings around it. That stance is there throughout: an overcoming and overgoing, eine Überwindung und Übergang.

Again, “Ethel” is a fantastic example of this. It’s a song full of major key energy in the midst of an album exploring the various layers of grief. It’s only a couple songs before the final song, a song where Russian Circles has a guest vocalist who sings of going crazy and grieving the heartbreak of the past, questioning the validity and intensity of that experience, while undergoing it. “Ethel” in contrast feels like someone dancing and climbing mountains, no matter the weight, overgoing in precisely the way I aspired to in running up stairs while wearing a weighted vest.

I hope to write more about Russian Circles after seeing them next week and about that track with vocals, but at this point, I think I’ve summarized the theme and feeling well enough to leave you with “Ethel” as a song to experience and hope you will check out the rest of that album and their discography in general.

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way — A New Cycle | Spotlight: Coastlands

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I felt it must be shared, as the song I highlight and the experience I had in the described concert really resonate with the last post I just wrote. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


This last weekend, I had the pleasure of a short road trip to attend the Post-Rock and Friends Fest in Portland, OR. I had a chance to see a few bands live whom I’d been wanting to see for years. I’m going to write two posts about this regarding the two bands that really grabbed my heart.


One of my favorite post-rock albums of 2020 was Death by Coastlands. Here’s what I wrote on my 2020 best albums review:

Prepare to face the destruction of death in this album. Coastlands goes full post-metal and crushes you without falling into the standard doomy dynamics that post-metal can get stuck in. It’s epic, empowered, and gorgeous. This came out near my birthday, and it ended up being a perfect birthday present.

Retrospective | Best Post-Rock Albums of 2020

Returning to this album a couple years later for an intensive listen brought so many new layers of interpretation and experience. The last year has been a long slog through a cycle of death for me (in the sense of facing the end of the old). My sense of who I was has died. My sense of purpose has died. My ability to stand up again, walk forward, and move on has been challenged, time and again. In that time, tarot cards have been a meaningful self-care tool for solace, insight, and a sense of meaning when things have felt meaningless.

One of the key cards in the high arcana is the Death card. If you are unfamiliar with the tarot, you’ll possibly pause with some trepidation at that, but Death is more than a card that says someone around you will die. It’s a card about the end of an old cycle and a transition into a new one. Life is a vibrant unfolding of change, and a key component of the new coming forward in change is the old ending and disappearing. That’s what death is. As I put it in one of my favorite poems in the early days of my other blog:

Birth, birth, birth

           &

Death, death, death

—  In every moment

    With each heartbeat & breath

A Human Becoming

Coastlands’ album overflows with this energy of change, empowerment, flow, and growth through the death of the old. Every song has heavy, crushing power, but there are major key aspects as well where the lotus blossom grows in the detritus at the side of the road (image from the early passages of the Dhammapada – a chapter with overtones of living well in the face of the transitoriness of life, interestingly enough). The dirge has just as much of a joyous affirmation. It’s a recognition that one’s going over is a going under (Nietzschean riff – early Zarathustra).

I know that this post is dropping a lot of references, so let’s return to the band and the album concretely – seeing Coastlands live emphasized all of this I’m saying. I overflowed with energy and intensity, and I was even more impressed after the concert when speaking with the bassist and realizing that the band’s sound has changed and developed in the last couple albums as the lineup has changed, and new experimentation and growth is already shining through in the little that’s been revealed about their upcoming album. They are harnessing the strength of a new cycle – transitioning with change, the blockages that the last couple years have thrown at all of us in so many ways, and other various challenges of individual and group lives. They take these and shine. That’s the opportunity of the Death card.

Two versions of the Death card – Crowley’s from the Thoth Deck, which shows the cutting off of the old, and a more current reimagining of the Thoth deck, the Wayward Dark, by an artist in Portland (hence the choice here)

I want to showcase the final song of Death as a share here. The song “Marrow” starts with a sorrowful chorus of voices and doomy guitar riffs with discordant static from the amps. It grows into a heavy crescendo of guitar and drums. The old has been cut off, and we’re to the marrow deep in the bones of the broken. Then the song shifts to a more pensive, flowing guitar on top of the heaviness it pulls us along beyond that first stage into something more, something that survives. That’s the true power in that marrow*. It’s the potential to stand up again and make something new.


