Monday, 3 December 2018

Circle of Iron and the Secret of Life

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift." The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon." 

Take a moment and reflect on the meaning of this now and then again after the article. :)


I have a confession: I hate Netflix. Not just because it encourages the worst form of leisure- passive screen time- and I have students write essays on the problems of technology and leisure and sitting in a electromagnetic field, motionless for hours in the evening after siting at a desk all day staring a screen motionless expect for hand and jaw movements- lol I know anyone reading this blog can figure out the problems for themselves.  Beyond that - the content bores me to death - there are the occasional good films, especially on the US version. (The Canadian version being not as good, and the British being the worst version I have come across of NF versions as far as content)  I also have some thing in my analytic mind where I can just "analyze the best thing to watch for like 20 minutes" and this is beyond the worst form of channel surfing and akin to walking through a library and reading titles when one is better off just grabbing a book, any book, and reading it. SO I actually think the YouTube is superior and there are some other alternative services like CRACKLE and TUBI. TUBI is pretty cool since it has a ton of old films (think 70/80 martial arts films) among its weird horror and action line titles. So if one is to engage in passive screen time - I feel one should absolutely enjoy it. (I have the same idea with treat foods- only eat junk food and treats you love- "the mouth watering" amalyse/"I feel good right now"serotonin combo needed for good digestion and assimilation of nutrients/ ready to eat it again and benefit more effect is lacking in foods we force down or dislike). I think that pleasure is an important aspect of growing as human beings and not something we should eliminate-yet it is a means and not the end of why we do things. If we JUST did things for pleasure we would miss out on all of the great ways struggle and pain enhance well being- ex. vigourous exercise. But I digress, recently I watched a gem of a film from the late 1970's starring David Carradine- called Circle of Iron.
AKA "The Silent Flute" which was Lee's original title -but no doubt, deemed not "tough enough" title for Westerners lol 
Now this film is rather philosophical- in a way that rather works in a genre absolutely saturated with actions films using platitudes and out of context sayings to give a sense of "oriental mysticism". Let me give why in bullets:
  • the films was originally written by Bruce Lee as a vehicle to teach philosophy - ZEN philosophy- to the masses. 
  • Bruce Lee has been over and mis- quoted in recent years on the internet but that is par for the course for internet quoting of course. That being said my whole life of "fitness and philosophy" was inspired by Bruce Lee and my karate and kung fu lessons as a kid. 
  • It was a Bruce Lee text that offered my first "satori" in fact when I was 17 years old- and something that ANYONE who has trained under me will recognize and this is the idea that we must learn to "feel our bodies" when we workout and not just "think about what we are doing".  This is also in classic bodybuilding theory - called the mind muscle connection- but was much more acute and focussed on particular muscles and movements and not the WHOLE body as a unit per se. As a youth with no money I often would spend hours in bookstores reading the books and clearly remember the day I was reading this in a bookstore and the idea that we should "feel our body" hit me like lightning and I could all of a sudden feel my feet on the floor and my butt on the chair and it was an absolutely qualitative transformation of my being in that moment- i was broken out of my cerebral prison momentarily. 
  • For various film business reasons (greed, racism, greed, ego, greed, budgets, etc) Bruce left the production of the film and just like the TV show KUNG FU he was to write and star in- bring in David Carradine the white dude replacement for Lee. I used to dislike David for this reason but I enjoy his acting when he wa younger in fact- and KILL BILL was awesome and his character in that was basically an extension of the one he plays here. 
  • The main idea is there is a fighter (in fact this was a Canadian actor from Hamilton Ontario, who was tall and jacked with a serious washboard) who belongs to no school and has no style (YES MMA was a thing before UFC lol) aka Jeet Kune Do and he was going to beat up everyone necessary until he got to Zoten and could read from the Ultimate Book and have the secrets to reality. 
  • He beats everyone up, finally gets to the BOSS, the BOSS asks him to "become him" (well take over his role in life) without even a fight and to therefore become the new Guardian of the book. When the hero finally opens the book - the pages are mirrors. THE PAGES ARE MIRRORS. Not I don't mean the magic book was Richard Rorty's - Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature - : ) - but  really mirrors.  Interpret what the mirror means fro yourself- I am not here to tell you EVERYTHING :) . 
    Circle of Iron AND this original edition of this book BOTH came out in 1979- coincidence? :) 
OK, OK time to get down to brass tax as they say! What is the main take away here you can use in your next manager meeting or technocratic 'foosball' meeting at the start-up? Well nothing. There you go, a huge slice of, nothing. Ok and just like good music performance begins with a moment of silence just before the music 'kicks in' I wanted to say that :). 

