I Feel Deliciously Light and Cool - I Rank the Noble Eightfold Path

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Over the weekend, I heard from a reader that the blog had become overly sports focused. In the spirit of this, here is my ranking of Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path which outlines a model of discliplined behavior designed to achieve Nirvana.

No, not that Nirvana.

Although, now that we're here -

8 Best Nirvana Songs. 8-1.

8. You Know You're Right

7. Polly

6. All Apologies

5. Smells Like Teen Spirit

4. Lithium

3. Come As You Are

2. Where Did You Sleep Last Night

1. Heart Shaped Box

Hey, that's not a sports list either. Score! I recognize my multiple constituencies; some of you are here for wrestling, some for academia, some for delicious holiday recipes:

Christmas Eve Whore Cake

1/2 cup of butter

1 ½ cup of sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon of lemon extract
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
½ teaspoon of salt
3 cups of flour
1 cup of milk

Preheat to 340 degrees
Bake 22 minutes.

What? Whores don't like cake? Whores don't like to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus with a tasty lemon cake before they are paid cash monies for intercourse? Awfully judgmental.

Judgment's our new national pastime. Least about the small stuff. You'll hear tell of the United States being a "forgiving" country; I'd argue that's like saying we're an "early parole for good behavior" country - what we really like to do is get our righteous condemnation on. Michael Phelps - Boom. Alex Rodriguez - Boom.

Wait - that's drifting back toward sports and we're throwing a bone to the non sports reader with this blog.

Hell, consider just writing your own blog from a list of terms that I can helpfully provide here:

flyboy, haymaker, feverish, tommyknocker, dreamworld, taco, Euclidian, katzenjammer, ukelele, white slavery, thermodynamics, vector, gas, chum, ineffable, traverse, wondertwin powers activate, barkeep, bayonet, needlepoint, kinky, salt water taffy, RICOH, entropy, epigram, nonlinear, Nikola Tesla, bikini line, sly, lucidity, Teletubbies, moisturizing, Sonnets to Laura, toxic, boneless, Vichy, pathos, rabbits, uncouth, marrow, linger, amalgam, mercury, enamel, uncoiled, beefy, reductionist, Medicare, thug, soda, ravioli, shaky, Zappa, syphilitic caramels, nutmeat, never-ending nervendings

What I really could use is a Choose Your Own Adventure mechanism wherein those of you who want to read about Honus Wagner's best 4 seasons by WARP3 could take one path and those of you waiting to see which of the Eightfold Path will be ranked 5th (spoiler alert - Right Concentration) could just flip to different screens.

Do you know Choose Your Own Adventure, people?

If you decide to commit genocide, turn to page 4.

If you decide to bone Neil Diamond, turn to page 5.

Choose Your Own Adventure was a series of kids' books in the 80s and 90s; they stopped publishing in '98; it's based on the Lionnais schematic of tree literature that he presented at the 79th meeting of the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle in May, 1967. Using a present tense second person narrative, the text gives the reader a series of choices that shapes her reading of the story. So, in, for example, The Cave of Time, the reader is portrayed as the protagonist of the story, visiting her Uncle Howard at Red Creek Ranch when she stumbles upon a cave, which serves as a portal to multiple time periods. It teaches children that they are the captains of their own ships; if you choose to jump on the boat, you go to page 14 and perhaps sail to Byzantium to find fortune and glory. If you choose to stay behind, you go to page 20 and are slowly devoured by wolverines, the beasts enjoying the full flavor of your every orifice before settling you into their rabid gullets.

There aren't many lessons, let me suggest, more important to learn.

I'm not a motivational speaker; when I see a bumper sticker saying "destiny is not a matter of chance, it's a matter of choice" my first thought is "I hope William Jennings Bryan's estate is getting a cut from that bitch, 'cause dude said that a hundred years before Hallmark put it on a card" and my next thought, "tell that to Mr. Neil Diamond, 'cause he has absolutely no say in the matter when I turn to page five and bring him to a thunderous orgasm while singing the chorus of "Cracklin' Rosie."

So, don't consider me Pollyannaish when I gently suggest that our individual circumstance is more within our own control that we like to recognize. There's a psychological concept known as the fundamental attribution error, and it goes something like this: when something happens in our own lives, we tend to attribute it to external causes, situational factors outside of our control – it's the boss, it's the kids, it's the planets being out of alignment, it's god or fate or my weak genetic traits perhaps caused because my great-great grandparents were first cousins.

