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Harmony

In my previous post I once again mentioned harmony, and my quest for inner tranquility. And so many times before I've already been thinking about writing more about the very idea of harmony. Also, today the blog post with most likes seems to be one about cutting meat, which also refers to Taoism and the idea of harmony. So, what exactly does harmony mean?

A classic of Taoism is the book of Zhuang Zhou. Although, it is more like a collection of different texts, and it remains unclear which of them are originally written by Zhuang Zhou himself. I think in the book there are at least two different interpretations of the idea of harmony. They both start with the idea that when we observe nature, we see that everything changes and flows constantly. Night and day follow each other, storms come and go, seasons change. And all this change follows the principle of Tao which can't be captured in simple human descriptions, but which we can kind of intuitively feel and learn to follow that feeling. Then, one interpretation is that if we manage to follow Tao in our life, no illness will harm us and ultimately one becomes immortal. I will call this interpretation the absence of harm. But, there is also an another interpretation, according to which you just learn to accept illness, death, defeats and failures as an unavoidable integral part of life, learning to live in harmony with them. To illustrate this, the book of Zhuang Zhou contains many colourful stories, one of them goes something like this; an old peasant has only one child, his son, who helps him with farming. One day it so happens that the son falls down from horseback, and breaks his leg. The old man is sad about this unfortunate incident and wishes it didn't happen. But shortly after that a war breaks out, and the Emperor announces all young men to be drafted to army - but the son of the old farmer doesn't have to go, because one-legged warrior won't be of use for the army of Emperor. Now the old man is happy to have his son not going into war - after all, one legged but alive son is better than a son dying in a far-a-way battlefield. So, what should be think about that horse-riding accident? Was it a bad thing, or a good thing? Zhuang Zhou warns us of not making too hasty judgements, not labelling things too strictly into 'good' and 'bad'. Instead, he suggest, what if we just accept what happens and go with it? I will call this interpretation non-judgemental.

As you might guess, personally I lean more towards the non-judgemental interpretation. The idea that 'harmony' is a lot about just accepting natural phenomenons without labelling them as 'bad' or 'good', yet in a way sensing the great flow of nature which just takes place. But doesn't that mean some sort of passive attitude of non-action? If health and illness are equally just natural phenomenons taking place, then is there any reason to try to stay healthy? If death is just another natural phenomenon, then why eat to stay alive, why not accept slowly starving to death? Well - to me it seems that this kind of thinking would be somewhat shallow. As, the Tao is not blank - after all, we see rivers flowing and flowers blooming and clouds travelling the sky and all the busy animals of the forest being busy with their lives - all this takes place, all this happens, and that is the nature of Tao. Life flows like the water in river, and this flow is the very essence of existence. To live in harmony with this essence is to take part in this flow, not blocking the flow, not trying to bash against the flow. But finding the inner feel of the flow and living by listening to it.

I'll take another example. In her recent blog post Clementine, the drummer of Zepparella, describes a meditation practice. It is to sit and to observe. Not to judge, not wishing for things to be different, not trying to alter anything - yet being aware and present at the moment. At first that might sound extremely non-practical and counterproductive. Why would anybody want to train being passive and indifferent? But, the way I understand it, passivity is not the goal of this practice. You just practise passivity to learn something else. Like, the non-judgemental attitude, and a growing sense of inner tranquility, presence, body-awareness, and a sense of openness to subtle phenomenons. Skills which Clementine finds useful to play through a two-hour set of hard-rock together with her band-mates. And playing hard rock can't be exactly described as being passive and indifferent, I think =)

In my own life I have never practised that kind of long meditation sessions. But, especially as a teenager, my favourite method was to sit or to lay still and think about expanding the horizon. Like, in my mind I started with visualizing myself there where I was, and then slowly zooming out - looking at our house, then our village, our country, the continent, the globe, our solar system, and so on as far as I could imagine. And after that I did the same with time - starting from our daily sense of time, thinking the cycles of years, decades, generations, centuries, millenias, and so on as far as I could imagine. That kind of practice gave a different sense of perspective. It helped me to cope with many of the occasionally rather unpleasant aspects of our family life. And I think it helped me not to get so easily offended by tiny little things which might seem big when seen in another perspective. And, the way I saw it, a lot of trouble and fighting in our family was because people got so quickly and so furiously offended by whatever little things, words or things of stuff. So, for me, practising a wider perspective seemed like a way to more peaceful way of life. And with less raging and fighting there is more possibility for fruitful communication and actually connecting with other people.

To conclude; for me, harmony means that there might still be pain and hardships, and people might have different views and conflicting needs. But with inner tranquility and non-judgemental attitude, all of this is easier to navigate and to negotiate - a lot like the water running in a rapid finds it way around the rocks and stones. And that listening to the presence of the moment, there is this unspoken touch or feel or sense of the flow of life. Something which I would loosely call 'spiritual', since it is something deeply felt and not-to-be-exhausted-by-conceptual-definitions. And also, personally, I'm not that interested if there is any kind of afterlife or immortality. As, anyway, there is that flow of life, and it is beautiful and awesome - while I'm here I can participate in the flow. And when my bodily form dissolves in the flow, the river itself still goes on. And the river is beautiful and awesome.