*One last spiritual geek aside on Marrow – I can’t help but be reminded of the story of Bodhidharma’s successor, Huike, who cut off his arm to gain Bodhidharma’s tutelage. Later on, Bodhidharma passed on his “marrow” in recognizing the transmission of his teaching to Huike.

Reevaluation | Taking refuge

Today, I saw a facebook memory post from 2 years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about the last 2 years recently, wishing I could somehow jettison it all or twist it into something completely different. The post reminded me instead to find strength in reaffirming my values and path in its ongoing depth of intention that has gone above and beyond the pain of obliterated personal goals and the loss of meaning.

The post:

“Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie?” – Nietzsche (One who has their why of living can withstand almost any how.) Tonight was cold, and I felt tired, old, and unenthused, but ultimately, if you commit to practices like running, like philosophy, like becoming a bodhisattva, the “warum?” of being engaged in such a life carries you along through the challenge of such obstacles.

In the last several months, when it was all I could do to pick myself back up every morning and try again, to not give in to the despair that made me want to commit suicide, I focused on things like bodily exercise, digging into spiritual texts, and caring for those in my life – just like the post. We could call this: body, wisdom, and compassion. To me, this is the “chopping wood, carrying water” of the ongoing path that is life, and no matter what I may lose or how much I may feel dead in comparison to past versions of myself (does such language even truly make sense?), these continue to move me forward and hold me accountable to myself and the universe from which “I” have no separation. In a weirdly resonant note, I think of this challenge and self-destruction in both Nietzschean ways of the “going-under” that is progressing forth as human over the abyss and the Buddhist insights of realizing that all this form and meaning we cling to is empty. It’s all a dream, even the things that “defined” us, even the experiences we cherished, even the pain that arises. The condition of a human life in all that becoming is the constant, and that’s what can inspire the larger choices to awaken: be present and do your best to do well to yourself and to do so for others by offering understanding and care.

In looking through quotes to match up with this Nietzschean inspired post from the past, I found a great section in Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart about the Buddha facing and overcoming Mara to achieve enlightenment. It halted me in my tracks of wanting to throw away the past with some sort of harsh reevaluation, instead taking refuge in the dharma of tenderly opening to just this – all the experiences of pain, loss, disappointment, doubt, fear, heartbreak, depression, despair annoyance, self-criticism, and the absurd – and trying to bring my best intentions of wisdom and compassion forward as I have continued to do from the past, knowing that it will always be an “on the way”, a process and path upon which I walk. I feel so much to be the person who’s thrown off by big events in the quote below, doubting that his efforts are any good at all in that very process, and the insight is to embrace that difficulty and continue in it. In a sense, the refuge of buddha, dharma, and sangha is finding peace right in the middle of everything being on fire (The Fire Sermon), of recognizing that you are in the burning house (The Lotus Sutra), and sitting in it with ease. As Dogen says, the Buddha is in the burning house:

I think maybe all of the maras arise from fear of death, but yama mara is particularly rooted there. When we talk about a good life from the usual samsaric point of view, what we mean is that we’ve finally gotten it together. We finally feel we’re a good person. We have good qualities, we’re peaceful, and we don’t get thrown off balance when arrows are shot at us [note: allusion to the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment from the beginning of the chapter – basically here a metaphor for the various daily things that our mind pursues and pulls us off a steady path of mindfulness]. We’re the person who knows how to turn an arrow into a flower. We feel so good about ourselves. We’ve finally tied up all the loose ends. We’re happy. We think that’s life.
We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we’re going to find out we have cancer, a brick is going to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head, somebody’s going to spill tomato juice all over our white suit, or we’re going to arrive at our favorite restaurant and discover that no one ordered produce and seven hundred people are coming for lunch.
The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride.
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in a no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.
We want to be perfect, but we just keep seeing our imperfections, and there is no room to get away from that, no exit, nowhere to run. That is when this sword turns into a flower. We stick with what we see, we feel what we feel, and from that we begin to connect with our own wisdom mind.

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (pp. 93-95)

May this offer inspiration to those who need it and help them find their own refuge in difficulty.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | New Resolutions

As I said in my last post, there’s going to be a struggle to feel empowered and on top of my path forward. At times, like in the last post, that will be the driving energy. At others, my long tail of pain and existential despair from this year will have the upper hand, and I’ll have to use that strength and courage to sit as calmly as I can in the darkness. The last week since that last post has felt much more the latter than the former.