Oh, I assume most of you aren't aware, in Florida, it's legal for first cousins to marry.

This is an outlier in terms of domestic relations laws across the country, and leads one to wonder how such a law was passed. I'm going with this theory:

One day, there was a guy in the Florida state legislature who desperately wanted to do his first cousin.

But she was a good girl, and while she had no interest in this guy, kin or not, she also didn't want to hurt his feelings irreparably, given the possibility that they'd be running into each other during future family reunions, and wanted to avoid an ugly scene during a particularly high spirited strawberry pie eating contest. So, she politely declined his advances, saying that since, you know, their mothers were sisters, such a rendezvous would be inappropriate.

He, however, as men can occasionally be, was dumb as dishwater and didn't see any of the "please go away, you creepy, creepy man" signs, and turned the full force of his legislative energy on getting a bill passed in the Florida statehouse saying that, forevermore, first cousins not only could marry, but, in fact, must marry – if the girl is hot enough.

Hey, I don't make these things up, read the Florida Statutes.

So, if you are one of my many Florida readers, and you get the big pants for your little cousin, it's all legal down here, just like concealed weapons and crank and mountain bikes made of diamonds.

Anyway, the fundamental attribution error states that when it comes to our own problems, we find circumstances on which to blame them, but, when others fail – we tend to attribute those failings as internal. Why didn't things work out for me? Bad luck. Bad bosses. Fate. I'm married to the sea. Why didn't things work out for that guy? It's 'cause that guy is lazy, soft, old, weak minded, crazy, mildly retarded, he smells like feet, etc...

When you blow it – it's circumstance.

When he blows it – it's an inherent characteristic, a weakness, a flaw. And the best day of Mr. Neil Diamond's life. Cracklin' Rosie indeed.

It's an easy trap in which to fall, and that's why I like Choose Your Own Adventure; no one else makes you turn to page 24 where you suffer an epileptic seizure and go to a Russian debtor's prison; no one makes you turn to page 39 where you are a macromolecular chemist in the 1920s discovering nylon for DuPont or Thomas Smith, inexplicably spending the first half of the 16th century writing De Recta et Emendata Linguae Anglicae Scriptione Dialogus; no one else makes you turn to page 53, where you are the tattoo artist misspelling the word Heart Breaker on Jenna Jameson's right butt cheek before she goes to film The Wicked One.

You made your choice. You take the consequences. It's an unavoidable conclusion. You can't hide from it. It's on you.

For reasons that will soon become apparent, I had to thumb through a copy of Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy in the past few weeks; I probably haven't opened it in a decade, and found an old post it note on which I had cryptically written:

I feel deliciously light and cool.
I'm diggin' that phrase the most, and had no idea upon reading it that it was taken from Little Women; which raises the perfectly acceptable curiosity as to why I was taking notes about Little Women in Meditations on First Philosophy; perhaps there had been some type of industrial spillage and I was tasked with salvaging authors A-D from the local library.

I realized pretty quickly, however, why it was I like the phrase:

I feel deliciously light and cool.

It's the letter L – I don't know if I've mentioned this to you, but I realized about a decade ago that I am categorically heels over head in love with the letter L. Whenever someone asks what my favorite color is, my response is always, "who has time to worry about favorite colors when there are all these L's lyin' around waiting for a boy to take them home and drown them in compliments and kiss the napes of their necks."

I Feel deliciously light and cool.

L – it's euphonic. Euphony is flowing and aesthetically pleasing sounds; languages seek it out; there is a sentence in French, for example:

Je l'avais dit aux enfants

Now, the 'x' of "aux" is usually silent; but in this example it's enunciated (as a 'z' sound) owing to the presence of a vowel at the beginning of the following word "enfant".

Why? It's prettier. That's it. Euphony. France is good that way. I mean, they're also good in the way that we wouldn't have won the Revolutionary War without them, which you'd think would give them lifetime amnesty from our making jokes at their expense, but that's not how Americans roll. Next time there's an international conflict and some dumbass starts talking about freedom fries, suggest he reads a history book.

Oh, that sentence means "I had told the children." I took 2 ½ years of French in high school and a full year in undergrad, getting some forgotten mixture of A's and B's, and other than, "Ousmanne, où est la bibliotèque?" that's the only thing I can say in the entire language.
I have a deep seated, almost primordial, attraction to the letter L (is it a Penny Marshall thing? Discuss) somewhere, in my medulla oblongata, the part of the brain I share with lizards, leopards, lemmings, and Tommy Lasorda, I have a primal, pre-conscious attraction to the letter L. It's like a lucky number.

