WORDS WITH LIFE

Some fairly advanced articles
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WORDS WITH LIFE

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WORDS WITH LIFE
December 23, 2016
By Michael Erlewine (Michael@Erlewine.net)

[I am back from a brief 2-day trip to Lansing, Michigan for some medical testing from a specialist in the field. I am still working to fully recover from a TIA I had last March, and had to go through a two-hour bout of Electro diagnostic testing, called Electromyography (EMG). That consisted of something similar to acupuncture, but very different. Instead of a tiny needle just breaking the skin, this involved placing a fine wire (repeatedly) through the skin (all over) and into the muscle tissue, to probe to find where the nerves meet the muscle and record that. That was part of it, and the second part was electronically setting off nerves so that they fire or spasm, often in sets of five or six. Let’s just say that, I am glad it’s done and I came out “normal.”]

Anyway, while gone, I had a chance to do some reading while waiting around and had some thoughts about reading in general, which I will share here with you.

I don’t have to point out to you something I have pointed out to you a number of times before, that reading (and language in general) obviously depends on the sense it makes to us, and making sense is, well, “sensual,” involving the senses.

Essentially, all writing (and language) is a reference to the sense world and to physically experiencing something, a call to action. If we are all standing around the swimming pool of life, considering going in for a dip, since language is all about the “sense” it makes, it can but suggest that we do (or don’t) take the plunge, enter the world of physical experience and gather some experience, if only to have something to feel and analyze.

Anyway, what we read out there in the written world is obviously geared for different levels. Sitting around the doctor’s office in a hospital in a city far from home, I had little else to do but to think. And what I thought was that I have become more and more sensitive to the written (or spoken) word. For example:

It is clear that much (maybe most) writing is designed to help us conceptually understand what the author is trying to say. Of course, simple understanding is the bottom line and (in my opinion) the lowest rung of the totem pole, and pretty much stripped of why I read at all, which is to break out of conceptuality; so I have become a critic of reading-for-understanding alone, unless I am following directions and putting together some do-it-yourself thing-ee or other.

These years I find conceptual writing kind of suffocating, prophylactically buffered so that anything more than concepts are dutifully avoided. In this category would be what we could call “meta-books,” overviews, books about a subject, rather than books comprising a subject, if that makes sense. The endless books filled with quotes and footnotes that use other folk’s words as references to describe something that the author is unable or unwilling to try to say personally is what I’m talking about here. These kinds of books run all around the subject, but never touch it, IMO. I never read them. I yearn for authority and authenticity, etc. I want language to dispense with itself as much as possible.

I want my reading to give me a taste and hopefully cause me to get my feet wet, if not actually plunge me into something (an experience) that I can later reflect on and THEN analyze or conceptualize. Writing that just conceptualizes about almost “nothing” (with no real sense involved) is not my cup of tea. As you might imagine, I am particularly sensitive to books “on” Buddhism or spiritual topics of any kind. I don’t want to just stand-back and hear about something; I want to jump in, experience something, and sense it. Give me taste of what you are talking about; give me something to go on, please.

I don’t like language that is just conceptually recursive, building an ever greater dependence on itself. Of course, I write a lot here and I do introduce concepts, but I work very hard to load my sentence with words that work to pop the conceptual bubbles and give you a feeling for the topic. No, I don’t try to push you into the water, but I may splash some water on you or at least near you. This little poem I wrote has been shared here before, but this is where it belongs, so here it is again.

VERBAL FALLOUT

The half-life of words,
Is brief.

Prose is like carrying,
Water in the hands.

Poetry,
Like drinking,
From the faucet.

I can’t seem to just write poetry (wish I could) at will; what you get from me is prose, but hopefully prose that is laced with words juicy enough to give you (at the very least) a sample or taste of what I am writing about.

In my own reading habits, at least these years, I seldom-to-never read fiction. I have read tons of fiction in the past. And, unless I need to learn something very basic, I avoid reading books that are primarily conceptual. They are too claustrophobic for me -- cloying. What I do read are some of the traditional Buddhist writings that are called Upadesha, the “pith” writings of great teachers. They are not poetry (but they can be), but rather they are the pith essence of the dharma boiled down to the equivalent size of poetry, but not quite poetry.

And why I read this so eagerly is for the compactness of somehow managing to mix enough poetry with the prose to fire my synapses and spark my mind. I usually want to get beyond conceptuality and on into the experience of life itself, so these upadesha often (or usually) do just that. They are jumping off points into my own experience of spirit, if only as seen and felt through the lens of these jam-packed sentences.

I have no illusions as to what language is there for, being itself, by definition, conceptually contrived. Getting language not to point at itself or even just beyond itself, but to somehow lead us beyond words into some form of action is what I intend. Language is not the final word, so to speak, but rather the jumping-off point into experience. At its very best, words and language can act like a sign or signal that is enough to cause a transformation within me, without reading further.

Anyway, that is how I see it. Any thoughts?

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