I looked back through pictures today from this last year and realized that I spent pretty much the entire year sad, depressed, and heartbroken. The worst months have been not only that but riddled with thoughts of suicide, and the worst days in that have been battling against negative self-talk about how the world wouldn’t miss me in the slightest other than my mom and some close friends. I got a response to my last post that I am strong and brave and am beginning to tap into that, but that’s the thing – I’m not beginning. I’ve weathered so much pain and feelings that I’m meaningless and pointless because I’m so incredibly strong that even when I feel like I’m worth absolutely nothing, I still show up and try to do my best and be the kindest person I can be to those I encounter – most of whom have no idea how difficult of a time I’ve been going through.

I’ve talked about the why before – this all feels like a loss not only of a relationship but of love and partnership as meaningful pursuits in my life. I’ve spent the last few months seeing who’s out there, and ultimately, that doesn’t leave me feeling any better about the future. So, I’ve been letting go of the attachment to the idea of sharing my life with someone in the future. I don’t trust love anymore. I don’t trust that there’s a good match out there for me, and furthermore, I don’t trust myself. I seem to be attracted to those who don’t seem to see me or value me, so even if I did find someone who felt like a great match, I’d thoroughly doubt my evaluation.

So, here we are, at the cusp of a New Year, and I’ve decided that I’ll stop bringing up these bad feelings by looking through who’s out there on dating apps. I’ve only really been looking for friends or casual dating, but as I’ve scrolled through 100s of profiles, I can’t help but notice that none have sparked a deeper interest. I’ll leave my profile open so that others can perhaps find me, but I’ll stop with the effort on my end as the regular reminder seems to stir those feelings of apprehension about being alone.

I’ve struggled with this set of feelings for months now. At times, I’ve even thought of it in terms of Nietzsche saying that mankind would rather will nothingness than not will – his project’s concern regarding nihilism. I’ve worried that perhaps I have a nihilistic stance towards all of this at this point. In a way, I couldn’t blame myself. I feel like some big part of me is dead, and I need to amputate that to walk on with new invigoration. I do have some deep nihilism in my heart – I feel like something I had attached a lot of meaning to is gone, and as Frankl warns us, that sense of meaninglessness in one’s life is connected to a despair and surrender to death.

I can only hope for a Nietzschean great convalescence. At times, like in the last post, I feel on the cusp of it, and I think that willing something different is key, rather than willing the negation of all that hurts. As such, I will being a philosopher bachelor. I will that facing the absurd of meaninglessness pushes me towards greater wisdom about the interconnection of all and compassion for all other sentient beings. I will letting go of love, partnership, family, and fatherhood. If they find me in the future, great, but I will no longer worry about finding or building them myself.

I recently have been reading about Zen energetic practices which led me down a rabbit hole of the embodied energetics of chanting and the bodhisattva vow. Let’s take this vow up as the resolution for the new year:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

from Soto School Scriptures for Daily Service and Practice, as quoted in Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts by Shohaku Okumura

May the impossible nature of the above aspiration inspire patience and compassion with myself as I continue to struggle with self-mastery and as I fall short of any intentions of doing right by those I encounter in my life.


May this post act as an inspiration or companionship to those out there who need it.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | The Hermit’s Way

I recently have been attending a Buddhist dharma talk weekly session through a local Buddhist temple. One of the monks reached out to me to chat and get to know me better. She asked me about my difficult emotional states I’ve brought up when we’ve shared in class. I rattled off some straightforward description with some points about how I’ve been too attached to certain ideas of partnership and love and that I just need to reevaluate and come to terms with the possibility for a different narrative, understanding, and path for myself. I thought I would get some sort of agreement or pat on the back, but the actual reaction I got surprised me and made me understand my treatment of myself differently. Instead of just seconding such a tough approach to my situation, she paused and told me that it makes sense I would be grieving and struggling with all the transitions and restructuring I described. I realized in that moment that something some friends tell me is right: I don’t have a lot of compassion for myself. I strive and push myself hard to be better, to understand deeper, to stand taller, and to be stronger. When I fail, I tend to focus on how I didn’t do well enough and have to be better next time. As such, recent transitions have been tough. I tend to think of myself as weak or stupid rather than as working through legitimate issues. The fact that a monk who is well-versed in the phrasing and concepts I used basically indicated that I should pause and grieve with grace, accepting those feelings as legitimate, was quite the message to me.