I feel deliciously light and cool. All those L's sitting right there in my Descartes.

In my position at my school (for the uninitiated, I'm a professor) I was corresponding with a woman from an organization, back in December, for her to come and train my students in a particular seminar.

We settled upon a date and time, but when, over the holidays, I wrote to confirm, I didn't receive a response.

Those of you who know me recognize that I like to be blown off about as much as I like to be blown up, so I was less than pleased, and wrote a series of increasingly concerned emails questioning why I was not getting my requisite confirmation.

The day for the seminar arrived. Still no response.

I called customer service and was told in an exceedingly apologetic fashion that they were really sorry, but I had gotten lost in the shuffle, as the woman with whom I was corresponding suddenly dropped dead over the holidays from a brain aneurysm.

I have to admit; I've heard some excuses from women who blew me off before, but that one won the prize.

So, yeah, I was emailing a person who didn't exist. She was my imaginary friend. Like Snuffleupagus or Roger Peckinpaugh.

That's when I opened up the Descartes.

In 1641, Descartes wrote the book in which I found the post it note, Meditations on First Philosophy, a book which marked the beginning of the epistemological turn in Western philosophy; a shift from a focus on the universal to the individual. Central to the Cartesian philosophy was the method of doubt, that one should "accept nothing as true which I do not clearly recognize to be so." Descartes' conclusion was cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore, I am", which is that the only principal of which one can be absolutely certain is that one exists.

The rest of you, the rest of all of this, might just be a figment of my imagination.

Tell the debt collector that next time he calls:

You: Yeah, I'm sorry about the 11 grand, but I'm a figment of Jim Jividen's imagination, so call him, please.

What Descartes is really requiring is a rigorous proof; the law, for example, works like this; Jones sues Smith for damages, claiming that Smith borrowed a water jug and returned it broken.

Smith's defense is what we call pleading in the alternative (1) the jug doesn't exist (2) I didn't borrow it (3) it wasn't broken when I returned it (4) it was broken when I borrowed it.

Descartes really isn't saying that one literally should solipsistically believe that one is alone in the universe, just recognize that we are often lazy in establishing the nexus between our beliefs and their justifications. Are we sure the jug wasn't broken when it was borrowed and merely had the cosmetic appearance of being whole? Are we certain that Jones didn't break the jug after it was returned? Are there photographs? Witnesses? Where is the broken piece no longer in the jug? Did the jug have a pre-existing break that had previously been repaired? What's the life expectancy of a jug anyway? Maybe it was time to Terry Schiavo that jug. Has anyone thought of that?

Descartes is saying that even though Jones thinks he's caught Smith jug-handed; Smith doesn't need to roll over.

Make him prove it.

Make us all prove it.

Are you real?

How would I know?

The Choose Your Own Adventure series shut down in '98, but about three years ago, with a new publisher, it came back.

More choices to make. More consequences. More lessons learned. A whole new generation to sex up Mr. Neil Diamond. Some of us will choose poorly. We'll massively bet the under on SB43, and watch the Steelers and Cards combine for a wildly improbably 23 points in the final 8 minutes to snatch victory from us.

Always with the sports.

And some of will choose well, correctly walking along the noble eightfold path to enlightenment.

The Noble Eightfold Path. 8-1.

8. Right Bodily Action- I'm awkward and nonrythmic; I'm exhibit A in the "bodily action is overrated" discussion. Further, this refers to specifically following the Moral precepts, of which there are either five or ten, and until the Buddhists get their shit together, I can't take this path seriously.

7. Right speech - An upset, as talking is the only marketable skill I've ever been able to cultivate; but the devil's in the details, and Buddhism requires both that one speak truthfully and speak kindly. And those two tasks are often diametrically opposed. If all I ever did was tell the truth, I'd have no friends at all.


6. Right view - On most things, I tend toward Roshomon, that there's less a right view than multiple reasonable perspectives. If you ask me "will stimulating demand lift us out of the economic downturn (Depression 2K: Great Depression or the Greatest Depression?) or should we continue to pump supply via tax cuts" my answer would be "23 points in 8 minutes! Jesus H Christ - how did they score 23 points in 8 minutes!" Generally, reasonable people of good will can differ on most matters. The right view requires an understanding of the 4 noble truths; the first of which:

Life involves suffering and is inevitably sorrowful undeniably true, clearly this would be part of the right view - but the second:

Suffering has its roots in desire and craving, which arise from ignorance.

