Who knows?

Zhuangzi and Hui Shi were strolling across the bridge over the Hao river.
Zhuangzi observed, “The minnows swim out and about as they please—this is the way they enjoy themselves.”
Huizi replied, “You are not a fish—how do you know what they enjoy?”
Zhuangzi returned, “You are not me—how do you know that I don’t know what is enjoyable for the fish?”
Huizi said, “I am not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know; but it follows that, since you are certainly not the fish, you don’t know what is enjoyment for the fish either.”
Zhuangzi said, “Let’s get back to your basic question. When you asked ‘From where do you know what the fish enjoy?’ you already knew that I know what the fish enjoy, or you wouldn’t have asked me. I know it from here above the Hao river.”

— Zhuangzi 45.17.87–91, tr. Roger Ames (Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation, 108-109)

Who knows what you know from where you are?

Creative Words (for Manitoulin Islanders)

Here on Manitoulin Island, we’re trying out a new kind of gathering which brings a small group of us together for some deep conversation. First we focus on a song, saying or sacred verse, then we hear what it brings forth from each of our hearts.

We call these sessions Creative Words. Readers of Turning Signs can think of a ‘Creative Word’ as a kind of turning symbol. But you don’t need to read the book or know anything about signs and symbols to take part in one of these conversations.

My wife Pam and I host these CW gatherings in our living room (a.k.a. the Honora Bay Free Theatre, where we also host Manitoulin movie nights.) Usually there’s about four to six of us, and when we’re all ready, we prime the conversation with a short text, somewhere between a sentence and a paragraph or a song. It could be something already posted on this blog, but we don’t reveal the source or context until we’ve all had a chance to enter the realm of thought-feeling created by this Creative Word, using some focussing practices to direct our collective attention. Then we explore that realm by engaging in dialogue with one another and with the text. In this way we recreate the world created by the “Word,” and recreate ourselves as well.

A picture may be worth a thousand words of information, but the recreation of a single saying can be worth a million pictures to a mindful heart. We think of CW as an antidote to the information overload that we all tend to suffer in this media-flooded world. Pam and I, as Bahá’ís, also think of it as part of the service we can render to our fellow humans. Bahá’ís sometimes refer to the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh as the “Creative Word,” and one of its precepts is to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” Even if you’re allergic to all religions, you’re still welcome at CW sessions! What matters, we think, is “that the peoples and kindreds of the world associate with one another with joy and radiance” (Bahá’u’lláh again).

Our first Creative Words gathering took place on the evening of January 31, 2018, and we intend to hold one every 19 days (that’s once a Bahá’í month). We’ll post reminders on Resilient Manitoulin and the Calendar connected with it. If you want to join us for a session, you’ll need to let us know beforehand, but you don’t need to bring anything other than friendliness and fellowship. For more information (or recreation!) use the “Contact Me” button on my blog, or phone me or Pam. We’ll be happy to hear from you.

I n I

The meanings of words in English can be described as ‘conventional,’ but in most cases no ‘convention’ was ever called where users of a word got together to decide what those words would express. Many users of the English language never chose to do so, because it was forced upon them along with the colonial rule of the British (or the American) Empire. But some have resisted colonization by consciously creating their own conventions, their own dialect of English.
One good example of such creative cultural transformation is the “patois” of the Rastafarians.

In the past half century, Rastafarian language found its way into globally popular culture through the spread of reggae music and the lyrics of artists such as Bob Marley. His ‘Redemption Song’ is one example:

Old pirates yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit …

Standard English would call for “me,” or maybe “us,” instead of “I” here. But this repurposing of “I,” including the Rastafarian use of “I an’ I” for the first person pronoun, has a deep spiritual significance for this religion of ‘love and unity.’ It is part of what Marley calls the ‘I’n’I vibration’ in his song ‘Positive Vibration’, and is connected with the central figure of the religion, Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari is another name for him.)

For many Rastas, the ‘I’ after Selassie is multivalent in its significance. Read as ‘first’, it points to his pre-existence from the beginning and to his preeminence as earth’s ‘rightful ruler’. Read as the first person singular pronoun ‘I’, which is generally how Rastas pronounce it, it becomes an indicator of Selassie’s divinity. From this understanding, Rastas extrapolate that ‘I’ represents the divine essence of humans. They then elaborated the philosophy of InI consciousness (‘Isciousness’) as the realization of one’s own divine identity.

— Edmonds, Ennis B.. Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction (p. 37). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

For instance, to indicate the divinity of “Creation”, Rastas call it “Iration” instead.

In 1983, the year after Bob Marley’s death, Bob Dylan released a song titled ‘I and I’ (on the album Infidels). The chorus goes like this:

I and I
In creation where one’s nature neither honors nor forgives
I and I
One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives

One of the verses tells how it

Took a stranger to teach me, to look into justice’s beautiful face
And to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

This song puts yet another spiritual spin on the Rastafarian expression. Or at least it seems that way to I and I. How about you and you?

Walden dialogue

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.

As deliberately as a locomotive.
Who laid the track?

Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry – determined to make a day of it.

Let the day be determined deliberately.

Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill.

Let us not be crowded.
Let us be downset and underwhelmed.

With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like.

Stranger music.

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time.

[point d’appui: ‘point of support’]

Will the lamp-post appear to future ages?
Will they know how to read the Realometer?
Will they get the point?
Will they find their own foundation?
What if reality rocks the bedrock?

If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter [=scimitar], and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.

— Thoreau, Walden, Chapter 2

Busy, busy, busy. Deliberately.

(since in this scherzarade of one’s thousand one nightinesses that sword of Secondness which would identifide the body never falls)

Chapter One, part one

On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, the first discussion group for Turning Signs met on Manitoulin Island for a conversation about the first chapter of the book. At this session in person were Heather Thoma, Patricia Mader, Veronika Bingaman, Pam Jackson, Emily Weber and the author. Paul Salanki was connected by Skype, but could only listen in, as the connection was limited to one-way audio, probably because of the satellite hookup he had to use. We’ll continue to experiment with remote links to these Wednesday-night groups.

In the meantime, anybody who’s now reading the book (either on screen or on paper) is welcome to post here any ideas inspired by (or commenting on) the first chapter. Click on “Leave a comment” at the bottom of this post. As a weekly reminder to check back on what others have said here, you could also subscribe to the our newsletter.

Klein bottleOne of the subjects that came in for some discussion this week was the overall structure of Turning Signs, with its Obverse and Reverse sides. Chapter One says that it ‘resembles a Klein bottle,’ but that may need some explanation. Fortunately i discovered a YouTube video that takes you on a visual trip through a Klein Bottle, which is probably the best way of seeing how it’s related to the metaphorical shape of the book. There’s also another YouTube video featuring Klein bottles that might be more helpful for developing your topological imagination (which is a great thing to develop, as it can take you into higher dimensions). I recommend both of them just for topological fun, if nothing else!

Now we’re all reading Chapter Two to get ready for next Wednesday night’s gathering and next Saturday’s blog post. If you’re reading this, you’re welcome to join the conversation!

Coming soon: the course and the paperbook!

08d2 Due to popular demand, i’m offering a series of seminars where readers of Turning Signs can get together in small groups to share their questions, comments and responses to it. Read all about it on the new seminar page. The first session is slated for October 13.

And by even more popular demand, i’m getting some paperback copies printed. They will cost $20 (plus shipping if necessary). Email me (or comment on this post) if you want one. It should be available in a few weeks.