Then, today happened. The last few weeks have been hard in general in that there’s flashbacks to a year ago and shared moments, as well as shared intentions and aspirations. We had talked at some point during that time about spending holidays with her family – helping her cook and enjoying the time. So, the loneliness of today, being alone, facing the existential shifts of looking at no partnership, no family, no fatherhood in the future as quite likely outcomes (No, I’m not being dramatic – it’s going to be difficult to find a match who is not settling for my sense of compatibility; such a person will be rare. That’s a statistical certainty.) has been incredibly painful, much more so than regular recently, and regular is wishing that my heart would stop, daily.

I’ve sat with all the feelings and tried to muster up the energy to just focus on other things that need done. That’s kind of my Zen of heartbreak: chop wood, carry water (as I’ve spoken of before). However, it was difficult, and I tried to focus on being patient with precisely that process.

One key focus for that was to go on a Jingle Bell Run – a family tradition of running in the Christmas Eve darkness with bells for the kiddos to hear. I didn’t have any bells though but took the idea up in spirit. I haven’t been able to run for months until recently, so doing this particular run was quite meaningful.

As I left, my heart continued to ache with all the feelings. I turned on a live album by my favorite band as the running vibe. The soft nuances and crushing crescendoes of electric energy really jogged my heart and my mind as my feet moved along as well.

Somewhere in the middle of the run, I realized – “Why am I so worried about these future concerns and the loss I feel from the recent past? So what if I won’t end up in a partnership, as a father, or with a family? I can take the extra time and independence to invest in myself, to become smarter, stronger, and deeper. I can mentor others in a variety of ways, find opportunities to be helpful, compassionate, and involved, and help children in other aspects, perhaps volunteering. I can dedicate the love I felt for another in new directions, expanding my heart to hold and help others in the various ways they cross my path. So what if relationships have never left me feeling seen or valued? I can value myself better than anyone else ever will be able to.”

In recent months, tarot and I Ching have time and again counseled me to find strength, insight, solace, and equanimity within myself. Find and strengthen my inner light of truth has been the counsel, and let it shine — the Hermit card.

I’ve tried, but I fall away from it time and time again, as I’ve wanted love. I’ve wanted partnership, but honestly, it’s time. It’s time to accept the path of solitude from a place of strength and empowerment.

I was challenged at one point that the feelings of connection I had with my person of heartbreak were all stories in my head. They weren’t. That’s not how I exist or engage with life. I don’t get lost in stories that I create. I push myself for insight, truth, authenticity – as said above, and sometimes, I’ll even sanity-check with other people just to make sure I’m not getting lost in a bias. They were intense experiences. I didn’t get lost in my head. I got lost in my heart. It may be the closest I ever get to unconditional love for a romantic partner. The best I can describe: I saw the other person fully, even with all their myriad flaws and darkness, yet accepted them and would have challenged them to grow and get stronger – as they did me. Seeing our future together brought images of two birds flying together to the treetops and beyond, soaring in accompaniment. It doesn’t matter that the other person didn’t feel the same. That doesn’t invalidate this as a true experience that I had, and I’m certain that evaluation of what we could have been is absolutely true, although it matters not. I was reminded of this again tonight, however, as the music at one point felt like it expressed that soaring, and fittingly enough, it’s a song called “Halcyon”.

To return to the events of tonight: I came home drenched. The rain tonight was steady and pretty hard. This too was somehow uplifting. In thinking of the Hermit’s Way, I remembered all the times I have had runs just like tonight: running through the wet and cold alone in the dark with so few people in life I could even describe such an experience to, nonetheless with whom I could share exactly what it feels like. I realized though that in some ways I always struggle with and resist this process but also always end up feeling enlivened and sometimes exhilarated by the sheer wildness of facing wind, rain, and cold for miles with nothing but resolve and a pair of shoes. Introversion and self-reliance have always been some of my greatest strengths. They’ve acted as an engine for many of my endeavors, even writing this blog right now, as well as learning many of the things that I reference in it all of the time.