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Comments

I actually brought this book with me out to a 2 week long field op and ended up throwing it into the sand in anger. For me, an infantry grunt whose sole purpose is to absolutely hate everything and suffer in misery for 4 years... being told to just suck it up and deal with it made me unreasonably angry for some reason. I'm a human being and there are plenty of other countries out there where I can enjoy a much better life. Free of frustration, pointless training, pointless policies, and absolute hate for anything that isn't food, sleep, or alcohol.

I can feel and hear the bones in my knees scrape the cartilage away. The back pain and the tinnitus are just another reminder that I totally _regret_ this decision in life. I call my friends my family and all they say in response my struggle is that everyone is so proud of me and that it's only 3 more years.

In the end, it is my contract and I made the decision, but I'm absolutely tired of suffering for it. I'm tired of using alcohol and tobacco to cope. I'm tired of watching miserable zombies joke about suicide daily but feel helpless when I see it actually happen with my own eyes.

Fuck tao, fuck being passive, no one deserves to sit by and let this happen to them. I could get out of this hell, but the effect it would have on my undyingly nationalistic family would be isolating.

Ouch, I understand your frustration and anger.

First, a metaphor: If a person suffers in stormy waters and is about to drown, then surely, for him to escape he needs to get out of the water. And if another person is out on the desert and suffers from dehydration, then for him the escape is to find water. So here we have two 'paths', "get out of the water" or "get to the water". They might seem opposite or contradictory advice, but the thing is that they are situational. I'd guess it is about the same with Tao - people come from different backgrounds, they are in different situations, and they need different metaphors to help make sense of their lives etc.

Also, I think the ancient taoists were educated people - which in ancient China meant that they'd work for the Emperor. If I remember correctly, in the book of Chuang Chou they write that in times of a good and peaceful emperor it is OK and fine to work for the State - but when there is a despotic emperor, better just leave ones position and to seek retirement in the mountains, leading a simple peaceful hermit life.

Personally for me things have been different, since already as a teenager I knew that I deliberately want to break my family ties, so for me isolation wasn't that much a problem. But this is a big theme, yes. I do understand that 'to belong somewhere' is a deep need for a human being, and that it also is a source of problems.

Oh well, but enough of my general ramblings. I hope you'll find ways to reduce the suffering. Ways that work for you, in your situation.

Thanks for the response, I apologize for the random comment. I didn't mean to throw my problems out there - just wanted your take on things since I've been an anonymous reader for such a long time. Usually when I'm getting hit with tear gas or digging holes, I start to think about how stupid everything is and how I'd much rather be in the woods doing my own thing like you're doing.

Like the ancient Taoists, if the US was actively engaged in a war, I would be happy to serve my country in a meaningful way. But we're not and my pain is self-chosen,so I'm planning on traveling to some foreign country and just be around people who totally do not regret living for a few months after I make my escape. Whatever oppurtunity arises first, I will take it. All legally, of course. Deserting is one of the worst things I can do.

I'm choosing not to break my family ties, as much I need isolation 90% of the time. I'll have to face them eventually, whether I make the right decision or wrong decision. I wish I could. I tried it by doing the whole military thing but it exposed my weaknesses more than my strengths.

I appreciate the advice, it's refreshing to hear something other than 'do this, do that'.

No need to apologize - I like the way you've written your comments. I mean, the way you describe your personal point of view, and the background of your situation. For me, it is a bit like receiving a postcard, getting to hear a glimpse of other kind of life. Hearing stories I wouldn't otherwise hear. And I believe your comments enrich the reading experience of possible other readers, too. Instead of just my own point of view, people get to read another perspectives too. Nothing wrong with that, I'd guess =)

I think people in your kind of situation often use humour, music and group spirit to cope with the unpleasant aspects of duty. But the way you describe it, sounds like most of your fellows have already turned into unfunny zombies, and there isn't that much healthy laughter and good spirited humour around... So, turning totally to the other direction, it suddenly came to my mind that there is this Finnish song. The lyrics are taken directly from a war-time letter of a Finnish WWII soldier fighting at the front line. And since he doesn't have anyone back at home, he writes to an unknown woman, wishing to make a pen-pal, as he thinks some humane communication would help to cope with the horrors of the war... Sure, the song isn't particularly happy one, but maybe you can try listen to it - maybe it sparks some ideas or in some other indirect way helps you to find your own ways to cope with your situation.

Thank you for your service, sir. I know your situation sucks, but it is a very honorable thing to serve our (I assume you are American, my apologies if not) country as you are (even if our politicians that put you there are worthless bozos).

I shall raise a glass in your honor and pray that your situation improves. Just get through it, and I am sure that things will get better eventually.

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