In life we almost always are blind to the good right in front of us, and instead focus on the novel that is coming our way. Let me add to that. If we can see the good in front of us now, like a fractal, we can see it in all things. If we cannot even prepare a meal well, how can we think we can life a life of well being. If we cannot relax enough to breathe and take in what is happening around us, in its beauty, ugliness or in between, exactly when will we? If we have to skip good music, or paintings or films for the sake of the newest or flashiest or most fashionable this month- how much do we lose in life? If we cannot enjoy the trees outside our homes-why do we think backpacking in exotic locations will fulfill us? Why do we need to get so caught up in our clothes, and style and "aesthetic" at the sake of the confortable, affordable and practical? What type of problems lead us to react to life in this way? I say it has partly to do with what the theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson called "maximum novelty" or the idea that human beings always want the novel and the new and this has roots of course for him in evolution. In many ways, even if we take a simplistic evolutionary view, many aspects of human life are unneeded "leftovers' from this process -like the "sweet tooth"- which no longer serves as something useful but as something detrimental (well dentists make a living off it I guess) :). Often "more" is the the right answer. Quantity does not really trump Quality. As the saying in The Iron Circle openign credit says "Tie two birds together, and even though they have four wings, they cannot fly."
What makes a donut a donut- well the hole of course. You see how "nothing" can in fact be "something" 

Now let me take this to a philosophical level/ Remember the film about that bully from New Jersey who goes to California and learns why Okinawa is awesome- it was called the Karate Kid. Well in that movie Daniel (the main dude) is taught Karate (or a form of it) but a Japanese (more accurately Okinawan) man : Mr. Miagi (in reality neither of these actors were actual martial artists). BUT there is a scene where he shows Daniel how to catch flies with chopsticks. This idea come directly from Circle of Iron and there is a amazing quote by Bruce Lee explaining this idea in a forward to the script for the film. Here it is:

"The story illustrates a great difference between Oriental and Western thinking. This average Westerner would be intrigued by someone’s ability to catch flies with chopsticks, and would probably say that has nothing to do with how good he is in combat. But the Oriental would realize that a man who has attained such complete mastery of an art reveals his presence of mind in every action. The state of wholeness and imperturbability demonstrated by the master indicated his mastery of self.

“Purposelessness,” “empty-mindedness” or “no art” are frequent terms used in the Orient to denote the ultimate achievement of a martial artist. According to Zen, the spirit is by nature formless and no “objects” are to be harbored in it…

True mastery transcends any particular art. It stems from mastery of oneself—the ability, developed through self-discipline, to be calm, fully aware, and completely in tune with oneself and the surroundings. Then, and only then, can a person know himself." - Bruce Lee.

The final line of course now makes a link back to the Western tradition of philosophy and the Socratic maxim of "Know Thyself" which came famously from the oracle of Delphi along with the parallel instruction (far less popular today) "nothing in excess." Well I would say that the whole idea of "novelty" or the "grass is greener" over there or the "just around the corner is best" way of thinking is a HUGE problem. What if instead of trying to find new CONTENTS for our consciousness, we instead worked on the QUALITY of consciousness itself. Starting RIGHT NOW, you can slow down, take a breathe and live the next 5 minutes paying attention to how you feel and what is going on around you. If you can tie you shoes with majesty and grace, you can take that long with you into your daily conversations, and into your work and your busyness. If you can learn to see the joke in the midst of the problem or learn to feel the vibration of our voice in our throat- when we can see and feel that which is right in front of us- we can then start to live from a place of stability. If we can think of ourselves and the world we live in as a collection of perceptions and experiences which we will never truly totally understand - we can move away from thinking about life as a series of chess moves or problems that need constant attention or worry. 

So, while the thief gained some material possessions from the Zen master- he missed out on the true gift of having his eyes opened to the beauty of a much more phenomenological approach to life. 

1 comment:

  1. this is so good andrew. i leaned some things about you today. i also love how you connect some points from different theories and then take that connection and bring it into the experiential. love your fellow soul traveler (how long do you think we’ve known each other?)


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