In any case, I think it’s time to trust the process and move past the pain of struggling with being alone and the grief of losing a great love. It matters not that I’m pretty certain I won’t have anything like that again. It matters not that that certainty is bolstered by having looked through 100s of online dating profiles. I’ve played the field or cast my nets, and it was just what I expected. The path forward for me is one of investing in the Hermit’s Way, and I will do so with the strength and sure-footedness of someone with light feet. As I wrote in a creative project for school long ago:

12) Healing thyself.  As Nietzsche said: “Everything good is instinctive – and consequently light, necessary, free.  Effort is an objection, gods and heroes belong to different types (in my language: light feet are the first attribute of divinity)”.  Light feet as divinity – a revelation!  Feeling the weight of heaviness keeps us from running, dancing, flying…  We encounter the suffering of others all the time, but we are more than just vessels for suffering.  Staying healthy requires a lightness of foot, mind, and soul, rather than the heaviness of disease; it requires a quick, easy readiness to laugh!  Remember that to heal oneself is a dance with the abundant radiance that is in oneself, in the Other – “You”, and in the world.  Light feet… 

Writing mine. Quote from Nietzsche: Nietzsche, F. (2002).  Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Honestly, that’s an aspiration that’s hard to live up to. I’m sure I will struggle with accepting this still, but I felt bolstered tonight with a lightness of foot that I haven’t felt in quite some time. Whatever the case, I will aim to take up my hermit’s lantern and shine.


May this help others find their own lightness of foot and inner truth as they struggle to grieve and grow.

Gassho!

Cross-post: The Post-rock Way – Energy | Hope | Overflowing

This is a post that I just posted on my other blog about philosophy/spirituality and post-rock. I wanted to share it here as well.


One of the most intoxicating aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the ambience of hyperabundant overflowing of energy. This is the dynamism of the Dionysian, and it’s the strength of a healthy life. This sentiment comes forth perhaps nowhere as strongly as in the first section of the prologue to “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, in which Zarathustra greets the sun (a symbol of the Apollonian here transformed to the hyperabundance of the Dionysian) and speaks to the task that he must undertake of “going under” from the heights of the mountains (we could possibly see this as the heavenly realm of the Forms) to the human realm. This choice resonates later – one must go under to go over, to become the overhuman, the Übermensch. The feeling of overflowing is here in the sunshine and the happiness and abundance associated with it and the final lines:

“Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight!”
“Behold! This cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become human again.”
– Thus began Zarathustra’s going-under.

Nietzsche, trans. Parkes, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 9.

The overflowing energy is the strength of one who can climb the heights with the fullness of health, joy, and the ability to help others climb up the same paths. It’s the intensity that allows one to live dangerously with light feet dancing over the obstacles that one faces. It is the power of affirmation, of yay-saying — perhaps the greatest possibility in Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Recently, I’ve felt this sentiment greatly from a song from the new album released by Maybeshewill. The band has been broken up for years but has come back with a compelling album about facing climate change with hope and resolve to overcome and shape our futures. They describe this at length in the album’s description on Bandcamp.

The song is called “Invincible Summer”. When I listen to it, I find myself running, dancing, fist pumping, and screaming: “YES!!!”. I’m serious about all of those. I have done all of those in flowing with the feeling that arises in the later movements of the song when the strings swell and pull you along with the overflowing energy that would allow you to climb to the heights with light feet.

Philosophy Riffing | Karma, Emotional Reactivity, Free Will, and Ressentiment

This session ended up being a journey into a lot of topics with quite a lot of musing and meandering through Buddhism, Taoism, Nietzsche, and Stoicism. May it provide benefit to those who listen to it.

Heartbreak | Sitting with Suicidal Thoughts

I’ve kind of touched on the thoughts here in a recent post, but I thought they were important and weighty enough to address a bit more directly rather than abstractly. I’m hoping the vulnerability and sharing of process will support anyone else who needs it as finding the acceptance of friends and family has been crucial to continue sitting through these difficult feelings, whereas those who tell you you’re wrong, confused, or self-involved make it much more painful. I can only hope to give some companionship and feelings of being seen to those who need it.


I’ve honestly dealt with depression off an on throughout my adult life. It’s always around big changes and losses though – not the seemingly random nature of major depressive disorder, more the grief of the difficulties of a human life.