...boxes up suffering more than I think is reasonable. Life has good days, days with cream cheese frosting and Neil Diamond reverse cowgirl and the Bengals and Jets taking wide receivers in the first round ahead of Jerry Rice allowing his fall to my Niners - but eventually, eventually it's sickness and pain and agony and Eternal Darkness of the Slumbering Mind. Any view that isn't that isn't the right view.

5. Right concentration - This path sounds awfully mixological to me. Take two parts grenadine and one part triple sec and an olive and ooooh, you gurgle that on down. You know who has excellent concentration? My friend Beevo.

And Beevo has many admirable qualities, when the interspecies war finally commences, I'd like to be on his side - but I'm uncertain that my following his path would lead to enlightenment. Ear licking - absolutely. But maybe not enlightenment.

4. Right endeavor - the upper half really gets tight; this path involves meditation in order to stop bad thoughts; I occasionally will tell students something like "you are what's in your brain" and they will occasionally tell me something like "I know I haven't been to class in a month, can I still get an A?" The more you are able to hold tight reign on what's in your brain (best Cypress Hill lyric ever) the better you can survive your day. Life's less about what happens than about what's in your head. I've lived virtually every moment of my life entirely inside my head. Weather sucks but the company is boss.

3. Right livelihood - this is giving best effort to one's career. Competence is underrated; know who I really liked?

That's Stefan's panna cotta from the most recent season of Top Chef (returning soon - Bravo is wearing a hole in my DVR, I assume you all know the etymology of the phrase "prostitution whore! Engaged 19 times!" but still on the underground is Andy Cohen's gayer than gay midnight Thursday show. It's live and they get their drink on. Best. Show. Ever.) Anyway, that Stefan dude could cook. I don't know anything about him beyond what's on the tv box, but dude clearly has spent his professional life honing his craft. All the American chefs complain and complain "that Stefan is so arrogant" meanwhile he just beats their doors off in every competition. I like competence at one's gig. Makes me feel like there are still people who know what they're doing. I also enjoy Friday Night Lights. That's a good show. Did you see the episode where Smash got into Texas A&M? I got all choked up like the first time I heard Heart Shaped Box.

Big Love and United States of Tara are also good to watch. I mean, while we're talking Buddhism and all. Just because the Shield is gone doesn't mean TV has ended. Just feels that way sometimes.

2. Right mindfulness - better than right livelihood because while livelihood implies only sustainable work, mindfulness is giving best effort in all of one's undertakings. I'm clearly never going to be able to write for a living; the thousands of hours that I've spent blogging has to be a good for it's own sake - but I'll go back right now to craft another nifty Neil Diamond sexual reference, not because I think anyone but me will appreciate it - but because it's the right thing to do. How many L's in fellating Mr. Neil Diamond? The aspects of myself of which I'm most proud aren't that I'm good at my job (I am) but that my wrestling Counterfactual is really underrated. Go read Counterfactual SummerSlam 2008 if you, you know, share my mania.

1. Right aspiration - caring intent for all living things. This is good, I think. Good to want good things for everything. Maybe you don't want to build a school for monsters, but you recognize that someone good does and so you root for them. Maybe you don't care that the San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series, but I do, and all good hearted people do, so it's time that you get on board and start thinking the good thoughts. We're 10 up! 10 up! Just half a game out of the WC with 50 to go - and if we can get into the postseason who has a better 1-2 hammer of Thor than Lincecum/Cain - just coming at you - Boom! Boom! Boom! Yeah! This is our year! When the Giants come to Town! It's Bye - Bye - can you believe that Bengie Freaking Molina and his .268 OBP is still hitting cleanup for this team! I have to listen to Mike Krukow (love you Kruk, but Jesus) talk about playing the right way and heart and team and the Giants way and it's all bullshit because our cleanup hitter has a .268 OBP and the trade deadline's come and gone and we dealth our best chip for a scrappy 31 year old low OBP second baseman. And the worst part is the level of self satisfaction that the Giants and Giants media clearly feel - in a universe that worked correctly - in a universe where we devoted the type of attention to our craft that the Noble Eightfold Path would require, there wouldn't be a .268 OBP in the middle of a major league lineup - certainly not the middle of my major league lineup - as I love my Giants with all the purity of Linus in that pumpkin patch the night before Halloween. Bengie Molina. Good grief.

And that's Right aspriation, the best of the noble eightfold paths to Nirvana. You're welcome.

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