The Stonecutter: A Chinese Folk Tale of Power & Contentment

Tao of Pooh

“There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life . . .” 

Recently, I read a book called The Tao of PoohThis charming little book is centered on the premise that one can understand the fundamentals of Taoism through a close reading of Winnie the Poohthe classic children’s book series.

In the book, the author attempts to demonstrate the truth of this premise by engaging examples from the Pooh stories and writing a dialogue between himself and the sweet yellow bear.

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Existential Angst & Why It’s Okay to Not Feel Okay

I often arrive at this conclusion. Paris street art. Photo Credit: Geraint Rowland

“When you feel happy, really happy, it somehow seems that you’ve always been happy and that you’ll always be happy. The same is often true when you feel sad, or lonely, or depressed, or broke, or sick, or scared. Something, perhaps, to remember.”

Sometimes I don’t feel so well. I expect you’re the same.

Take a couple weeks ago for example—I had a sudden and sort of inexplicable spell of what I can only describe as existential angst.

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The Beat Generation Worldview in Kerouac’s On the Road

On The Road

“Now you just dig them in front. They have worries, they’re counting the miles, they’re thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they’ll get there—and all the time they’ll get there anyway, you see.” 

The “Beat Generation” is a term used to refer to a group of post-World War II American writers who came to prominence in the 1950s. The collective’s most iconic representatives include Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, but as Amiri Baraka (another figure associated with the movement) once wrote, “The so-called Beat Generation was a whole bunch of people, of all different nationalities, who came to the conclusion that society sucked.”

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Don’t Forget to Enjoy: Edward Abbey’s Advice to Environmentalists

The woods at Cupid's Green transformed into a jungle by Ashley George Old, 1959. Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

“Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.”

I first heard of Edward Abbey when I met a rather raffish guide in Alaska who recommended the novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang.

I ended up reading Abbey’s novel, and what I found therein was the presence of a man with whom I felt a sincere kinship. I was enraptured by Abbey’s spirit of rebellion, irreverent wit, and appreciation for the simple and subtle beauty of the natural world.

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9 Thinkers on Not Taking Existence too Seriously

Friedrich Nietzsche in Basel, 1875. Via Wiki Commons.

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

The sentiment that “life should not be taken too seriously” is a sort of dry, crusty sponge of a cliché—a statement that seems to have had every drop of nourishing value squeezed from it after ten trillion uses.

And yet like so many lifeless platitudes, it contains a certain amount of wisdom—practical wisdom that is damn easy to forget in the day-to-day trenches and tangles of our lives.

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Terence McKenna’s Disillusioned Perspective on Mass-Consumerist Culture

Artist's rendering of Terence McKenna aka "Uncle Terence". Credit:

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow.”

Terence McKenna is one of those cult-famous, societal-fringe figures of whom the majority of people have never heard. He’s also someone whose views probably have a polarizing effect on anyone who encounters them. At the very least, though, Terence was an exceptionally original thinker, and those who explore a fraction of his work will note his erudition and incredible ability to articulate his thoughts.

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David Foster Wallace on Enslavement to Impulse

DFW gives a reading circa 2006. Via Wikimedia Commons

“That feeling of having to obey every impulse and gratify every desire seems to me to be a strange kind of slavery. Nobody talks about it as such, though.” 

The term “genius” is tossed around a lot, but most would agree that the late David Foster Wallace was worthy of the title. Wallace was a novelist, essayist, and short story writer who rose to literary fame before tragically taking his life in 2008 due to a lifelong struggle with depression.

I’ve written before about Wallace’s unforgettable commencement speech in 2005 at Kenyon College, and I’ll certainly write more about him in the future.

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Haruki Murakami on Subjectivity and Transformation

Kafka on the Shore

“And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades.”

Haruki Murakami, a modern master of magic realism and mind-bending metaphysical mischief (holy alliteration!), has an uncanny and enchanting way of unraveling ideas through the medium of fiction.

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John Blofeld on the Taoist Spirit of Playful Non-Resistance

Hanshan

“I am soon to become an emperor-ha-ha-ha-ha! I am destined to be a lousy beggar – ha-ha-ha-ha! It’s all a game. Any part will suit me fine.”

For thousands of years, Eastern sages have taught a method for reducing or eliminating suffering — in a word: non-resistance.

The idea is this: As humans, we possess all varieties of expectations and attachments. We attach ourselves to people or circumstances, expecting or hoping that those things will remain the same. We attach ourselves to certain ideas and cling to them tooth-and-nail, even when presented with evidence to the contrary.  We attach ourselves to fantasies of a favorable future, and we pray that things will work out according to our plan.

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Carl Sagan’s Vision of Planetary Unity and Peace

unitedearth

If mankind were contacted by an alien race, how would the world react? How would people change?

In his novel, Contact, the late, great astronomer Carl Sagan explores this ponderous question.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Contact, and one of the aspects I most admired about it was Dr. Sagan’s humble suggestion that communication with an alien race would compel mankind to reassess its internal conflicts and prejudices.

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