I’ve never really felt suicidal in depression, no matter how empty or meaningless life has felt. Not until this time. I’ve had the deep yearning to die regularly and escalating ideas of suicidal ideation since around mid-summer. It’s hard, and ultimately, it’s scary and tiring. Part of me has to struggle continuously not to sink into the abyss. Honestly, as someone deeply involved in existential psychology, I feel like it has to do with the famous quote: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning). I’ve personally seen the withering away when a “Why” is lost. In many ways, this is precisely the problem of suicide that Camus lines out in his discussion of the absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus. Facing one’s existence and projects in life as meaningless is the ultimate existential angst. It’s facing the feeling that life wouldn’t matter if I wasn’t here. Rather than the Heideggerean state of being verfallen and covering over one’s death, it’s the inverse – staring life in the face and asking why you were even born at all while struggling to find any answer, as any you used to have have dissolved in your hands.

That’s all cerebral, but the experience is anything but – those are just philosophy riffs to explain the experience. The embodied experience is much more raw and crushing. I’ve thought numerous times how great it would be if I had the courage to jump out my window. I even had a sudden urge to stab myself with a knife recently, but ultimately, none of this has ever escalated to the point of having true plans, means, or intentions enough to where I felt I needed help, beyond some time to sit, cry, and be mindfully present for my feelings.

For me, it’s been all pulled forward by having attached to ideas of partnership and love – ideas that I didn’t fully realize were such a strong piece of my identity, desire, and meaning in life. Now, I’m just not so sure of those ideas, and ultimately, I don’t think the answer is to try to find them again with someone else, so it feels as though my life doesn’t really have something to aspire to, to build, to find meaning in.

Speaking of attachment – this is a klesha: clinging. Clinging to those ideas has caused such a traumatic crash of meaning and identity, and it doesn’t seem effective enough to take the existential, well, rather, Nietzschean, approach of building some new meaning/project/values, i.e. creating some new take on love or relationships. Instead, I’ve been inspired by the Buddhist ideas regarding attachment. I’ve tried to sit with the feelings of attachment and let them dissolve. Instead, I try to show up, connect with people, and provide my kindness and compassion for the struggles they go through, and ultimately, every time, it has led to gratitude and sometimes, even, growth in the engagement.

I feel that showing up to these hardest of feelings is like what I’ve posted about previously as a famous quote from Zen that before enlightenment you chop wood and carry water, while after enlightenment you chop wood and carry water. Facing the toughest moments of life is about mindfully sitting in them, realizing that it’s just more life. The world is as it was before. Your perception and emotional reactions are all over the place, but ultimately, the same billions of years of history are before this moment as in the past. The same world is there. It merely seems different because of that Wittgensteinian idea that the world of the sad person is different than that of the happy: i.e. your evaluations of it are different, but the aspects of living your life as a human being in your life and home are the same in the broader sense (this could very much be lined up with Stoic ideas as well, especially Epictetus).

Mindfully being present and being focused on showing compassion for others is a simple and yet deep shift in approaching the mystery of living in an existence that’s always greater and more mysterious than the meanings you find in your personal projects and interpretations. Being present and vulnerable in such a way offers the possibility of seeing life as precious, just as it is, just as painful and heartbreaking as it can be in its most samsaric of moments.

Which brings me to the greatest counter-perspective I can emphasize to that of the suicidal abyss: experiencing life as precious. I’ve recently been thinking of Atisha’s slogan practices from Tibetan Buddhism. The first slogan “First, train in the preliminaries” was key to facing my dad’s death a few years ago, and recent Buddhist classes I’ve been attending have been key to bringing these ideas back to the fore.

There are four “preliminaries”. I’ll attach a photo of a post-it note I wrote years ago with my own take of them to remember them by. It’s on my fridge. I took a picture of it before a recent trip because I was thinking about these suicidal thoughts and the counter effort I’ve been working on in seeing compassion and wisdom to pull me back into this more engaged mindset.

My summary of the preliminaries

I’ll speak of slogan practice more thoroughly in the future (hopefully), but I’ll summarize these points here. Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes how rare and precious it is to be born as a human being in a time and place where you can learn the Buddha’s dharma – the truths and wisdom that offer you the possibility of breaking free from the painful reactions that make life so difficult. In a way, this summary of preciousness captures the point of the other 3 preliminaries as well as the Four Noble Truths in one go. A sentient life is one of the pain, disappointment, and suffering of dukkha. It’s one of standard patterns of action, walking through life with the same conditioned ways of re-acting (writing that way because we think of it as action, but it truly isn’t – reactivity is the most passive of ways of being. The only truly active freedom is in being able to sit with challenges and see your inclinations and choose differently in ways that do not continue the reactive patterns of suffering in your life). Waking up to a different way of being requires seeing the opportunity and wisdom that is available to you, embracing it with gratitude, and rethinking your actions based on the outcomes and results you bring to yourself through them (recognizing the 3rd preliminary that all action is karmic), working now to embrace that opportunity because you see your time is limited (recognizing the 2nd preliminary that death is coming), and finally, doing all of this out of the understanding that there is dukkha (the first of the Four Noble Truths which opens the whole Buddhist path before you).

