My Taoism: Diary, 3/27 to 3/28/22

Blog post stats; Taoist Sage quote from Smullyan; how I spend my days; naps versus sleep; “Taoistic” quatrain from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; sensible behavior now.

Raymond M. Smullyan (1919-2017; link to Wikipedia)

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{3/27/22} Continued.

Stats from Cristian Mihai’s blog:

70 million. That’s how many articles are being published every single month by WordPress.com hosted blogs alone.

3 and a half hours. That’s how long it takes the average blogger to write, edit, format, add images, and publish an article.

37 seconds. That’s how much time the average reader spends going through an article.

{3/28/22}

Received four books in the mail, two for Pablo.  Browsing through Raymond M. Smullyan:  The Tao is Silent (HarperSanFrancisco, HarperCollins publishers, New York, 1977), I felt a strong affinity for what he was saying.  I think that once I got beyond philosophy to my present “antiphilosophy,” I relaxed into a kind of Taoism.  A quote:

“…the Taoist Sage sits quietly by the stream, perhaps with a book of poems, a cup of wine, and some painting materials, enjoying the Tao to his hearts [sic] content, without ever worrying whether or not Tao exists.  The Sage has no need to affirm the Tao; he is far too busy enjoying it!”  p. 6.  The context is the everlasting struggle between Christians and atheists, each trying to prove the other wrong.

Now, how I live these days is not quite the picture Smullyan paints; but I enjoy what I might call an “enviable relaxation and enjoyment of daily life.”  This is not, alas, a constant thing—if I don’t write in the morning (in my restricted definition of “write” as “fiction writing”), I am likely to be depressed.  The source of my depression is mostly impersonal:  I see civilization going down the tubes, and the ones in power are more bent on exploiting the decline for their profit than on stopping it, especially in the U.S.

But if I can escape into the deep fantasy that comes over me when the writing is flowing, then the world is beautiful and I don’t trouble myself about the end.

Or, so it seems today.  Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a different story, perhaps.

I don’t need a copy of Smullyan’s book, thankfully.  I have plenty on Taoism already, including many of the books he recommends.  He, like me, is a fan of Lin Yutang and Alan Watts, though he apparently has read more of both.  I was lucky enough to get Dr. Lin’s The Importance of Living when I was fairly young; it’s one of the first of many books from which I copied multiple pages of quotes, and I reread those quotes often.

It might be more accurate to characterize my days as frequent flipflopping of moods, from some level of enjoyment of music, a book, a movie, or more rarely, fiction writing—to more-or-less anguished contemplation of Ukraine, what the vile repugliKKKans are up to, my estranged son, trying to lose weight, and my erectile dysfunction.  Sometimes, on my “depressed” days, I will be at a loss for how to spend the next couple of hours.  Or I may put on The Family Guy and watch my permitted two episodes, while feeling that I’m pissing away my remaining good days in such futility—whether I laugh a lot or a little.  On most days I get a little of each.

Smullyan talks about how Americans “take naps,” while the Taoist Sages “go to sleep.”  It was this distinction that caught my interest.  Much of the time, when I feel sleepy, I just sleep; if it’s too late in the evening (I don’t want this sleep to keep me from sleep at bedtime), I may try to divert myself with a DVD or something on cable.  If that’s not working or nothing appeals, I may just go to bed early, like 9:30 instead of 11:30 (the latter is my usual bedtime).  Of course, I am retired, so I rarely have to worry about getting up at a particular time.

I am by no means a Taoist; I’ve tried reading about it many times, always with frustration and even disdain.  I carry a definition of the Tao with my whenever I have my “Bullet Journal” (which consists of five very small notebooks), typically when I’m going to Hemlock Club meetings.  Of course, I have always approached Taoism as a “Western philosopher”—Smullyan’s approach is, I’d have to say, more Taoistic.  I think the difference is trying versus accepting.  This is unsatisfactory; is there a clearer way to say it?  Perhaps I’ll come up with something later; it’s 2:18 pm now.

Smullyan’s portrait of the Taoist Sage is very reminiscent of this quatrain:

Drawing by Edmund J. Sullivan

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,

A flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness—

And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

For those who don’t know the source of this familiar quote, it’s from Edward Fitzgerald’s rendering into English verse of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, quatrain XI from his first and most popular version.  The Rubáiyát per Fitzgerald is undoubtedly my favorite of all poetry, if we omit Shakespeare’s plays, and I first owned a copy in a little paperback with Edmund J. Sullivan’s familiar drawings, and it was a prized possession in my teens.  Did I particularly love this quatrain then?  I don’t recall thinking of it as a picture of “the good life” or “Paradise”; I think my best life would include being productive.  How productive am I these days?  If I omit my blog, I’d have to say, “only a little”—again, it’s the fiction writing that I consider my “important” task these days.  Previously I wrote a nonfiction book that I hope to publish—doing a lot of hoping and virtually nothing towards that end.

As I said here on 3/25, “…at the end of civilization, what kind of behavior is sensible?”  Perhaps now I see an answer to that:  try to relieve the suffering of others.  Not that I expect myself to do that very often, and the ways I attempt to do that are very small.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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