When I think of the samsaric pain of loss and meaninglessness that I’m going through with all the suicidal thoughts attached to them, in other words, when thinking of the fact that there is dukkha, I remember another Buddhist passage I’ve brought up before, the poetic lines from Dogen’s Genjokoan: “Therefore flowers fall even though we love them; weeds grow even though we dislike them” (Shohaku Okumura, Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo). Desire and aversion put us at odds with the changing circumstances of the impermanent world around us, but if we recognize those samsaric poisons within us, we can take pause and sit more patiently with the difficulties of life, allowing us to instead continue on with compassion for others and mindful presence for the moment at hand. We may no longer have the flowers of beauty, or we may need to contend with the weeds popping up, but we can be right in this moment, doing our best in it, and giving to all the others who are here struggling with their own pain at the changing circumstances they’re in.


May these words inspire and offer companionship to those who need them.

Gassho!

Philosophy Riffing | Liebe wird aus Mut gemacht – Love is made out of courage

Here is the second birthday creative gift post for myself. I’ve gotten responses from multiple people that they liked my posts of audio clips and wished I would do something more intentional or even more like a podcast. I attempted that last night with a general theme of “Liebe wird aus Mut gemacht” – “Love is made out of courage”. This almost hour-long first attempt at this kind of post is very much philosophy riffing and shared experience. I hope that people enjoy it as much as I enjoyed recording it.

NOTE: One detail I got wrong multiple times early in the recording – the dialogue I mention is Plato’s Phaedrus, not Phaedo. I tend to get those two dialogues’ titles mixed up in my mind, and it’s been years since I’ve read either.

Please give me any feedback on whether you enjoy this post or have themes you’d like me to explore in the future. Furthermore, let me know if you like the riffing style or would prefer something more structured! I’d love any feedback to consider whether to do more of this in the future and how best to go about it.

Previous post on Love and Language

Post from my other blog with some related analysis regarding experiences of love and language in relation to post-rock

Heartbreak | Facing Death

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


In my last post, I said: “I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship.”

Honestly, death is on my mind a lot these days. I find myself muttering to myself, “I hate my life. I wish I could die.” It’s so by rote that it almost feels like a script, but there is still weight behind the self-talk. Deepest samsara – when clinging and desires aren’t met – hurts greatly. That’s why so many coping mechanisms revolve around escape and altered states. It feels nearly impossible to just sit with the full intensity of these painful feelings.

I find it haunting and thought-provoking even after years, that Camus opens his classic work of philosophy, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, with “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Ultimately, it’s true – each and every one of us stamps the meaning on our own lives and has the ultimate say on whether it is worth living or not. Our approach to our lives is ultimately one that leans into mortality and affirms life as worth living… Or doesn’t. The same problem resonates, albeit somewhat differently, with Viktor Frankl’s famous “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He emphasizes that the root idea of his approach of logotherapy is that “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (supposedly a quote from Nietzsche, although it seems more like a rewording). The need for meaning is crucial in these existential approaches to the human condition. They are the key agency we have in making sense of our mortal lives and making them shine in the dark horizon of death (riffing on Heidegger and Foucault’s ideas of finitude in “The Order of Things”).

To return to the pain of deepest samsara, the meanings and identities we cling to the most, for me a future of partnership and family, are those that make life feel meaningless when they’re shredded to pieces (I actually wrote a masters paper on precisely this topic – the problem of the loss of meaning and the world becoming senseless after trauma). How do we face such scenarios? With Frankl, the loss of such meaning was a key indicator that others would succumb to the concentration camps. To Camus, it would mean falling into an overwhelmed despair in the face of the absurd, and if he truly is a follower of Nietzsche, would lead to nihilism – willing nothingness: choosing suicide.

In my darkest moments, that’s precisely how I feel – a pointlessness to my life, a wish for it to end, an overwhelming feeling like both myself and everything else doesn’t matter. The person at the core of my heartbreak recently reached out and told me she hoped I was finding peace in the end of our time together. That hurt so deeply. I wanted to scream. The only peace I feel is the peace of death: the death of meaning, and as I’ve described here, that is not any kind of peace that the living thrive in, quite the opposite.

Overall, however, I have long-developed self-care routines and the desire to do well for all sentient beings. These keep my strength focused beyond my own story, and they lead me to lean into compassion. For instance, I am kind to others I encounter, trying to be present and warm to them as genuine encounter. A contact at my local grocery store befriended me online recently, and I found that she has been in prison for a car accident and is just making her way back out into the world. Moments like that make my heart break and bring perspective to how much kindness and warmth needs to be cultivated and shared in this world. She thanked me for always being kind to her and spoke to others in her other job being rude. We all go through so much poor treatment and bad circumstances, even some bad karma from our own poorly made and poorly informed choices. We all deserve compassion. For the most part, that’s my North Star, when I’m not overly wrapped in my own story to see it.

I’m inspired by the path and the direction of the bodhisattva, aiming at a deeper engagement with reality. The new desire: working for the enlightenment of all sentient beings – a heroic and impossible task, that of wisdom and compassion. May that be my concern rather than samsaric worries about my own future.

I’m closing this off with three quotes that I hope will develop and connect these existentialist and Mahayana Buddhist themes.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus – “The Myth of Sisyphus”, p. 123

When a Zen priest who has taken a sufferer under his care has reason to fear that he is not equal to his suffering, he will visit him repeatedly. Not with the intention of relieving him of distracting worries, but of reaching his inner self. He will try to make him face his suffering by bringing its full extent and magnitude to consciousness. He will help the sufferer to see that great suffering is not overcome by refusing to face it or by surrendering to it in despair. He will warn him of the danger of allowing himself to be solaced, and of waiting for time to heal. Salvation lies in giving full assent to his fate, serenely accepting what is laid upon him without asking why he should be singled out for so much suffering. Whoever is able to bear suffering in this way grows to the stature of his suffering, and he detaches himself from it by learning more and more to disregard the fact that it is his suffering.

This detachment paves the way to healing, and healing follows of itself the more sensitive one becomes to the suffering of others, and the more selflessly one shares their sufferings. This fellow suffering is quite different from the sentimental sympathy most of us indulge in, which, easily aroused and quickly dissipated, remains ineffective because it is not selfless enough. True compassion not bound to words forges the most intimate bond between human beings and all living creatures. The real meaning of suffering discloses itself only to him who has learned the art of compassion.

If the sufferer’s ears and eyes are opened by this clarification of his state of mind, he will mark that neither flight from reality nor denial of suffering can bring him detachment. And if, thrown back on himself, he shows that he is trying to become one with his fate, to assent to it so that it can fulfill its own law, then the priest will go on helping him. He will answer his questions, without offering anything more than suggestions and, of course, without preaching.

For there is something that seems to him very much more important than words. Gradually he will fall silent, and in the end will sit there wordless, for a long time, sunk deep in himself. And the strange thing is that this silence is not felt by the other person as indifference, as a desolate emptiness which disturbs rather than calms. It is as if this silence had more meaning than countless words could ever have. It is as if he were being drawn into a field of force from which fresh strength flows into him. He feels suffused with a strange confidence, even when his visitor has long since departed. And it may be that in these joyful hours, the resolve will be born to set out on the path that turns a wretched existence into a life of happiness.

Eugen Herrigel – “The Method of Zen”, pp. 124-125

We are reminded again of Dogen’s description of his own awakening: “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun, and the moon and the stars.” According to one Mahayana account, the Buddha was enlightened when he looked up from his meditations and saw the morning star (Venus), whereupon he declared: “I am awakened together with the whole of the great earth and all of its beings.” It’s not that every living being became enlightened in the same way that he did at that moment, but that his own personal awakening was an achievement of the whole. Awakening, then, involves realizing that “I” am not inside my body, looking out through my eyes at a world that is separate from me. Rather, “I” am what the whole universe is doing, right here and now.

David R. Loy – “A New Buddhist Path”, pp. 86-87

May this provide solace to those feeling the abyss looking back into them after staring into it. May you find that you take a leap and a net appears.

Gassho!

Previous Older Entries